Thursday, 28 February 2013

What horses really want...

My horses have a field shelter in a yard (so that's really a ‘yard shelter’ I guess), which opens onto their fairly huge, hilly field. The yard is maybe 20M by 30M – a big enough space for them to move around in, but not enormous. They are given hay and feed in the yard in bad weather, as conditions are pretty rough out in the field (that whole living half way up a Scottish mountain thing again…)

I’ve been watching their use of the field over the past few weeks, in a variety of weathers – snow, wind, rain, occasional crisp sunny days. As these horses have the choice of staying in or going out, it's interesting to see what they do. I don’t watch them 24 hours a day, so I can’t say for sure what they do when I am away, but here’s what I have seen. 

Flynn, the arab, hasn’t been out of the yard for weeks! He’s quite sound, happy to go and belt about loose in the school, or go out for a walk, but just looks quite content hanging about the yard. We know he hasn’t been out in the field as he has some cream on his leg just about his hoof, and it is untouched, legs are beautifully clean!

From the mud on their legs, I know that Benson and Paddy, the other two old gentlemen have been out in the field, but I haven’t seen them doing this.

Tigger and Elvis, the youngsters, go out for short spells to play, then come back in to doze and eat.

When it was snowy, I could follow their tracks into the field, and none of them had ventured more than about 60 metres from the yard, although they had clearly run about a fair bit in this space. 

I can also tell from the amount of poo picking there is to do in the yard each morning, how much they are in - right now, unless they are coming in to use the 'indoor toilet' then going out again (unlikely!) they are pretty much staying put in the yard. 

So, although they all behave a little differently, none of the horses are too interested in wandering around a large, bare field at this time of year. Their priorities are sticking close to the hay (they rarely stop eating for more than 1 hour at a time), and sticking close to each other. They also move about a lot, within this reasonably small space – the youngsters, occasionally joined by ancient Paddy will canter, chase each other, rear, buck – in general have a play quite often, whilst the older boys usually just amble from one lot of hay to another.  

Conclusions? As usual, I can’t generalise from such a small group of horses and limited observations. But what do this bunch want most at this time of year? 

To eat in the company of good friends - all day long :-)

Space to move about is also very important, but they don't want to just stretch their legs for 8 hours at a time. Horses who are turned out alone all day with no forage are often described as 'not liking' turnout, because they quickly grow tired of it and want back in. Provide an environment outdoors that they enjoy (and that'd definitely include forage and company) and I'm sure they would quickly change their minds! Stabling 24/7 for weeks on end because they 'don't like turnout' should not, in my opinion, be considered as a reasonable management option. 

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