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What your horse actually needs

With Winter just around the corner, many owners will start bringing their horses into their stable more and more often with increasingly longer hours between turnout.

For some, stabling is used as a way to control grass intake, to stop fields from getting churned up in wet weather or simply to make life easier for the owner. As many of you may know by now, we do not stable horses or believe in ever doing so. Regardless of the everyday reasons horse owners offer for stabling their horses, it just isn’t something that aligns with our values and we will never recommend stabling to someone seeking support and advice from us.

Why, you may ask? Well, if we go back to basics, we know stabling interferes with a multitude of essential needs and requirements our horses have. As always with these types of posts, there will be some owners who disagree with turning to the lifestyle of wild and free roaming horses but despite one being wild and the other domesticated, there is no biological difference between the two. However, it is still a common idea that our ability to ride, keep and pet a domesticated horse somehow means their fundamental needs as a species are somehow different and should go ignored. Regardless, we belief in looking to the behaviours, diet and environment of the wild horse because there is little to no human interference - they are left to behave, live and forage however their species requires it.

Movement for our horses is just as important as the air they breathe and wild horses will travel over 20 miles per day to fulfil their various needs. Many domesticated horses still travel very little and are instead turned out into small paddocks or stables with no encouragement or freedom to move. Contrary to popular believe, riding our horses doesn’t achieve enough movement either because this movement is only happening for a short period of the day, maybe several times a week. Our horses rely on their daily movement to keep their circulatory systems working properly, which includes both blood and lymphatic fluid circulation, their minds stimulated, their feet growing, their muscles and joints strong, their weight maintained and their digestion functioning properly. When we take away their ability to move around freely, we compromise several of these all-important functions and instead contribute to stiff joints, weight gain or loss, muscle loss, poor hoof health, boredom, anxiety and stress as well as increased risk of ulcers and colic.

Something that is often glazed over is the emotional and mental wellbeing of our horses. Again, when we look at the lifestyle of wild horses, we know that they are social animals and instinctively travel in large herds. Our domesticated horses also possess these same instincts and needs such as finding safety in numbers, forming strong bonds with other herd members or horses and remaining alert for potential predators. When we isolate them by stabling them, we are restricting one of their most natural, crucial needs which can often be reflected by increased anxiety and associated behaviours. If living through Covid and lockdown taught us anything, it’s how detrimental being isolated can be to one’s mental health and we shouldn’t expect our horses to cope any better or react any differently. No amount of human contact, radio tunes, enrichment toys or pretty views from the stable door will replace their unwavering, perpetual need for other horses.

If you are someone who stables your horse through Winter, or in general for that matter, please stop to ask yourself – why? We as owners may find comfort in freshly laid stables when it’s cold outside or may sleep better at night knowing our horses can’t be injured by others, but by pushing our own beliefs and feelings onto our horses, we are in fact contributing to their poor mental and physical health. It’s about time the equine world starts treating horses as the horses they are. I know that the majority of owners want the very best for their horses but in reality, our horses need to have their fundamental needs met and stabling our horses is simply doing the complete opposite of that.

Illustration inspired by Horse Conversations.

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