To Stall or Not to Stall

The evidence connecting stables to stress is solid. Popular consensus, backed by this research and good ol’ common sense, is starting to lean towards a less-managed lifestyle, too. But there are still plenty of naysayers and traditionalists, especially in the helicopter-parenting world of high-end equines. They say stalls are actually good for horses.

I stumbled across one such blogger:



Liv Guide, the author of Pro Equine Grooms writes, in part:

  • Stalls are a wonderful way to keep horses… It’s easier to regulate input and output when horses are kept in stalls. And by that I mean what they eat and what they poop.
  • It’s easier to keep them clean

Unfortunately, her points are entirely focused on the needs of humans than horses. They come in the wake of research showing that stress in stalled horses can be three to four times higher than horses allowed to remain unstalled and in groups.

The research, conducted by eight vets and scientists and led by Dr. Regina Erber of the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, Austria, was published in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science. Read the abstract here.

They analyzed cortisol concentrations, movement, and heart rate in young mares isolated in stalls and in herd environments. The mares in group settings moved more and had significantly lower heart rates and cortisol concentrations than stalled mares.

“Separating horses from their group and (placing them) in individual stabling are perceived as stressful'” writes Erber et al.

Guide, the blogger, does make one good point. She writes that horses should learn about stalls, just as they need to learn about trailers:

At some point, they are going to need to be stalled and they better do it without hassle or stress…If you horse resists being in a stall, it’s your job to train the behavior so that when you need him in a stall, he will be okay with it.

Netherlands recently banned keeping horses in stalls. However, with vague, unquantifiable language and lax enforcement policies, the ban’s effect will be dubious. Read more about it here.

HF Bar Ranch, a perfect place for study

Equine researcher, Fred Holcomb, rides at the HF Bar Ranch

Equine researcher, Fred Holcomb, rides at the HF Bar Ranch

Fred Holcomb couldn’t have picked a better place to conduct his research on equine learning. He spent the summer at HF Bar Ranch in northern Wyoming where, as a wrangler, he had access to some 200 horses for his trials.

Read more about his research with our Follow Fred feature.

His boss, Paul Scherf, told me Holcomb was one of his finest wranglers.

“Within three weeks, he knew all the horses, who they liked to be with and where they like to stand in the corral,” said the head wrangler. “Some don’t learn that in a year or more. Fred is very smart, very gentle. He’s really good with horses.”

Research assistant Georgia McIntyre rides through study obstacle

Research assistant Georgia McIntyre rides through study obstacle

Holcomb may be working with broke horses, but that isn’t without its challenges.

“Once they’ve been used in the line (on trail rides with numerous guests), they don’t want to do anything else unless there’s another horse in front of them. I’ll be very interested to see his thesis,” added Scherf.

The HF Bar itself is a study to behold. As a working and guest ranch, it’s been running for more than a hundred years. In 1984, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and two years ago, 2,000 of its exquisite acres were placed in conservation easement.

Margi Schroth, who lives in Big Horn, Wyoming during the off-season, has owned and operated HF Bar for the last 33 years; Scherf has led the wrangling crew for 17 years.

Folks, be they employees or guests, like to come back.

Head wrangler, Paul Scherf, selects a horse

Head wrangler, Paul Scherf, selects a horse

The ranch, situated just east of the Bighorn National Forest, runs near capacity from May to October, employing nearly a dozen wranglers full time.

I asked Schroth what made the HF Bar so special. She explained:

“We pay attention to personal and family details. We have a very open policy; we don’t lock any doors.

We have very, very fine horses.

It’s comfortable.

And it’s an extraordinary piece of land, geologically, botanically. There is a spirit here. The ranch really sets the tone for itself.”


Peters weighs in on Rider Weight

20130201_jbl_WFC_1955Dr. Steve Peters, the neuropsychologist whose collaboration with horseman Martin Black produced Evidence-Based Horsemanship, joined the call for better horsemanship through better personal health with his recent Personal Statement, posted on the Evidence-Based Horsemanship facebook page.

