There is a lot of information on the web and from trainers about how to properly care for your four legged friend. Obviously, every horse is different and thus requires a tailored living situation. Part one of Healthy Horse is based on the equine mind and emotional support. At the end of the day, where and with whom your horse lives plays a major role in his or her attitude.
Note: This is a very long and important article to read. A lot of people don’t realize that their boarding situation may not be conducive to their horse’s happiness. Be sure to take a look at Autumn’s journey with living situations.
Facilities are plentiful but, finding a proper barn can be a bit of a challenge. My biggest advice to you is to not be afraid search a while and move when things go wrong. Your number one job as a horse owner is to find a suitable home for your four legged friend. Their happiness is your happiness. Take into consideration your drive, the prices, and reviews of the location you’re looking at to board. Make meetings, talk to the owners, chat with boarders without others around, and always look at the state of the horses and buildings currently there. Once you have found a place you are comfortable with, work within your budget and with the owners to find the best spot for your horse on property. Manners are a major role here. If your horse is a stallion that cannot be handled without a chain and an extra set of hands, don’t put him on the opposite end of property, furthest away from the cross-ties and arenas. Try to find an area that you and your horse like with lots to look at and is close to the rings you want to use. The biggest question for your horse is where will he or she live. Typically there are three options for a horse: some type of box stall, paddock, or pastures. Here are a few points to remember about horses: 1. Horses are herd bound and like their buddies. They are just like humans, needing companionship and physical touch; its why they will groom for hours. 2. Their bodies are made for freely walking and running around…all day long. 3. All horses are different. Some like more or less of time alone, with friends, or in a stall.
Typically used for show horses, priced between mid to high hundreds and up. The idea is to try and ensure little risk of injury or marks that may look bad. Usually the most expensive option at a barn, it is great, in theory, for protecting your horse. But remember, your horse needs contact and motion no matter the personality. Some can become very bitter about being stalled. They may pace, strike, crib, or kick out at other horses next to them. The energy and personality of your animal will determine if a stall will do more or less good for them. Grooming is a herd tool to show ranking and friendship, its also very relaxing to most every horse. When space and interactions are taken away, there can be a strong, unsettled behavior amongst him or her.
Dust is usually the last thing you would think about when you put your horse away. But, barns that are not well ventilated and shavings that aren’t well managed or screened can and will cause respiratory problems. Imagine going to bed every night with saw dust floating in your room. You can bet that you will either get sick or have some type of repertory issue. Ultimately, unless your barn is well drafted, shavings are safe, and your horse is out being worked or in turn out for more than most of the day, box stalls most likely are not the best option for him or her.
Pros: less chance of getting scratches or bite marks, no weathering, low upkeep, and highly monitored. Cons: not constantly working, little horse interaction, small space, can be dusty, and can create pent up energy. Putting your horses in a box stall is a great thought.
Used for all types of horses (no stallions or horses with back shoes), usually in the low hundreds. Highest risk for injury but, the best option to maintain a horse’s mind and body. Herd living situations create a horse that is well balanced as long as the herd is conducive to his or her happiness. An aggressive alpha can deter your horse from eating or drinking and at times the situation can be extremely volatile. However, small herds eliminate these issues and can provide a very safe and happy haven. Knowing the personalities of other horses are essential to limit moving your horse around too much. You never want to move too much since it can stress your horse out to the point of ulcers or colic.
Maintenance in a pasture is also critical. Bigger the space, more of a chance for a disaster. The ground and fences must be maintained constantly to ensure that your horse will not be injured. Water and feeding throughs are often left to the way side in pasture living which can be dangerous (see The Royal Flush for proper water and feeder care). Also, weather can be a constant threat of ruing a pasture. Without proper blanketing or covers, water will also strip your horse from any natural protection form the elements. So, be sure that you can manage blanketing (click to see my Horsewear review) and that there is a shelter. Also, double checking your horse will become are the more essential, you never know what naughty thing they did last night. With pasture living, you have to play your cards right with the owners. Maintenance and herding is essential but, if the cards are in your favor, its the best for your horse.
