What does your horse need to live a healthy and happy life? What needs does it have?
Species-appropriate horse husbandry helps to positively influence the behavior and health of your horse. It is therefore important that we find out about the needs of our animals and that we meet them as best we can. Enable your horse to lead a healthy and happy life through species-appropriate horse husbandry by taking its natural needs into account.
What does species-appropriate horse husbandry mean?
Species-appropriate horse husbandry means that horses are supported in their natural habitat and their natural behavior. Before people started keeping horses as working animals or as sport and leisure partners, they lived as wild herd animals in a steppe landscape. They were constantly on the move in search of fresh water, food and shelter from the elements. Horses are designed to move slowly and graze for up to 16 hours. Wild horses constantly monitor their surroundings in order to flee as quickly as possible in the event of danger. Even though they became our modern-day pets, they still have the same needs as their ancestors who lived in the wild. But that doesn't mean that horses have to be kept in the wild. Rather, it is about responding as well as possible to their natural needs in man-made environments: What does a horse need to live a happy and healthy life? A horse owner who strives to provide welfare for their horse should regularly review their housing conditions to ensure they meet their horse's needs.
The German Animal Welfare Act provides the framework for animal welfare-friendly animal husbandry:
"Anyone who keeps, looks after or has to look after an animal
1. must feed the animal appropriately according to its species and needs, care for it and house it in a manner appropriate to its behavior,
2. must not restrict the animal's ability to exercise in a manner appropriate to its species in such a way that pain or avoidable suffering or harm is caused to it,
3. must have the knowledge and skills required for appropriate nutrition, care and accommodation of the animal.
(German Animal Welfare Act §2, https://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/tierschg/BJNR012770972.html )
Unfortunately, there are still many horses living in inappropriate housing conditions. This can cause the animals to become ill, develop behavioral problems, or reduce their life expectancy. By understanding what equine welfare means and by further promoting it, we can ensure that more horses can live in environments that meet their natural needs.
Of course, the species-appropriate husbandry of your horse can differ from the husbandry of another horse. Every horse is individual and has its own needs, life history and health condition. Therefore, it is important to consider the needs of your horse and to enable your horse to live a healthy and happy life through the appropriate attitude.
This blog post is about the needs of horses and how species-appropriate horse husbandry should look like. But of course, other individual needs and conditions can take precedence for your horse.
What does species-appropriate horse husbandry look like?
1. Sufficient space and freedom of movement
Horses need enough space to move naturally. They are walking animals and in the wild would travel several kilometers each day in search of food, water and suitable places to sleep. Not only their digestion, their breathing and their circulation are geared towards sufficient exercise. Sufficient exercise also keeps their joints, muscles and hooves in good condition and the horse is healthier overall.
This means horses should live in large, open pastures that contain enough grass and water to meet their nutritional needs. It is important that they are allowed to express their natural behaviors. Horses are herd animals and therefore need contact with other animals. To do this, they need enough space to move freely and to romp and interact with other horses.
2. A balanced diet
As already mentioned, species-appropriate horse husbandry also means meeting the nutritional needs of our horses. Originally, horses were animals of the steppes, ie their stomachs are designed to eat small amounts of roughage for 16 - 18 hours a day. The digestive tract is designed for a constant intake of food with few interruptions. A horse should not go more than 4 hours without food. Feeding horses only two to three times a day with a large portion of roughage is therefore not species-appropriate. The horse's stomach is not prepared for this. He continues to produce stomach acid, which can make the stomach acidic when there is no more food available. This can even lead to colic or stomach ulcers. High-quality feed, supplementary feed to compensate for any deficiencies and access to clean water will help keep your horse healthy.
3. Creating safe and clean living spaces
Horses need a safe and clean shelter to protect them from the weather. This should be sufficiently strewn and regularly cleaned and maintained. It should be large enough for the horses to lie down there. The run - whether pasture or paddock - should be regularly checked for safety and cleaned. For a horse, grooming includes being able to roll around in the sand or mud. In this way, it can scour off itchy, loose fur, for example when changing fur, or even get rid of mosquitoes. Pasture and paddock, like a stall box, must be cleaned regularly to keep the worm pressure low.
4. Regular medical care and nursing
Horses should be checked regularly by a veterinarian. This allows any health problems to be identified and treated early.
It is important that horses are regularly vaccinated and given medical attention. If they are ill or injured, they should be treated as soon as possible to speed up their recovery. Of course, regular care such as grooming, hoof care and dental care is also part of it. Horses are social creatures, so grooming is important to them.
5. Avoiding unnecessary interventions in the horse's body
Species-appropriate horse husbandry also includes avoiding unnecessary interventions in their bodies. This includes, for example, the use of drugs to control the horses' behavior. Special care must be taken when using drugs and chemicals in the environment where horses live. If in doubt, it is best to consult your veterinarian.
6. Social contacts with other horses
Horses are herd animals. They naturally live in groups. A species-appropriate husbandry also means that every horse is allowed contact with its own kind. In relation to the horses' mental health, it is important that they have social contact with other horses and us humans as their caretakers and that they are mentally challenged and engaged. This can be accomplished through exercise or therapy programs, or through other pursuits.
A horse therefore needs sufficient feed, water, exercise and company. Species-appropriate horse husbandry should meet the needs of the horse, but also meet the demands of the rider. But which form of husbandry can do this and is most suitable.
Which horse husbandry is species-appropriate?
Hopefully one thing has now become clear: Horses should not only be kept in a box. Horses need enough exercise, space, fresh air and social contact with other horses in order to be able to live appropriately. They need an open stable concept or at least stable housing with a lot of time on the pasture or large, airy paddock boxes. An active stable or a paddock trail would be best. As already mentioned, every owner has to look for the best solution for his horse and also for himself.
