Sometimes I have this idea of having all horses (including sports horses) living out 24/7, just being horses, playing nicely together, having no social issues, being brought in for when we ride them then freed again onto their paddocks, walking around with healthy guts, never colic, never weave from stress as they have plenty of space to roam about it and indulge in their motion and chewing instincts, never gain too much weight on rich grass, never lose weight etc etc, I am sure many of you will get the picture.
It seems like the perfect way to go isn’t it? Why argue with million years of evolution and keep horses under the roof, rugged up in 5 rug layers, in lycra hoodies, special no-dust bedding, hay straight from a hay steamer?
You know how certain instincts will always be present in any animal? We can stable horses 24/7 and only take them out when they are being ridden but we can never eradicate the need they feel to move their legs. It can manifest itself in box walking, lethargy, weaving, grumpiness, ulcers, mental issues etc We can feed most horses to our own idea of good diet both in content and in frequency but the need to chew for most hours of the day will always be there. It might show as crib biting, chewing on pieces of tack like reins or lunge line, playing with tongue through to ulcers again, colic, teeth problems.
There is of course what seems like a good middle ground – in at night out during a day or in for certain amount of time, then out the rest.
So what’s best for our horses?
To me there is no one answer here. To the notion of 24/7 out for all horses I would say, when was the last time we revised Charles Darwin’s survival of the fittest theory? When was the last time we saw Mother Nature showing mercy to old and weak or ill?
Sure, horses can survive against many odds. Just look at this wild stallion with his leg broken – still alive and found a way to follow his herd…but is this what we want for our riding horses or companion horses? So they fight with their might to survive because that’s how they were designed to live?
I often see online owners mentioning how they find themselves being talked down to because of the way they keep their horse(s). Sometimes it’s because their horse wears a rug whilst all others are naked or comes in when it’s cold and wet. Perhaps that horse could live 24/7 outside indeed exactly like the stallion above “can”. Perhaps we should keep our old and ill horses out without much “modern” knowledge and help and let the natural ways decide about the condition our horse should be in?
I personally love seeing horses living as much outside as possible and can’t stand seeing 24/7 stabling no matter how well horses are treated otherwise. I can’t have respect for the latter no matter what as it shows basic misunderstanding of equine nature. However, I have what I would call a healthy respect for Nature and I know there isn’t a word “sorry” in her dictionary. Knowledge of each individual horse, of their health, social needs, nutritional needs, hoofcare needs is a must if we are to make an informed decision of their management routine.
Please share your views in comments. I have huge interest in “stable/field management” and would love to know what you think and how you keep your horses and why…