Wednesday, June 30, 2010
The bad staller
The stall-walker, weaver, or the horse with just general bad stall manners - horses were never meant to be cooped up into small 12 x 12 boxes and no amount of exercise you can give your horse while still keeping him stalled is going to help that. As herd animals, horses were meant to travel dozens of kilometres each day. So, what can you do?
The best thing you can do for your horse is to turn him out. Yes, even if he is valued at $50,000. Or $500,000. We often think we are doing our horses a favour by keeping them stalled - they are out of the weather, they're well-fed, they're pampered - but in reality we usually aren't, save for maybe the odd day you are outside and find your horse shivering in the cold. Keeping horses in a way nature never intended can actually be difficult on a horse emotionally and mentally. They are unable to socialise as much as they would out in a field, they are unable to play and expend extra energy, and they have virtually no mental stimulation throughout the day. From a physical standpoint, horses who are stalled for long periods of time during the day are more prone to ulcers and colic due to stress and the fact they cannot forage all day as they would in pasture.
Often too horses are stalled because we think they will be safer. They can't play and possibly injure themselves. Yet they actually have a higher risk of injury when they are stalled as opposed to when they are permitted free rein in pasture. Out in pasture, they will run and play, exercising and thus naturally strengthening their muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones. Locking a horse up in a small box restricts this ability - not only do you run the risk of your horse trying to expend energy and play (or stall-walk, kick at the walls, or weave!) in his stall and thus harming himself, but by sitting in his stall not using his body, he is also thus unable to strengthen his body like he would out in pasture. This can place him at a greater risk of him then injuring himself when you ask something of him later under-saddle, particularly if it is a strenuous activity such as reining or jumping.
In all honesty, in 20+ years of keeping horses, I have seen far less injuries in horses pastured than I ever have in stalled horses. Also, keeping horses in a herd environment out in pasture I have never seen the mental and emotional damage you find in those same horses when they are stalled. I think this is where the horse's needs must come above our own.
What are some things you can do if your only option is stalling your horse?
- Keep it temporary as possible - get your horse into as large a pasture as possible as soon as possible
- Mirrors - not the regular kind that can break
- Open-fronted stalls - such as what is used at the racetrack - webbed or chain fronts so the horse can look out and visit
- Open stalls in general - where the horse can see the horses next to him/her
- Well-lit, spacious, well-ventilated stalls
- As much turnout time as possible, or an attached run - this is NOT the same as pasture though!
- As much exercise as possible - this will NOT replace a horse's natural need to migrate and run/play throughout the day however it can at least help
- Toys in the stall - Likits, Jolly Balls, etc
- Company - goats, donkeys, etc in the stall with the horse
- Low-starch feeds - most horses do not require the high level of concentrates and starches we often feed, but particularly stalled horses should not get more concentrates than they absolutely require
- Forage available 24/7 - horses are meant to graze throughout the day; doing so can provide both mental stimulation and be healthy for their gut
The more like in nature we keep our horses, the better we simulate how they would be in the wild (with considerations), the better it is physically, emotionally, and mentally, for our horses.