Horses are part of an ever growing industry, with over 600,000 horses in the UK, 1.4 million riders and 5 million people with an active interest in the equine industry*. Most people acquire a horse out of choice, so if you make this decision you should think carefully before going ahead. A horse needs lots of love and care, including regular worming, vaccinations and dental care. Owning a horse is time consuming and can be costly; not only will you will need to consider where you will keep your horse, you must also consider the ongoing costs of owning a horse which include accommodation, bedding, feed and healthcare.

In the unlikely event that your horse goes missing it is going to be very difficult for anyone to know who it belongs to, unless your horse carries some form of permanent identification. It is wise to get your horse microchipped or freezemarked, this will avoid heartache in the long run, should your horse go missing or is stolen.

Horses are herd animals, and thrive on being together with other horses. Don’t forget that your horse will need somewhere to graze, a stable for warmth in the winter time, a constant supply of water, feeding daily and regular exercise. It can cost hundreds of pounds a month to care for a horse, including accommodation, food, veterinary care and insurance; there will be other costs, including buying tack and rugs and extra livery charges when you go on holiday.

Horses can live into their thirties, over this time your horse will need lots of care and attention. Being able to provide all of this will ensure you and your horse make the most of your time together.

* Research conducted in 2004 by the Henley Centre for DEFRA and the British Horse Industry Confederation.

Choosing a vet for your horse

Everyone who owns a pet will, at some point, need to take it to see a vet, whether it be for routine treatment, for an illness or an emergency. Horse owners are no exception, but in most cases, your vet will come to see your horse rather than you having to take your horse to see the vet.

Why do I need to register my horse with a veterinary practice?

As a horse owner, it is your responsibility to make sure that your horse leads a healthy and happy life. This means that your horse will need to see a vet for routine health care such as vaccinations, worming and dental care.

Your horse will also need to see a vet if it is unwell or in an emergency situation where immediate veterinary attention will be needed. If you don't register your horse with a practice in advance, you could find yourself in a panic when it comes to an emergency situation... who will you call?

Why can't I just register my horse with our local practice?

Not all veterinary practices take on the care of horses. You will usually find that most practices treat either small animals, ie dogs, cats, rabbits, etc, and others will just treat horses. There are some vets that are mixed practice, but they are small in numbers and you may not have one locally.

Most vets that specialise in treating horses work at veterinary practices that only treat horses, so you will probably need to look slightly further afield to find a practice that suits you.

Which practice should I choose?

The main things to consider when looking for a vet for your horse are convenience of location, availability, professionalism, price range and, most importantly, competence.

Unlike small animals, horses are more difficult to get to the vets it can be time consuming and you may not have transport available to you at all times. This is why horse vets usually visit you to see your horse instead. So, first of all you should have a look round to find out which practices treat horses in your area. Each practice you find will have an area that they service so you will need to check that they will travel to where your horse is. Once you have found some practices that service your area you should give them a call and have a chat to them, or go and visit them, to find out how much experience they have and how good their facilities are; the better these are, the better treatment your horse will receive, especially in an emergency situation.

Some useful questions to ask could be:

  • How many equine vets does the practice have?
  • What do the vets specialise in?
  • What facilities do they have at the practice?
  • If they need to refer your horse to a more specialised practice, where would this be?
  • What services do they offer?
  • How much do they charge for a call out?
  • Do they have a 24 hour emergency service?
  • How long would it take them to get to you in an emergency?
  • What are their policies regarding insurance claims?

All of the answers to these questions will help you to make a more informed decision about which veterinary practice you choose to help you look after your horse.

Most practices have more than one vet, so it is unlikely that the same vet will always be able see your horse. However, if there is a particular vet at the practice that you and your horse have an affinity with, you can ask to see that vet, and if they are available, they will undoubtedly be more than happy to see your horse. This may not always be possible though, particularly if your horse has a specific condition that only one vet specialises in; in these circumstances, it is best that the most knowledgeable vet sees your horse.

Dont forget to also ask your horsey friends and other horse owners in your area which practice they use - it is more than likely that quite a few of the other horse owners in your area will use the same practice - it is always useful to get other people's opinions and ask them about their experiences they have had with their practice.

What practice facilities would be beneficial?

If you want to avoid having your horse referred to a more specialised practice for procedures such as surgery, diagnostic imaging and lab tests, it would be handy if the practice you choose has the following facilities:

  • Endoscopy equipment
  • In-house laboratory 
  • In-patient facilities, ie overnight stabling 
  • Mobile and in-house x-ray, and ultrasound machines
  • Surgical suite with facilities for undertaking general anaesthesia, including a padded anaesthetic room

Choosing a practice that has modern facilities means the investigation of your horse's problem will not be limited, and will enable prompt treatment in an emergency.

What else do I need to know?

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) is the regulatory body for vets in the UK. They ensure that standards within the veterinary profession are maintained, safeguarding the health and welfare of animals and the interests of the public. Therefore, the RCVS website is the best place to start when looking for a practice or vet for your horse.

The RCVS maintains a register of vets eligible to practise in the UK, and they also run a Practice Standards Scheme (PSS); this is a voluntary initiative to accredit veterinary practices in the UK. Through setting standards and carrying out regular inspections, the Scheme aims to promote and maintain the highest standards of veterinary care. To become accredited, practices volunteer for rigorous inspection every four years and they have met a range of minimum standards including hygiene, 24-hour emergency cover, staff training, certain types of equipment and cost estimation procedures. They may also be subject to spot-checks between inspections. Look out for the RCVS accredited practice logo (see below), which indicates that the practice has passed an independent inspection. This means high standards of care for your horse and peace of mind for you.

To find a practice that is accredited to the Scheme, use the Find a Vet service on the RCVS website www.findavet.org.uk.

Useful websites