Friday, December 3, 2010

The horse who couldn't climb a tree

I bet everyone here can relate and say you know someone as a kid (or adult) that was the kid who was never allowed to climb the tree.
I also bet most of you are scratching your heads right now going "say what?" How does this relate to horses? Well it does, let me elaborate.

See I work at many different places. I see, handle and take care of many different horses.
Seeing how different people manage and take care of their horses on a daily basis made me realize how I want to keep my horses, and how I will never keep my horses.

A common theme I see is keeping horses by themselves, in small paddocks and with no contact to their own kind. I would be generous in saying these lot of horses get 2 hours of turnout a day, even if they are worked regularly. They do not have direct contact with their own species other than seeing them over the fence, watching them walk down the barn isle or trying to gnaw the others faces off at feeding time over the stall wall next to them.

The result? Sometimes you will get a quiet horse that sucks everything in and takes their solitary confinement in stride. That is if they don't have some sort of stereotypie to begin with.
The seeming regular behavior? A horse that is batsh*t crazy! Something seems to short fuse in their brain from lack of being able to be a horse. Handling them can be a nightmare, they run through fences and kick the living crap out of other horses if they have the virtue of a pasture mate. They can't just stop and graze, they have to run, run, run, run, attack, attack, attack, attack! Then they get solitary confinement when it comes to turnout.

FYI- A stereotypies is the correct word for what we call a "vice. Stereotypical behavior such as cribbing, weaving, stall walking etc is caused by a lack of natural locomotory or oral behaviors in horses. A "vice" is something that is deemed inconvenient. Head bobbing, stall kicking, cribbing or weaving are things convenient to the horse because his natural behaviors have been removed from his environment. eg- Walking and grazing at the same time and socialization with other horses. "vices" as we call them are only inconvenient to humans when horses destroy stalls, colic themselves or cause joint damage. Stereotypies is for a whole other post.

When I look at how Indigo is, shes outside 24/7.

I am proud of the fact my horse gets this muddy.

She has a shelter, is dirty a lot of the time and is almost always with another horse. She has her fair share of battle scars. As I explained the other day to a new lady at one barn with a cute little quarter horse gelding she reined that Indigo was outside 24/7 with the rest of the horses and she got hurt sometimes and usually was caked in a thick layer of mud. The lady just about fainted. "Why don't you blanket her!? How do you deal with grooming her?" Her little gelding, although cute and mannerly destroys blankets, turning them into a spaghetti of material and straps in a matter of a month. He also cribs like it's going out of style and beats the living snot out of any other horse within range of his teeth and hooves, which is the whole paddock. That is what he gets, the whole paddock to himself. He hasn't been turned out consistently with another horse since he was a weanling with his mother. He is a blanked pansy "human horse".

Quite frankly in my opinion the horse came before the barn did. The "blanket" of mud keeps horses skin healthy and them happy. The scientific view of not blanketing a horse to me makes a lot of sense. When you or a horse is cold your hair stands on end. The hair standing on end traps the heat from escaping into the open and keeps it closer to your body longer than when the hair lies flat. By putting a blanket on a horse that is not shivering you flatten the hair, stopping the bodies natural heat shield from engaging properly. A lot of the time this can make a horse colder. However for old horses or ones that seem to lose weight in the winter, blanketing can be a good idea to prevent shivering and weight loss. Don't get me wrong. I have a blanket for Indigo, just in case but it's just a rain sheet to keep the wind and elements off her. I have never used it. I also take time to cool a horse down in the winter after working them rather than plastering them with layers of blankets and putting them under lights to keep their coats fine so they cool out quicker. Horses evolved, lived and survived many years before blankets were in use.

Another FYI-
Did you know that it is actually the horses body reacting to the increase/decrease in daylight hours that causes the thyroid to adjust hormones in the horses body and grow hair/shed it? Not the change in temperature.

This brings me to the point of this post: The kid who wasn't allowed to climb the tree. Everyone knows one. The kid who's parents never let them do anything that might get them in trouble, hurt or possibly give them any ideas other than the angelic protege poster child might have. They grow up, have issues making and keeping friends and have issues with all sorts of other stuff, sometimes life itself. I had a few friends like that. Their mother did not let them do anything, have any friends over or get into any normal kid mischief. Now they are growin up, have issues because they are doing things now as adults they should have done when they were kids. It's getting them into a lot of trouble because they were the kids who didn't climb the tree.