Here we give you an overview of the different types of housing and their respective advantages.
With this form of husbandry, the horse spends a certain period of the day in a closed horse box, which must be at least 3.50 mx 3.50 m in size. Grazing, paddock and riding times bring necessary variety to the daily routine. Lunging, free running in the hall and ground work are then among the activities for the horse to do as much justice as possible to its urge to move and to bring variety into its everyday life. Many horses only spend the night in the box and are out on the pasture or in the paddock during the day. Since contact with other horses is very important, the partition walls of a horse box should be designed in such a way that at least visual and olfactory contact with other horses is possible.
There are different forms of boxing. For example, there are stables where each horse box has its own paddock. This gives the horse the opportunity to switch between a protected shelter and the outside area. But of course this is no substitute for a large pasture where the horse can romp with its fellow horses and get much more exercise.
Reasons for boxing could be:
- Reduced risk of injury:
Very spirited horses that romp across the pasture can quickly injure themselves. Also, when romping around with fellow animals in the herd, there is one or two kicks that can also lead to serious injuries.
- Controllable amount of feed:
You can ration more precisely what your horse should eat in the box. This could be important for horses who want to gain or lose weight in a controlled manner. Even low-ranking horses can eat here in peace without being driven from the feeding place by the higher-ranking herd animals.
- Difficult social behavior of a horse:
Horses that pose a threat to their peers in the herd due to their difficult social behavior are often kept in a box. But these horses – or these horses in particular – absolutely need enough exercise and activity so that their behavioral problems do not worsen and they become more balanced.
- Old or sick horses:
For age-related or health reasons, it may be better or necessary for a horse to be protected from the weather in a box at least at night. In the fall or winter, when the weather gets very wet and cold and the outside areas may get too muddy, it may be better for sick or old horses to be sheltered and dry.
In an open stable, horses live outside day and night - usually in a herd. You can move freely between the pasture, paddock and shelter that protects you from the wind and weather.
This form of husbandry is appropriate to the species, as it gives your horse enough freedom to express its natural behavior.
Advantages of an open stable:
- Sufficient opportunities for movement
As already described above, horses are absolute movement animals that are constantly moving by nature. An open stable offers the horse these opportunities for movement. It can decide freely whether it wants to move, rest or romp around with other conspecifics.
Exercise keeps your horse healthy. An hour of exercise indoors and an hour in the paddock just wouldn't be enough for a healthy horse.
- Species-appropriate feed intake
Horses can follow their natural urge to eat when kept in an open stable.
They can behave as naturally as their ancestors, the steppe animals: eat for many hours, rest in between, groom their fur and eat again. There are no long feeding breaks (especially at night), which are not species-appropriate.
- Species-appropriate herd life
Horses need social contacts, form friendships with other horses, want to romp around and care for each other's fur. Your horse can only act out this behavior in a herd cohesion. In a well-managed open stable, your horse can live in a herd in a manner appropriate to its species.
- More light and air, better for the respiratory system
If your horse is kept in a stable with stalls, it is exposed to increased dust exposure from handing out hay, sweeping, spreading straw, etc. This can irritate the airways or even cause respiratory diseases. In an open barn, the dust pollution is much lower, there is more fresh air. In addition, your horse is outside all day - unless it takes shelter to seek protection from the weather - and thus has significantly more daylight.
In addition to the open stables described above, there are also modifications that are even more species-appropriate for your horse. These include the active stable and the paddock trail.
In an active stable, the horses live outside in a herd 24 hours a day, just like in an open stable. This means that all the advantages that we just mentioned for the open stable also apply to the active stable.
However, the concept of the active stable corresponds even more to the natural behavior of horses in the wild: In an active stable, the areas are divided in such a way that your horse covers as much distance as possible to get to the hay area, to pasture, to the water, to the resting area or to the rolling area come. There are many different areas and long walkways that the horses have access to. They can decide for themselves what they want to do and where they want to stay - of course with small restrictions due to grazing times, horseback riding and the like. This reduces boredom and stress, which, in addition to the constant exercise, has a positive effect on your horse's health.
In modern active stables, horses can collect their feed ration with a chip that is attached to a foot band, halter, neck ring or mane. This chip is programmed to the individual needs of each horse and determines how much and which feed it gets or how long it has access to the feed area. This access is then regulated by selection gates.
Due to the various stations and long walking distances, your horse is optimally occupied in the herd and has the opportunity to meet its natural need for movement. Therefore, this form of husbandry comes very close to the life of horses in the wild and thus corresponds to species-appropriate horse husbandry.
The American blacksmith Jamie Jackson watched wild horses for years and was amazed by their healthy hooves. That's why he developed a concept of the paddock trail or paddock paradise: a paddock that is structured like a hiking route in the form of a circle and, like in an active stable, offers your horse incentives to move through various feed and water stations. For example, hay racks, mangers or hay nets are attached, which the curious horse wanders off one after the other - and if possible on different floor coverings. This in turn comes very close to the life of steppe animals and the natural eating behavior of horses. Therefore, one can also speak of species-appropriate horse husbandry with this concept.
Overall, species-appropriate horse husbandry is of crucial importance for the well-being and health of your horse. It can live out its natural needs and develop its full potential. A species-appropriate attitude leads to your horse being happier and more satisfied, which in turn means a good prerequisite for a trusting relationship between horse and owner or supervisor. If your horse feels comfortable in his environment, you will be happier and enjoy spending more time with your horse.
Check your horse's housing conditions regularly. Find out where there is a stable that offers your horse the best possible housing conditions, that meets its needs and that also meets your requirements.