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Is the paddock paradise beneficial to horses in work?

Updated: Oct 10, 2023

Paddock Paradise or Track Systems aren't just for equines with metabolic issues, stiffness or arthritis, laminitis or any sort of grass related issues. While yes, horses with the listed medical conditions benefit largely from this environment and lifestyle, a Paddock Paradise isn't intended JUST for equines with medical conditions or ongoing problems. Keeping equines on a Paddock Paradise comes with many benefits. Despite PB Livery specialising in horses with complex medical histories or horses in need of retirement, we also keep our own horse's on track who have not been retired nor are in need of rehabilitation. If we look at the most basic needs of our equines, we will find their physical and mental health is optimised when we address their diet, movement, environment and hoof care.

So, why is the Paddock Paradise suitable for 'Joe Bloggs' of the equine world? First, let's address the type of diet the Paddock Paradise requires to function. Within a Paddock Paradise are hay stations situated around the track, placed apart to encourage movement when fulfilling their daily needs. The stomach of a horse is the smallest unit of their digestive tract and can hold roughly 8 -15 litres. Depending on what they've digested, it takes 4-6 hours for the stomach to completely empty. When we provide our horses with small, infrequent amounts of hay or hay in short bursts, we often find our equines will quickly consume their forage and spend the rest of their time hungry. Once their stomach completely empties after that 4 hour period, problems can start to arise such as stressy behaviour, food guarding and possible Ulcers. Adlib hay which is typically used when on a track system, allows our equines to forage throughout the day whenever they'd like, eliminating the risk of our horses standing around without forage for long periods of time.

However, adlib hay and no movement is a recipe for disaster which brings me onto my next point. The Paddock Paradise is a 'concept based on the lifestyles of wild and free-roaming horses living naturally in the wild that was first conceived as a way to provide domestic horses with an environment that more closely resembles their natural habitat'. While the Paddock Paradise is incredibly important for those with ongoing conditions, movement is also crucial and highly beneficial to any horse - in work, retired or medically complex. As previously stated, movement is needed to fulfil their daily, most basic needs such as drinking and eating. When we welcome a new horse onto one of our PP tracks, we often explain to the owners that it will take some time for their horse to become 'track fit'. 'Track fit' is a phrase we like to use to describe the fitness levels, activity levels and muscle of any horse who has been on track for some time and is benefiting from the increased movement. A Paddock Paradise requires a horse to maintain a certain fitness level and in our own personal experience, we've had horses in regular work who look 'fit' but when first introduced to our environment, struggle to keep up with the rest of the herd.

Something horse owner's don't often address or talk about enough is the mental wellbeing of our horses. The mental health of your horse is just as important as their physical health. Too often we see horse's unable to properly socialise with their own species and equines who show some sort of anxious, stressy or bored behaviour. The wonderful thing about the Paddock Paradise is you really can make it your own, of course following the key principals. Tracks encourage natural play and socialisation while feeding our equines curiosity. By adding sources of enrichment, natural shelter and forage, winding tracks, ponds, different surfaces and incorporating woodland, hedges, trees with whatever else you have access to, it allows our equines to be mentally stimulated with the freedom of choice to do whatever they please. We often find equines kept in herds are also more confident within themselves, helping to decrease the stressy and anxious behaviours we mentioned previously.

Lastly, prevention. Prevention will always be better than managing conditions such as Laminitis, EMS, obesity and other diet related issues. Whilst some horses may appear to be more sensitive to grass than others, an unsuitable diet and lack of movement will always be a threat to any equine - young, old, thin, fat, cob or TB. Grass related issues aren't always obvious either, some horse's may show their sensitivity through headshaking, twitching, mud fever, sunburn or anxiety. Removing unnecessary sources of sugar will only contribute to your horse's overall health.

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