Stabling Your Horse

I understand the reasons why people stable their horses, especially over winter, I have done it myself. It’s actually very convenient to roll up to the yard and have a horse all ready to tack up. It saves time on hiking out to the paddock, washing muddy legs and slipping off filthy rugs. Grooming can be completed relatively quickly also, especially if you have picked out the plasticine-like strands of mud out of the mane and tail the night before, and gone home leaving the horse clean. The less time spent moving through 12 inches of sticky mud also means the horse is less likely to lose a shoe. Mud fever is another issue, but one I believe can be managed if owners have the time. Other reasons for stabling could include managing laminitis and weight, reducing the risk of injury, and on occasion if a yard has more horses than land, minimising the risk of paddocks becoming depleted of grass and turning into a quagmire.

But most of the reasons I have listed benefit just one type of mammal…the human.

I have yet to observe a horse that displays discomfort or displeasure from being caked in mud, in fact what I have observed is horses displaying discomfort or displeasure from being stabled. Horses that wait at the gate, or come galloping over when called only do so because the stable has become the equine equivalent of the dinner table. I can certainly recall the thunderous steps of my family bolting down the stairs when I have called Dinner is ready!

It should be taken into account that horses do not naturally stand still for long when eating either. From my observations it appears they graze off grass in two, sometimes three mouthfuls then take a step forward. They continually move, and they would naturally roam in the wild from doing this. It’s a nice design of nature as manure is left far behind as they move onto pastures new. We have all heard owners say My horse always wants the grass on the other side of the fence, when actually they just want to move forward, they do not want to eat around their own manure.

This is the movement in my view that keeps them fit, as opposed to 18 + hours (23 even 24 hours in some cases) in a stable, standing still and eating a hay net in just one location. Numerous problems arise every single year during and after winter. Usually the same problems as last year, yet too numerous to include here in just one article. But the most obvious and the most common is colic. Come spring people expect the gut of the horse to switch from being fed haylage all winter to lush green grass without issue. A problem mostly seen in the UK at least, especially on large yards where turnout has been restricted for 6 months.

Circumstances leading to illness, at least specific to where I live, could easily be avoided if the winter routine could be managed properly. The horse should be turned out but also be taken to grass if the paddock is depleted of it. Still turnout in that quagmire, but also lead or ride your horse to any available grass and let them graze for an hour or two. Hay in the field can be supplied but it should be located in different areas, horses will at least keep moving as they move from pile to pile. Movement helps the digestive system function properly, and minimises the build up of gas in the intestinal tract. However owners will say they would do all of these things if they had the time. It begs the question, should we be keeping horses then, if we prefer a clean horse with all its shoes, un-poached paddocks, and the convenience of a stable even if it means compromising their health?

Catastrophic injury leading to box rest is obviously necessary at times. However if a stable is not being used for this purpose, then careful consideration should be taken over whether stabling is correct and justifiable in regards to the animals mental and physical well being. Using a stable should be hard work and time consuming, specially over winter, and I applaud those people that manage it well. I know of 2 nurses that turn out their horses at the crack of dawn, do a 12 hour shift, and are back at the stables bringing their horses in by torch light. This is on top of running a family home, looking after an aging relative and everything else they have got going on. Sadly these attentive owners are rare, and its more the case owners refrain from turning out because it’s a long walk to the paddock in the rain and wind.

I understand everyone tries their best, but if the owner has the slightest doubt their best isn’t good enough, either don’t use a stable, or do not own a horse.

 

Image Credit: AuthorAgnosticPreachersKid (2012)This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. A horse stable near Middletown, Virginia

9 thoughts on “Stabling Your Horse”

  1. This is a great post! I think we often forget that horses are not as domesticated as we think they are and this can lead to people getting it wrong when they try to do the best by their horse.

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      1. I wonder if it has something to do with the way we tend to anthropomorphise animals – we like warm soft places indoors so we think that horses will prefer it too. Yet there a number of studies showing that stabled horses are more stressed than horses that get turned out and horses are naturally claustrophobic on top of that!

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      2. I’m theorising that the evolution of the stable came from times horses were used as transport. Think ancient London, they wouldn’t have the land to rest horses, or accommodate those ‘stopping over’. They’d be risking injury if they housed them in an open area, so used stalls. These days it’s probably just down to business, yards can charge more for stables than grass livery, and most yards don’t even have the land, so restrict turnout.

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  2. I live in South Ontario and I have had retired horses live out in our winters and they do fine but must be provided with forage as we do not have any grass in the winter. However they cannot be clipped and as I work my horse all winter he needs to be clipped and so he spends his nights indoors with a blanket. I agree that it is not a natural life style for the horse and there are many advantages to having them live out. But it is hard to have it go along with riding and training for competition or at least it is for me.

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    1. I am 100% certain you would work hard to maintain a healthy and fair regime over winter Anne. But what I’m seeing here in the England are horses left in for days, even weeks at a time. Owners have gone straight to work without even mucking out. These horses get mucked out once every 24 hours. That isn’t good horsemanship in my view, it’s not fair on the horse.

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      1. Oh no! That is awful. My horse gets turned out every day and has a serious winter rug with a neck for the cold days. Also we not go to Florida for part of the winter and he is turned out there and also the barns there are all very open so the air flow is good. I agree with you about the poor horsemanship. It is hard on the horses. They depend on us to look after them.

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  3. Great post.

    Horses have evolved to endure all weathers and get by on very little forage in the winter months. I’ve just returned to horse ownership after a twenty year break and can’t quite believe how pampered our equines have become. Bringing horses in when it rains, stabling from early autumn, putting medium weight rugs on, because the temperature will drop to a balmy 7 degrees overnight then stabling during the day in the spring as the horse is now overweight… and all this on native breeds!!! It’s madness! I’ve just bought a Welsh Section D and have no desire to stable him and will rug him up, when the ground is hard with frost or if he suffered a skin condition such as rain scald. His grass will be supplemented with hay and hard feed, when he starts to lose condition.

    I agree that part of the problem, is livery yards, with not enough grazing. Also, a lot of copy cat behaviour takes place on livery yards rather than owners considering the individual needs of their horse!

    P.s. What has happened to the good old New Zealand rug??

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    1. Wow, you sound like me! 👍 Yes I talked about rugging in The Fragile Horse. I’m seeing Shetlands with them on! Things have gone crazy in the last 20 years. Very good point regarding copy cat behaviour, people look to more ‘experienced’ owners and follow suit. But in many cases it’s the blind leading the blind.

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