So having said this, don't let your horse be the horse who wasn't allowed to climb the tree. Let them be horses. Roll in mud, probably get into a fight or two and be bullied (hopefully so they learn some horse manners in the herd) by their herd mates and buck and kick and be a horse. In the end isn't it worth having the horse that climbed the metaphorical tree? Even if they did fall out and hurt themselves a few times along the way?


Indigo last winter giving Sebastian a what for.

How do you keep your horses? Are they stalled 24/7, blanketed, wrapped in bubble wrap? Did you ever see horses that were unhappy with their living arrangements in their behaviors? If you could make any improvements to your current barn/pasture etc to make it more acceptable for normal horse behavior what would you do? Speak up I would love to hear how you all keep your horses.

24 comments:

Kate said...

Couldn't agree more - if I had my own place mine would be out 24/7 with in/out access to stalls or sheltered areas - my three retirees live like that. My two here are outside for at least 8 to 10 hour a day in small small herds, one of geldings and one of mares. They are either on grass pasture or in large dry lots with round bales. We do stall at night and the barn is unheated. We have no shelter in the turnouts, so we do sheet in cold, rainy weather and a couple of the horses - Dawn, who is super sensitive and doesn't ever grow a thick coat and Fred a senior citizen, do get blanketed on days like this (wind chills in the teens).

Horses need to move and be horses to be healthy, sane and happy. I love a muddy horse!

Rebecca said...

Mine 2 are at home. They get turnout out together from 4 am to 7pm in a 100 by 85 paddock which also serves as my riding arena. At night in the winter they are brought into the unheated, no electricity, barn and stalled, but only because one is 30 and the other does not ever grow a winter coat worth mentioning, so he gets sheeted in the rain and put away at night. They are both a little bit of a princess, so they are rarely muddy but they have that option. I think they enjoy it. :)

Mare said...

I love that picture of Indigo, that is what my mare, Missy looks like most of the time! She goes out at least 7-8 hours a day, everyday, unless it's super muddy and rainy and I'm worried about her hurting herself. I do not bubble-wrap her, but I think sometimes being out in terrible weather is just asking for trouble. I wish she could go out more (as does she)!!! She's not blanketed, as I think her best winter protection is her own winter coat...

I once knew a lady who refused to turn out her horse period because she was afraid he would get hurt, he was a nut! I felt so bad for him, because she almost never had time to ride, so he just sat there. I can't imagine what that does to a horse!

~ C said...

My boy grew up in a herd environment until he was 4 years old. Typically 10-15 other horses, out on 250+ acres. However, once I purchased him, I brought him home. I have somewhat of the "unideal" environment you describe. A smaller (24 x 36 ft) corral with a 3-sided run-in shed. There are no other horses on the property, nor within eyesight. I've kept two horses at home in this environment now (one at a time, each for several years), and neither developed any real vices, although I had one that would periodically run around until he got good and sweaty, but I think he was more just "feeling good" and playing. I do endurance, so both of my boys would get out and exercised for several hours at a time at least once a week, if not more, which may explain why they adapted okay.

Ideally, I'd enlarge the corral to give him enough room to really RUN around, but with the size of our lot, and the boulders out back, it's just not that feasible. I've boarded in the past (before we bought this house), and to me, the trade-offs of being able to have my horse at home, where I can monitor him on a consistent basis, and go see him within 30 seconds, is worth the less than ideal living conditions. I also have to trailer out to ride, but it's worth it.

As for blankets, I would clip and blanket when I was doing heavy training, as I was often finishing or riding in the dark, and didn't have an extra hour to cool my horse down. Also, my horse would get too hot to perform at his best without clipping. My newer boy doesn't grow as thick of a coat (Arab instead of mustang-x) so I haven't needed to blanket him, except for when we were having temps in the less than teens (*F) and he would shiver at night.

jane augenstein said...

Nice muddy coat on Indigo! LOL Gilly looked similar to that the other day. He and Pokey are out 24/7 in a five acre field. In that five acres there are lots of trees, rocks, hills and ravines for them to play in and they love it. They will stand out in the rain and snow with their butts to the wind instead of going in the barn.

When Gilly gets really muddy I scrap or use a shedding blade to get most of it off him. But then he will just go out and roll again....he's a happy boy though!!!

I would go nuts if I were a horse that had to be stalled all the time. Just staying in the house for a few days in winter makes me crazy. So I can't imagine a 12x14 foot stall to shut in.

I'm glad my boys get to run and play like they do, happy horse, happy ass!!!! :-)

jane augenstein said...

