By Maddy Butcher
Research and observation provide powerful arguments for keeping it simple and taking cues from natural settings to best serve our equines. In winter, for instance, horses DO need more hay. But keeping them confined, blanketing them, and feeding grain may not be good choices.
- Horses are designed to move a lot.
- Horses should have access to near-constant grazing, but should get no grain.
- Horses should not be confined.
- Grooming, clipping, or shaving according to our perception of beauty and hygiene may interfere with the horse’s ability to take care of themselves.
Wild horses don’t have the problems domestic horses have, Black and Peters write in Evidence-Based Horsemanship. Our overzealous care may actually compromise horses’ well being instead of improving it.
The Nature is Best model works brilliantly in the western U.S., where 20 acres often come with your house. But in many parts of the world, two acres is more like it.
If that’s the case with you and your horses, Nature is Best takes effort.
But with thought and diligence, you CAN follow the model. Your horses will probably thank you. It will be cheaper for you and likely less stressful for them.
It’ll take research, persistence, and a certain amount of tenacity to swim against a tide of naysayers. Those naysayers advocate managed care and offer everything from stall bedding and supplements to blankets and grooming supplies. There are billions of products out there, flooding us with the notion that spending more, adding more, buying more will necessarily be better for our horses.
But, advised Dr. Peters, it doesn’t have to be so.
“It’s easier than you think,” said Dr. Peters. “You don’t have to buy more stuff. Buy less. Get rid of your grains. Get rid of your stalls. Get rid of your blankets – bring them into the house and let the dogs lie on them.”
Here are some modifications that embrace the Nature is Best model. They are not specifically endorsed by Evidence-Based Horsemanship, but follow the tenants as described in the Chapter Six: “Physiological and Psychological Consequences of Environments that Block Horses Normal & Natural Behaviors”
- Shelter: Offer cover for your horses but take down stall walls and metal bars that may separate them.
- Footing: Place pea stone or other hoof-friendly stone in high traffic areas. The gravel will help keep their hooves healthy and dry.
- Food: Wean them off grain. If you’re concerned about the nutrition provided by your hay, have your hay tested. You can also look for deficiencies through blood work on individual horses. For horses needing to add more weight, consider soaked beet pulp, hay stretcher, and/or forage.
- Body regulation: Let your horses tell you it’s cold, not the other way around. They will shiver to keep warm and become more anxious about food. They did alright without blankets for thousands of years.
- Turnout: Give them room to move. If you have plenty of pasture, consider rotating them to optimize the grazing. Click here to read more. If you have limited pasture, rotating them and supplementing with hay will work. If you have horses that don’t get a lot of exercise and you worry about too much grazing, consider a dry, dirt paddock to keep them off grass for some periods of the day.
- Supplements: Studies show horses need next-to-no supplements with the possible exception of Vitamin E and Selenium in regions where the grass and hay are deficient in those nutrients.
We’d love to have feedback on modifications and methods you’ve used over the years.