I was fortunate enough to attend a webinar this week that has really got me thinking about how my own horses have been kept when I have been boarding them. I am not fortunate enough to own my own land (like so many), and have had to board them out. Also like many people it is and has been for my own convenience and comfort. I have never boarded inside unless it was necessary but even then I was never really thinking about what my horse needed. After all they had food, water, shelter and maybe a companion.
In my studies, it has been quite an eye opener for myself to say the least. The needs of the horse are far more than I ever thought about. Yes food, water, shelter and companionship are all essential necessities for all animals, but what about what keeps them balanced, healthy and happy. This has been something that I personally did not take into consideration for most of my life.
When I first was able to start to ride, I earned my keep by doing chores in exchange for being able to ride. Those horses were kept on a acreage that had a reasonable pasture, a corral, water trough, swampy pond, trees and and area where they were able to just hang out. We had a barn to tack up and keep inside if needed. I remember having to persuade my assigned horse out of the swamp or chase thru the trees many a time. Those horses were hardy, hardly ever stepped wrong, and did anything we asked of them (most of the time lol). As the city grew and time became more restrained with less and less places to keep a horse close to the city, small paddocks, indoor board and boarding facilities that are setup for convenience have become the standard. Not all but so many...
Even the most expensive and prestigious places are not setup for the horses anymore they are setup to separate and keep the horses "safe" from injury (because as we all know they can get hurt by nothing), feeding, watering, turn out, are done in a way that is easy for the staff and barn owners to get thru the day quickly and efficiently. Many people are afraid to have their horses out on gravel or harder surfaces and definitely not with a herd. Paddocks here where I am and have seen in other areas are at most flat, separated spaces, where the horses go out for several hours a day by themselves. If lucky they have a horse beside them, but if really expensive place there is usually a lane or space between the paddocks. Fields and herds are usually reserved for the broodmare/foals and less used horses. This is not a criticization, it is just an observation of what I see around me.
Point being, is that I have learned that, from Femke Dolle from the Netherlands and my other mentors Zefanja #EquineStudiesNL and Thirza #FunctionalHorseTraining, there are 5 things that horses require in life to be healthy; 1. Movement; the ability to move and eat while moving. 2. Bonding/social contact; close buddies and herds, 3. Ground/different surfaces; to move around that help keep legs and feet healthy, increases proprioception in the brain. 4. Browsing/Grazing; eating from different heights, different foods and movement (horses in the wild are 80% grazers and 20% browsers) 5. Posture/free choice/proprioception; being able to stretch, move over obstacles, snackercise and improves natural posture which in turn keeps muscles and organs healthier.
I am lucky in that in the area I live, we have a variety of different surfaces to ride and work on, hills, and the ability to be put onto pasture for part of the year. But as with everything, there is room for improvement. Definitely something to think about in the coming years to keep our horses healthy and sound.