The horse has existed on earth for millions of years but domesticated only about 5,000 years ago. And since then, the horse has been an invaluable servant to mankind.
Horses provide man with transport, farm power, entertainment, and even food and clothing. Not surprising therefore, we hold this versatile and invaluable creature in high esteem; immortalizing its character and beauty in art and literature, and treasuring it as a companion and friend.
For those who love horses, their companionship and friendship is something special, for the horse is an animal without vanity, envy, malice, and greed, and indeed unsurpassed creature of beauty and grace, with gentle strength, innocence, patience and kindness.
As faithful servant, the horse endure so much and is always generous in his desire to fulfill the needs of his owner for work and entertainment. So, it would be a very hard-hearted person that can not find within himself or herself admiration and love for such a selfless, versatile, and wonderful being.
The natural state of horses (Equus caballus) is roaming freely, grazing herbage of its choosing as and when available, breeding by natural selection in which only the fittest and strongest surviving and living sociably in herds both for company and protection. So, in the care and management of the horses their natural state should be approximated as much as possible.
METHODS OF MANAGEMENT
The basic formula to successful horse care and management is to recognize the individuality of horses, both physical and mental, and then adopt your stable routine to suit the horse individual needs.
There are four main ways of keeping horses:
1. Stable all, or most, of the time.
2. Out at grass all, or most, of the time.
3. Combination of the above-two methods
4. Yarding or “open stabling”
I. Stabled Horses:
In this method, horses are complete prisoners. Not only that they do not have freedom but they are rendered completely dependent on their human attendants for absolutely everything i.e. food, water, exercise, grooming, environmental control, and access to company.
With stabled animals, it is best to establish a fairly strict stable routine to ensure that everything is done. This places considerable responsibility on the caretaker. This person should make time available to exercise the horse, this being one commodity of which stabled animals are often short of. It is generally accepted that two hours exercise daily is sufficient for a healthy horse, to keep both body and mind ticking over in good shape.
Natural social contact is another commodity that stabled horses often lack. Being kept in individual boxes or stalls, they may not even have “chat holes” or grilles so they can “talk” to their neighbors.
Knowing that there are animals in neighboring stables and being able to see or even touch them would help a lot in making the horse accept its confinement lifestyle and would regard its stable as home where it will find safety, food, water, bedding, and attention. It is when confinement is excessive or exercise too little, contact with other horses minimal, getting hungry or thirsty very often, and very little to interest the animal, that stabled horse system of management fails. When this happens, it is the fault of the people running the system, not the system itself, as they have not administered it accordingly to the horse’s real needs.
II. Keeping Horses at Grass:
This system is less labor-intensive than stabling entirely. There is no mucking out, no precisely strict feeding times, no compulsion to exercise the horse unless you are training or conditioning it, and no thorough body brushing when grooming. However, you should still check the horse daily, dandy it over, sponge face and dock, pick out feet, and feed when appropriate. The horse will always be dirtier than a stabled horse, but it has good company and good shelter, it will certainly be healthier and more content.
III. The Combined System:
This is the one that offers the best for the horse. The horse spends part of the day stabled and part at grass. The best system is for the horse to be out during the colder portion of the day, i.e. morning up to 10:00 o’clock and afternoon from 3:00 o’clock to early evening. During extremes of heat and cold and when there is inclement weather, the horse should be sheltered. However, much depends on your routine and requirements. You can vary the in-and-out hours as much as you wish.
The advantage are that the horse has the shelter, privacy, peace and quiet of its stable when needed but also gets plenty of opportunity to exercise and play in the paddock and is able to enjoy the natural social company of other horses, if it is turned out with companions. Most horses really thrive on this system of management. They can be made very fit, kept clean, and fed a reasonably controlled diet. They are normally happy and healthy on this system.
The animals are kept in large, covered barns on partly roofed enclosures, the surfaces of which are either normal bedding or something such as earth, sand, woodchips, etc. They can be kept inside entirely, or be allowed to wander in and out of the outdoor area or even given access to pasture as well, which is the best system from the horse point of view.
Horses kept this way can be made extremely fit, kept clean, as the materials used for surfacing enclosures brush off easily, and can have their diets minutely controlled. They benefit from the natural, social company, the space and freedom needed by all horses, exercise taken at will and the moral support of constant company from their peers.
THE HORSE’S BASIC NEEDS:
To keep a horse healthy and contented, an owner or manager must consider six basic things: food, water, shelter, company, personal space, and freedom to move around.
In common with most other grazing and browsing animals, the horse is a trickle feeder which has evolved to survive best with an almost constant supply of food passing through its digestive system in small amounts. The horse is not a ruminant like cattle which takes in fairly large quantities of foods and swallows it almost at once, regurgitating it later as cud to chew at its leisure. The horse chews the grass as it goes along and then swallows it, never to be seen again until the undigested remains emerge as droppings.
Grass, leaves and other herbage are high in fiber and water but contain relatively few nutrients in proportion to the bulk consumed. This means that the horse is designed to take in large quantities of fiber and water and its digestive system has evolved to cope well with this situation. The stomach itself is fairly small but the system as a whole is very capacious. In fact, it has reached the point where it cannot function satisfactorily without large quantities of bulky roughage.
