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Horse management the way nature intended

Although domesticated horses can rarely live with the kind of freedom that wild horses enjoy, all horses have species-specific needs that must be met, in order for the horse to be physically and mentally well.


In this blog post we explore the three basic needs that all horses have: friends, forage and freedom. We must take these three things into careful consideration when we plan our horse management routines.


Herd of horses in an open pasture.

Why are these things important?

It’s important to understand these species specific needs of the horse, because if those needs are not met, the horse is not healthy or happy. We can avoid or repair the vast majority of problems our horses are afflicted with, by attending to the species specific needs of these animals and practicing holistic horse keeping, which is equivalent to preventative medicine.

 

Friends

Horse is a herd animal. They are meant to live in herds, where they have the company of other animals of the same species. Herd means friends, but it also means safety for a horse. So when you plan your horse management, you should make a herd life a priority.


A horse living alone can get stressed, it might not sleep properly (skipping the all-important REM sleep), and it can develop a multitude of other health issues, that could be avoided if the horse was provided friends.


Two horses touching noses to greet each other

Forage

Horses are grazing animals. They only sleep a few short hours in any 24 hour period, and the rest of the time is spent mainly on sourcing food and water. When you review your horse management practices, make sure that your horse has access to good quality forage all around the clock.


Horse and a pony eating hay from a hay feeder in a paddock.


Freedom 

Horses are prey animals. This means that, in order to feel safe, they need to be able to move. Think about the horse’s natural habitat: wild horses live in vast open spaces, where they can see predators from miles away, and they have room to run. This is the type of environment where a horse feels at its safest. Not in a stable, not in a small turnout pen.

 

Movement isn’t just important for the mental wellbeing of the horse. It plays a major part in hoof health and whole horse health. Movement is crucial for good hoof development; remember that horses were designed to move almost all around the clock.


Two horses running and having fun.


How can you improve your horse management practices?

When it comes to improving our horse’s mental and physical wellbeing, it’s simple really.

 

  1. If your horse lives alone, offer them a herd to live in. If your current boarding facility only offers individual turnout, move to a place where your horse can live in a herd.

  2. Make sure your horse has constant access to good quality forage. This means hay with low-sugar content, not rich, sugary grass.

  3. Let your horse live out 24/7/365. Again, if your current boarding facility doesn’t offer this, find one that does. Or at the very least increase the turnout to the maximum possible. No horse should ever live in a stable for 20 hours a day, simply because the land owner “doesn’t want their paddocks ruined” when the weather is bad.

 

Think about how much time you spend with your horse daily. 2-3 hours, maybe? What’s your horse’s quality of life outside those hours? Are their species-specific needs met for the remaining 22 hours a day? They should be – your horse deserves it.


Herd of horses grazing with the setting sun in the background

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