Pros: Lets a horse have a natural way of living (better for mind and bodies), no need for turn outs. Cons: Need a good facility and herd, high maintenance, and risk of injury is higher.
Used for all types of horses and is a happy in between from box to pasture, usually in the low to mid hundreds. Typically made from pipes, these stalls can be modified to set help your horse’s living situation. Issues of not enough room, bad neighbors, and lack of shelter can all be an issue. But, if you have all of those things taken care of, problems such as not enough ventilation, high risk of injury, and being stall sour often fall to the way side. If pastures are too hard to manage and stalls keep your horse too cooped up, paddocks are the perfect place for your horse to hang their hat. Blanketing could still be an necessity depending on his or her hair cut. However, since the space is smaller, you won’t be spending too much time maintaining the area. Also, just like normal stall, it is easier to keep track of what your horse is doing or how their health is.
Pros: Just enough room to walk around and trot a bit, can connect with friends, fresh air, usually covered, limited chance of injury, and easy to keep track of your horse. Cons: Turn outs are still needed and can still be effected by weather.
Personally, after running all of the pros and cons of the types of living situations, a large paddock seems to be the best for a horse’s health, but remember, your horse still may nor like it. Test the waters for the right home!
Friend Time and Turn Outs
Pasture or stall mates maintain your horse’s well being and happiness. As much as we would all love to be their best buddy, we cannot live right next to them or speak their language. Another horse allows for grooming and companionship, making your life as an owner easier by having an emotionally stable partner.
Turn outs are always needed. Of course, if they aren’t working they should be out playing as much as possible. Luckily, turn outs are typically maintained better than pastures, making it easy to trust your horse outside. Try to get our horse out after a workout so that he or she doesn’t blow up with every and get hurt. A tired horse is a safe horse. Also, take this time for a pasture ball to play games and bond. Do dome liberty work and watch how your horse carries. Sometimes we can’t see or feel the awkwardness that your horse might have in a gallop or trot. Knowing your horse’s body in and out of a saddle is everything. Running around and having alone time will let your horse relax and enjoy the great out doors. Always let your horse have time in a turn out or round pen once a day if possible.
Since October, Autumn has made quite a few moves in order to find the right fit for her. At our first, crowded barn, she moved into a half acre on a hill with a pasture mate that tried to kill her. Then into a pen for a few days with a 6 month old where she rubbed out half her mane on the poles. The two of them moved to another half acre pasture where she had tons of friends on either side of her. There I thought she would stay, until the pasture stopped being maintained due to rain after a month and a half. Lack of maintenance translated into a foot of mud, gross water, dirty bins, and sore tendons. Since that barn wouldn’t help me, help her and I ended up doing all of the work and moving her to a place closer to home. There she started out in a great pasture with a number of friends. The same day, they moved her without telling me and put her in with an older gelding that she now loves! But, their pastures aren’t maintained at all and there is a literal river running though the area. So, she was in a stall, in an empty barn just to weather the storm and rest her little baby legs. She was very anxious there and after I had gotten hurt (she damaged nerves in my arm) I decided that her pasture would be her perminate home. However, within the week (about four days ago) they moved two random, feral geldings into her pasture in the middle of the night. I only found out because I pulled up to them being unloaded. Now, she is in a paddock and is happy as can be. She went from a horse that was unable to walk on a lead outside of a pasture from too much stimulus to a horse that had too much energy to walk at all. Now, all of her training is coming together and she walks like a perfect little babe and she lets me lay on her back during nap time. And of course, I am thoroughly looking for our forever home. Hopefully, a home where I can train and bewitch her all day. Exhausting, right? But, I do my best to keep her calm and stress free. Her situation is my priority and I bend to whatever price I can logically afford to support her joy.
The things we do to know our horses are happy!