It echoed recent BestHorsePractices posts, which explained research and implored riders to be mindful of the impact their weight and fitness have on their horses. Read research on Rider Weight. Read related blog post.

Reprinted with permission, Peters writes:

Everyday I counsel patients on what we refer to as “Chronic Metabolic Diseases”. The medical field is concerned with the epidemic of obesity and the diseases linked to it such as diabetes, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, heart disease, stroke, and dementia. I don’t counsel and educate these patients to be demeaning or find fault, but to help them manage their risk factors so that I don’t have to see them in the hospital with a stroke at relatively young age of 50.

This message is one of the few that can actually be life-saving and benefit your horse’s health and well being.

I think many of us fear not being politically correct or do not want to hurt someone’s feelings when we note that they are too large for their horses.

fat3-300x184 To know if you are the right weight use the 20 percent rule which includes you and your saddle’s weight in the formula. This weight combined should not exceed 20 percent of your horse’s ideal weight. This does not mean that simply fattening up your horse helps..It makes it worse. We are talking about the horse at its ideal weight. For example, if I weigh 150 pounds and I have a 50-pound saddle, the combined weight is 200 pounds.Therefore, I should not be riding horses under 1,000 pounds. The wear and tear on their joints and back have been shown to be excessive when we exceed this limit.

I am hoping that more people will begin to consider riding draft crosses. We own a Belgian cross who has become quite agile here in Utah’s mountains and fun for our bigger friends and family to ride.

I would like to challenge you to make some lifestyle changes if necessary to maintain the 20% rule because I want you enjoy your horse into your golden years and to have many happy horse-related days with kids and grandkids.

I wish you healthy days ahead and the best care you can provide your horse.


Dr. Steve Peters


BestHorsePractices at Outdoor Retailer

At NickerNews and BestHorsePractices nearly all our posts come from getting outside and spending time with horses. This week, however, we spent entirely indoors and horseless. Small sacrifice for what will be gained for our readership!

OR2Specifically we were at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The Salt Palace was home to Outdoor Retailer, one of the largest trade shows in the country with over 135 acres and 1,600 booths of outdoors-y stuff.
Marketing director Emily Thomas Luciano and I spent four dawn-to-dusk days meeting, networking, discovering, and researching all the people and products that could benefit our readers.

Here’s a sampling of things to come:

bertucciWe chatted with Mike Bertucci who owns and runs the American watch company of the same name. Bertucci watches are field tough and work brilliantly for those twilight rides. Stay tuned for a review.
Nature’s Bakery: a fast-growing, super-tasty fig bar company with fabulous flavors like mango, peach-raspberry, and blueberry. Think WAY better than Fig Newtons. Nothing gucky. That means no genetically modified ingredients, etc. Become a paid subscriber and we will send you samples.

Something for your dogs, too:
We discovered the zealous folks at Zuke’s dog treats. These Colorado folks make such high quality goodies, you can eat them, too. Natures-Bakery-Fig-BarsIndeed, we snacked on the jerky treats. Wow!
Olly Dog – these folks solve the design problems of dog accessories in a fun, pretty, and super-practical manner. We particularly loved their solutions for thirsty dogs. Stay tuned for reviews and give-aways.

Byer of Maine traveled far to show off their hammocks and cots. Again, stay tuned for more news and giveaways from this company, founded about 130 years ago in Bangor.
The folks at Muck Boot were excited to hear that their boots have consistently placed among the top boots in our Bestuvs surveys.

muckOther companies we loved and are looking forward to sharing with our readers:

Liquid Hardware – the cap to their insulated bottles sticks (magnetically) to the side of the bottle. They guarantee you’ll never lose your lid. And get this: float the lid in water and it serves as a compass!
Kershaw knives – not surprisingly their Leek pocket knife, with a half-serrated blade is their most popular models. We’ll tell you why soon.
Pocket Monkey – a wallet-must-have. 12 tools in a thin, stainless steel slice of hyper-utility. Slips in your wallet and solves a dozen problems and is even TSA-friendly.