Oh, I forgot to say that Gilly and Pokey have very heavy coats. Gilly even has long hairy feathers from his knees to his hooves and a hairy jaw too! I have a blanket but have never used it. I have seen Gil out in the snow with icicles frozen in his mane and tail, yet if I put my hand under his mane he is very toasty warm. His hair is fluffed up like velvet and it's very warm next to the skin.
Mother Nature gave him a wonderful coat for winter, I see no need to interfere with it.
Good post!!!

An Image of Grace said...

I boarded Grace at different barns for 5 years. The set up was the same, large stalls, no turnout, lights on timers 16 hours a day. I loved it, Grace was always clean, little to no winter coat, no mud. I was actually worried about how she would handle the move to my house where she is outside 24/7. She has a good size pasture, grass turnout and a run in shelter. The first two weeks were rough. It was the beginning of August and there were BUGS! I swear she kept looking at me wondering when I was going to take her back to the barn. After she settled in there was no looking back. She is much happier at home than she was locked in a stall. I do miss how clean she was, the short winter coat and the indoor arena, but I wouldn’t trade any of that for having my girl at home.

Karen said...

My gelding lives with a herd of about 12-13 other horses (geldings and mares, all ages and breeds). He lives outside 24/7 with shelters. When the temps drop in the 40s, he gets a sheet. When the highs for the day is 30, I do blanket him. This is only because he lost about 100 pounds last winter. Maybe I made the wrong choice to blanket him, but I feel like the less calories he has to spend trying to stay warm, the better. I much prefer my horses to live outdoors - seems like they are so much more happy! And we have very, very few colics.

Miles On Miles said...

I totally agree with almost everything you said. Horses are SO much happier turned out, mud and all.

Still, I think practicing good herd management is key to this arrangement. I have lost a horse to being kicked in the pasture, and know 2 other horses that were permanently or seriously lame from a kick. It really only takes a second for everything to change.

Having said that, my horse Miles still lives out 24/7 in a big enough pasture (Maybe an acre? I'm not very good with estimating land:). The difference is, he is out with only 1 other horse, and they do play-rearing, nipping, the whole bit-but they don't kick each other. They are super comfortable with each other and can eat out of the same hay pile.

I think small herds with horses that get along are best. Slow introductions and supervising new horses is KEY. I think mares are best turned out with mares and geldings with geldings (of course, there are exceptions). I think it's important to keep herds as stable as possible, without new horses coming and going all the time.

Would Miles love being out in a herd with 10 other horses? Maybe, maybe not. He sure would have a ton more room if I threw him out in the huge pasture with the "big herd" at our barn. Still, I have to balance what keeps him happiest and of sound mind with what keeps him, well, SOUND. And alive. I think most people do. It's not always easy sometimes, and we try to do the best we can. Well, hopefully most horse owners do:)

Great blog, by the way! I'm really enjoying reading through your archives:)

smazourek said...

My two live in a 20+ acre pasture with two other horses. They are sublimely happy, they were absolutely miserable in stalls. They've gotten a few bumps and scrapes over time but their peace of mind trumps minor injuries.

Fantastyk Voyager said...

I would call myself a minimalist horse care giver because my horses do not get pampered. I do love them but I don't give them high-end care. Rarely do I blanket them, only when Annie is shivering on those windy wet days, mostly in the spring. They are in turn out almost 24-7 with access to shelter if they want it. Nadia spends a lot of time by herself only so that she can eat more hay without the others scarfing it down. I really don't like keeping her in the barn although she has a small paddock to walk and access to the other horses because she'd rather not move much, given the choice. I turn her out with them as often as I can just so she gets exercise. If I didn't work, I might feed them three times a day, but as it is, they only get two feedings daily. I try to supplement their diet with beet pulp mash and a small amount of grain so they can be fatter for the winter but none of my horses are very overweight. I will say that I believe my horses are healthy given the fact that I can't remember when I've had lamenesses or colics although Annie injured herself pretty badly twice last year- tore her ear on barb wire in the big field and gashed her side from running too close to a sharp point on the gatepost. I do so need to fix fences. Scout and Nadia tear them apart to get to the grass on the other side, however, fortunately, this year, I let the weeds grow tall along the fenceline and they worked as a natural boundary. My horses are usually very dirty and hairy but they're happy too.

Rachel said...

