People often ask me if our horses stay in their stalls all day, or at night, and my answer is always the same: Every horse stays out as much as possible. Even though it takes a little extra grooming, bug control, pasture maintenance, and definitely busting the occasional frozen water tub in the pasture, our horses love to be outside; and it is really what is best for their overall health and happiness.
Confinement in a stall conflicts with a horse’s natural impulse to move, socialize and graze. The stress of these unmet needs can affect horses in a number of ways. In some, these unmet needs can manifest into problematic behaviors such as cribbing, weaving and wood chewing. In others, they may exhibit excessive energy and difficulty focusing while riding and training. Standing in manure and urine in stalls can lead to hoof problems like thrush and white line disease,where the bacterias can cause severe damage and pain. The hoof, just like our foot, is vital in their ability to move, and as a lot of people will say, "no hoof, no horse." Exercise and movement encourages natural hoof growth, and studies show that horses that are turned out and allowed to move freely more frequently are in better physical condition overall.
Our horses are tasked with a very important job here that requires excellent behavior, trust, and concentration, so we do what we can to set them up for success. Horses are designed to move almost constantly. Their heart pumps blood throughout their bodies and to their extremities. The digital cushion in the hooves and the soft tissues, such as the muscles and tendons, help circulate the blood as the horse moves its legs. As the blood circulates, it carries nutrients and oxygen to the capillaries. Through the capillaries the unused nutrients and any waste is drained into the lymphatic system, where they are filtered through the lymph nodes. The blood filters back into the veins, to be circulated back to the heart where the process repeats itself. The key to all of this is the pumping of the digital cushion and the tendons, ligaments, muscles, and joints in the legs to aid in the circulating and blood cleansing process. For this to happen efficiently, the horse must be moving.
When a horse is confined to a stall, where it cannot move freely, this process may be hindered. If the blood and waste isn't pumped up the legs and back to the heart, some of it can pool. This pooling results in the swelling that we call 'stocking up'. Keeping horses stalled can cause issues with digestion, as well, sometimes resulting in every horse-owners worst nightmare: Colic. Horses in the wild and horses on full pasture turnout graze up to 18 hours a day. This means that they constantly have small amounts of forage passing through their system. Because they have always have food in their stomachs, the acids that initiate the breakdown of food remain within healthy levels. Then, because the amounts of food that pass through the small intestine are small, the digestive tract is kept functioning normally.
A big problem with feeding stall-kept horses is that they are typically given just a few large meals throughout the course of a day. When they are only fed two or three times a day, they can end up spending hours with nothing to eat. The equine stomach’s capacity is very small and food stays there for less than an hour. When the stomach is empty the stomach lining is left unprotected from the acids that aid in digestion, this is a key component in the onset of gastric ulcers.You know those weekly loads of groceries that take half of your paycheck -
and never seem to last long enough? If you think that's bad, just consider having to feed your kids if they weigh a whopping 1100-1700 pounds! Concentrated feeds, commercial grains, and baled grasses and legumes are very expensive, and while we will always have to depend on them to provide adequate nutrition, roughage, vitamin and mineral intake,
we also have great pastures at Southern Reins to ensure they are able to forage in their herd environment as much as possible.
The horses here at Southern Reins are by far the happiest and healthiest I have ever had the pleasure to care for, which I contribute almost exclusively to the large amount of turnout time they have. Because they are herd animals innately meant to live outside, they are much happier and healthier, which contributes directly to their ability to perform so well for us every day by staying in tune with the needs of their riders.
Thanks for reading - and keep your questions coming! I look forward to hearing from you!