Olly Dog travel water bowl

Ryan Michael and Barn Fly – beautiful clothing for men and women, on or off your horse. Western shirts with bite and pizzazz.
Locally Grown Clothing Company – a purposeful, Made in the USA company based in Des Moines, Iowa.
The New Primal – Kiss GORP goodbye. Say hello to trail packs with jerky mixed with mango and cashews. Gourmet hiking, for sure.
Adventurista – beautiful, outdoor adventure-minded jewelry from Missoula, Montana.
Frogg Toggs – raingear for your saddle bag or day pack
Aloe Up – sun and skincare products for your saddle bag or day pack.

Liquid Hardware, magnetic and insulated

Liquid Hardware, magnetic and insulated

Eclectic Horseman for your continuing education

eclectic-horseman_logoFor 13 years, Eclectic Horseman Communications has brought us regular, vital doses of straight talk and continuing education. Eclectic Horseman, the magazine, has some 3,000 subscribers, including several hundred in Australia, United Kingdom, Poland, and the Czech Republic.
The Horseman’s Gazette, an adjunct DVD subscription service, has 400 loyal fans.

Got some favorite clinicians in mind?
Chances are, Eclectic Horseman has featured them:



Emily Kitching, president of Eclectic Horseman

Emily Kitching, president of Eclectic Horseman





Deitz. King. Curtin. Zettl.

The list goes on. You can listen to them or read their thoughts, thanks to EH.

We spoke with president Emily Kitching about the company she founded with husband, Steve Bell, more than a decade ago and about its mission: “To be the best resource to help students develop their own horsemanship.”

NN: What’s your process for deciding who is featured in Eclectic Horseman?

EK: It’s mostly people we’ve worked with for many years or new people I come across. I rely on suggestions from my readers, suggestions from other horsemen. I also go to clinics or see them at events and verify with my own eyes that they have something that I feel will be compatible with our mission.
NN: When you started the magazine, what were you seeing out there for equestrian publications and what was missing? How did you fill that gap?

EK: I always felt like I wanted to create a magazine that I myself would be interested in reading. There was a dressage magazine, out of print now. The articles were meaty and educated. They weren’t five- or ten-minute fixes. They had substance. That was interesting to me.

I feel like what we produce is for people who are serious about improving their horsemanship. Whether in a show ring, out on the trail. These are people who have a passion for it. It’s not just on the surface.

NN: Quick fixes are more popular than ever.

EK: For us, there will always be a core group of committed people. Horsemanship and continuing education are really important to them. We’re truly serving that need. I don’t feel there are resources out there serving that need better than us.

I hope more and more people continue to be interested in learning what goes on in animals’ brains. I hope it will translate into more people becoming interested in considering their horse as a thinking, feeling entity. That’s my hope. That’s been my hope for 20 years.

NN: Sometimes the pursuits with the most integrity don’t get the most attention?

EK: Right. I feel like I’m just doing my thing.  This is kind of a side bar, but I know that my life without horses would have been a complete disaster. And I the-horsemans-gazetteknow that they came into my life at a time when I could have gone down a bad path or I could have gone on a positive path. I feel all the strength and confidence that they gave me, I have a debt to horses to repay the positive things that they created in my life.
I’m doing it for the horses.
Our mission would like to take that further to really focus on helping the humans help their horses. After all, the humans are the ones paying the bills and the humans are the ones who are going to create a positive environment for their horses. So you have to focus on helping people or else the horses will suffer.

NN: Any new features?

EK: We’re working on new segment, Clinic Takeaways, reviews of something positive that riders took away from a clinic. It will be a good way to put some ideas in front of readers who might say, “Oh, this person learned…I might go check that person out. I’m interested in that, also.”

NN: Thanks for all you do!

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