The new way of keeping horses

The new way of keeping horses

We all know the picture of the horse with his head over the gorgeous stable door. Standing on a big bed of yellow straw. The horse with big iron horse shoes on wearing a brand new blanket.
Looks perfect, doesn’t it……that’s how I also used to believe a loved horse should be kept.

I also was one of those little horse girls, so when I turned 38 I decided it was time to own my own horse.
A dream come true.

I ended up in the world of stables, giggling horse girls and money.
However, soon I found out that the horses in these places weren’t all that happy.
They seemed nerveous, cranky and were sick al lot of the time.
Since I have a curious nature I decided to investigate this matter.
Through my travels around the world and a lot of research on the internet I learned about a new way of keeping horses.
What an eyeopening…….. . I learned so much, got so much new information. It all sounded so logical. Why hadn’t I thought of that myself, I wondered.
The only answer I could come up with was ‘’but everybody keeps horses like this’’ and ‘’that’s the only way I know”.
But now I do know better, and fortunately more and more people are learning new ways.
And it is catching on, even wellknown competition riders are changing their views about the best way to keep a horse.
I want to chare the information I learned with as much people as possible. I truly believe that knowledge is power.
Unfortunately not everybody is willing to learn and change.
So I challenge everybody, dare to think for yourself, don’t just follow old habits. Dare to change !!!!!

In professional stables horses are mostly kept in individual boxes, sometimes for as much as 23 hours per day.
Just imagine keeping your dog locked up in a kennel, in which he can just turn around, for 23 hours per day… you would get charged with animal cruelty.

If you look at a horses body, we see a massive amount of tendons and mussles.
Since tendons have low bloodflow, they need to move constantly to stay warm.
In a box they cannot move much. Adding to the misery is the fact the horses build up their energy out of lack of exercise. If they are finally allowed out of their box, this energy explodes, the tendons are not ready for this, and voilá, the perfect recipe for tendon injuries. A thing which appears to happen on a regular bases with horses who are kept in boxes.
The explanation given to me by a stable manager was ‘’horses have weak legs and are predisposed for tendon injuries’’. Oh really, so in nature all horses are always limping…..?

In Holland an official horse organistion came up with a standard of horse keeping. One of their guidelines is the preferable size of the box in which the horse is kept. If you compare it to ‘the cat world’ it would be the size of a cat’s litterbox. However they advise to let the horse a minumum of 30 minutes per day out of his ‘’litterbox”. Aren’t they generous……
That’s the reason they call it a box, right?

Feed, another aspect of keeping horse that is so done wrong.
I learned that horses are very sober eaters. In nature they move big distances every day looking for tufts of dry grass, bushes and some herbs.
In captivity they are mostly fed some hay topped off with lots of concentrate pellets twice a day.
In between the two feeds they get nothing. This is a big problem for horses. They need to be able to eat almost constantly. The saliva they produce while chewing is instrumental to nutralising the acids in their stomach. Whithout this, they will get ulcers very easliy. Research has shown that more than 95% of horse kept in stables have ulcers. No wonder they are cranky.
The pellets they are fed are chock-full of sugars and energy. Things they absolutely do not need, especially not when confined in a box.
And what about the horses outside in a field with nice green grass, I hear you ask? They certainly doing better than their friends kept in boxes. However green grass is too rich for horses. It can cause some other conditions detrimental to horses.
To be able to keep a horse and feed him just with grass from the field, you need 2500m2 per horse. In Holland space is limited. So you see a lot of horses on too small pieces of land which have turned into mud pits.