A high concentrated, rich diet is not natural to the horse and can be the cause of many physical or behavioral problems in domesticated horses, such as swollen or inflamed joints, colic, “corn sickness” where horses that have been over-fed on concentrates go off feed because of chronic slight indigestion; crazy behavior due to an excessive intake of energy-rich food which cause high levels of toxins to circulate in the body affecting both metabolism and behavior, azoturia, lymphangitis, and other disorders.
Your aim should be to give the horses a more or less constant supply of good hay or forage feeds, with extra concentrates given as frequently as possible in small amounts each day, if necessary. Feeding forage adlibitum is nothing new, but it does not seem to be a popular system now. Thousands of horses and ponies are kept for many hours each day with no food available to them ““ a highly unnatural and dangerous situation for an animal with a digestive system like that of a horse. It is no wonder that colic and other digestive and behavioral problems that stem from indigestion, physical discomfort, mental frustration and boredom are so common.
The practice of some to remove all feed and water for several hours before physical exertion is wrong, damaging to the horse and cruel.
Depending on its age and condition, the horse body is composed of about 70% water. Water is contained in most parts of the body.
In the wild, equidae often trek many miles to find water. Observations of feral horses and ponies indicate that they seem to prefer drinking in the morning and evening and will journey to water sources at those times if their feeding area is not near water.
Domesticated horses usually have access to water all the time. And most owners observe that their horse does not only drink in the morning and evening but whenever it feels like it. Water is now believed to stimulate the digestive juices and not to hamper digestion as once thought. Horses that always have water by them often take a short drink immediately after a feed and sometimes during a feed. In fact, some vets and nutritionists feel that depriving a horse of water at feeding times may develop indigestion if not colic.
It is also now known to be bad for horses to be denied water for hours before hard work such as a competitive event. They can safely drink up to an hour before hard work and this will help prevent dangerous dehydration. This is especially important in warm or hot weather.
If water cannot be provided at all times, it would be safe to let the horses drink their fill at least twice a day. A horse may need up to 12 gallons of water a day, depending on its work and the weather. It would be safest to let them drink before feeding in the case of stabled animals. Grass-kept horses do not gorge themselves on their ever-present food, so they can be watered anytime. When horses are led to water, they often take a long drink, then raise their heads and rest, perhaps looking about the surroundings. Do not take this as a cue that they have finished. Wait, and you will almost certainly find that they take another long drink before moving away from the water on their own accord. Only then can you be sure that they have fully quenched their thirst. For grass – kept or yarded horses, water can be supplied in troughs, while stabled horses can be supplied through automatic waterers or buckets in holders. Whatever method you use, the water must be kept clean, fresh and readily available.
This is one aspect of management that is often overlooked. Many say that their horses never use shelter but they are wrong. Horses will always use a shelter whenever they feel the need, provided that they are not afraid to do so.
In fields and paddocks, a shelter shed should have its back to the prevailing wind on the highest and driest part of the field, preferably with an open aspect as horses do not like to be closed in. The entrance should be high, wide, and welcoming, and the shed be light inside, clean, and if possible, with roughage in rack or in nets so that the horse will regard it as a place where to rest in comfort and where to find fresh food waiting. A sturdy, roomy shelter shed for two horses should be about 5 x 10 meters wide and 2.5 meters high. Consider the fact that the horse may reach a height of about 3.0 meters if it rears. Lack of room or height in a shed is common reason for horses not daring to use it. In some instances, there are natural shelters such as hedges and trees but a good shelter shed is still the best way to protect horses from the elements.
Good shelter is an essential part of good horse management and is cheaper in the long run than treating an afflicted horse.
Like many other creatures, horses maintain a strongly felt personal space around them, which even other horses, let alone alien species like humans, intrude upon at their own risk. Observing a group of grazing horses will demonstrate that the only animals allowed to get close will be a horse’s particular friends, a mare’s fool or a stallion who may be allowed to cover a mare in season.
Because of the shape of the horse’s body, the invisible border of its personal space is oval in shape and extends to around 4.0 meters (14 ft.) around the horse. It is then obvious that most stables come well inside the horse’s natural personal space boundary and this is a factor to consider when housing horses. Most people would find it impractical to provide stables large enough to accommodate this space, but steps can be taken to respect the horse’s feelings.
For a start, horses should only be stabled next to friends, or at least not next to enemies. Even if a horse cannot actually see its neighbor, it will know from the sounds and smell that it is there. It has been proven scientifically that an enemy constantly within the horse personal space, even if separated by wall, creates stress that will adversely affect its contentment, behavior and physical well-being.
The need for space around it is so ingrained in the horse’s psyche that they feel insecure or even frightened in small spaces. They may not show it obviously (although an observant eye or sensitive hand on a neck may detect uncertainty or slight tremble), so don’t automatically assume they are calm and accepting. As ever, confidence and quietness in us are valuable cues that many horses will follow if they trust humans.
For more information, contact:
D.A. Compound, Elliptical Rd., Diliman,Quezon City
Tel. Nos. (632) 929-6065 to 67 / 920-3991 / 928-1134