Horses are social animals with complex herd social structures. Being able to have contact with other horses is crucial for their wellbeing. Just seeing another horse through a bar is not sufficient.
They need to be able to play and groome each other. The herd also gives them stability since they are flight animals.
With this knowlegde you must start to realise how much we are taking away for the horses needs when we are confining them to a solitude life in a box, or keeping them all alone on a piece of land. A thing you see often when driving in the countryside.
Horses should be able to reach 30 years under normal conditions. The reality is that a lot of horses are used up by the time they reach 10 years old, because they have developed artrosis.
Just like dogs, a horses’ joints and bones are only fully developed by the age of 4 or 5. So riding before that age will cause many artrosis problems in their later lives. But who has the time to wait. They have to start making money fast.
Another common thing is artrosis in the neck. Not a surprise if you see the position their neck is pulled during traditional dressage exercises. The more the neck is pulled towards their torso the more points are awarded at competitions.
Reminds me of the poor dogs with short muzzles, who are bred like that because people think it looks nice. The fact the poor dogs can hardly breath seems irrilevant.
Madness. And still people are surprised when their horse developes neck problems at an early age.

Horse shoes
Lets keep going. ‘’All horses needs horse shoes”. Just ask around and everybody will tell you this, But why.
In the old days horses were used in wars and for field work. For this they had to navigate bad, irregular roads. That is they reason they were fitted with horse shoes.
Horses nowadays mostly only ride on sand and an occasional piece of asphalt. Nothing that their hooves cannot handle. Nature would have done a poor job if a horse hoove could not handle a bit of hard surface. In nature they encounter ruggid roads filled with rocks and have no problems whatsoever.
Horse shoes restrict the normal operation of the hoof and make the hooves weak. Only when a hoove needs to be stabilized or the position correction are horse shoes warrented.

‘’And how about horses standing outside in the cold, they look so sad, they look like they need a blanket’’.
The horse coat is such a beautiful instrument capable of keeping the horse cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
Exactly how this works is complicated and I will not get into that here. A lot of information can be found on internet. It is fair to say horses don’t need our interfering their natural processes with blankets. They restrict the abilty of the coat to raise the hairs and keep the horse warm.
The coats of horses kept in stables often are shaven. Why are peolpe doing this you must wonder.
When horses run they sweat. In the winter they develop a thick winter coat so they sweat more. When a horse is sweaty you cannot put it in a box, because they might get pheumonia. When you put them in a field after a workout they are fine, since they can keep moving and keep their blood flowing which helps in the drying process.

The solution people invented to get the horses dry more quickly is to shave them. No thick winter coat means less sweat, so you can put them in their box more quickly, no need to walk with them until they are dry, so more time for meaningless things like gossiping in the bar after riding.
So they reason you see horses with blankets on are because they were shaven and have no winter coat. A non shaven horse does not need a blanket.
There is nobody waiting around in nature to put blankets on horses after they have been running while trying to escape a predator, and still they are fine.
Another old habit that keeps persisting. Who cares we are stripping an animal of their natural ability for our personal gain.

So what is the best way to keep a horse?
Every animal benifits if it can live as close to the way nature intended it to live.
For horses that means living on a sufficient large piece of land where they can forage, are given enough food during the full 24 hours, get to endure different surfaces to keep their hooves in good condition and where they can enjoy the company of other horses so they can develop a family structure.
The system that approaches their natural way of life the most is the paddock paradise system.
In this system horses are kept on a big piece of land. On the land a track system is built. This is a demarcation on the land that forces the animals to walk a distance to reach their food or water sources. In our paddock the horses have to navigate a piece of forest with tree trunks and rocks to reach their food. This stimulates their foraging behaviour.
They are only fed good quality dry hay. It is presented to them via a slowfeeding system. Since they have make some effort to get the hay out of the containers it makes the hay last for the full 24 hours, so they are never without food which is benificial for their sensitive digestive system.
Off course horse shoes, shaving and blankets are an absolute no no.
The result is that we have happy healthy and relaxed horses.
The only downfall is that there is not much more to shop for in the fancy horse tack stores. It seems that all the attire for horses is quite unnecessary and sometimes even harmfull.
Could it be that commerce and money is part to blame for the fact people hang on to the conventional way of keeping horses.
Isn’t it always about money?????

A last point to ponder; why do we always mount a horse on the left side?
When horses where used in the war long time ago the warriors had swords hanging from their right sides which prevented them from mounting on the right side of the horse.
Luckely those wars are in the far past. How about we let go of all those outdated practices also.

Your horse will be grateful.