I love my horses like babies and I keep them like horses!I follow along with Joe Camp's philosophy of keeping your horse as close to the wild horse model as possible... and they are very well socialized, if I do say so myself. :)

Mellimaus said...

Daisy is outside between 7am-9pm in the summer. In winter it's (currently) 6am-5pm. I would rather go along never blanketing her...but unfortunately, the places I board in winter don't have run-ins for her. So when she's at our own house, she's without a blanket and just a run-in, but boarding she gets a rain sheet, or a medium weight blanket if it's below 15 or 20 degrees.
If I could afford two horses (in time, money, etc) I would definitely get another, but as it is I have only Daisy. She's pretty content alone at home; she doesn't have any vices that would suggest that she's unhappy. She gets ridden at least 5 days a week, more like 6 in summer. We visit horses in the neighborhood daily...over the fence. The last 3 years I've had her she hasn't been pastured with any horses...but she'll be with another mare when I board this winter. I can't wait to see how it goes. :)

You have the most interesting posts. Thank you :)

Shirley said...

My mares are on 24-7 outdoors; A big pasture in the day and a large corral with a run in shelter at night. Beamer is in his stud pen at night and pasture in the day- except lately because of the weather. I try to ride him as much as possible in the winter. I'm hoping that once Velvet is sold I can keep him with the mares for a good part of the year.

Dreaming said...

Years ago I had a horse that was kept at a show barn. He was clipped and blanketed. He was clean. It was easy - especially when we went fox hunting - no sweaty mess to deal with. He did get turned out for a few hours with others, but I totally agree with you...they gotta be able to climb the trees.
Currently my two have paddocks, 70 X 24, next to each other. They play over the fence. They can go in and out of their stalls at will. I've only shut them in the stalls twice in the last year - once for a bad snow storm that was blowing the snow into the stalls and the other was when Pippin was recovering from his tooth extraction and the effects of anesthesia. Most days they are out in pasture, most often together, for at least 6 hours - varies depending on the state of the grass (Pippin foundered and has limited time on spring grass)or the weather/light.
My pet peeve is to see horses in pastures with blankets. Around here it might be 20 in the morning and 70 in the afternoon. The blankets would be suffocating. I don't know too many owners or stables that run out to pasture to remove or add blankets as the weather changes.
Great post...love the pictures!

tangerine said...

I love having my horse out 24/7. she's on grass pasture that gets irrigated and rotated frequently. Yah, this does mean that sometimes when shes in the back pasture my 1.5 hours of ride time is actually 1 hr of ride time and .5 hrs of walking to get her and put her back, but it is way worth it in my opinion. She's been really happy, and I'm glad she's in a natural environment. She's out with 6-7 other mares and they all get along just fine. My mare is the youngest out there, so she plays Dennis the Menace on the other horses a lot, but she kicks up her heels and runs about a lot developing her 'fifth leg' for when we go x-country later hopefully!

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Apache's one of those "only horses" you spoke of, although she does share a fenceline with my neighbor's 4 horses, and spends a lot of time just hanging out with them. I've watched her gelding sometimes reaching over the fence to nibble and groom Apache, while Apache squeals at him. I've often thought about bringing in another horse for Apache, probably a special needs senior horse from the horse rescue, but with this current economy and how it's affected us, it's just not feasible for now.

Apache is outside 24/7 in her very roomy 159' x 61' paddock. I've never kept her in a stall and I've never blanketed her...although I might if I notice that she is wet and shivering, like she did right after I bought her last winter. She came up from the Rio Grande Valley at 4,000ft elevation, where temps can be 20-25 degrees warmer than up here at 7,000ft elevation, with a lot less moisture and snow. She doesn't have a shelter or shed in her current paddock, but she does have several tree groves, which provide a wind block, sun shade and some protection from rain and snow.....and that also provide the perfect body and butt scratcher, too.

In an ideal world, all horses would be able to live like Indigo. But the rest of us, we just do the best we can.

~Lisa

Rising Rainbow said...

My horses are in stalls at night and only get out if the weather allows. It's not that I worry about them melting as much as doing serious injury to themselves because this property gets very slick. If I could I would move in a heartbeat and have more land so the horses could spend as much time out as possible.

I believe they need to be horses too and that includes the stallions. Mine go out with a companion as long as it is safe, which differs by individuals. But even once they are seperated they still go out with a buddy right next to them so they can have contact over the fence.

Chloe said...

i live in a coutnry where barely anyone stables. we dont even have boarding barns! you board your horse at the local ponylub in a paddock usally with 20 other nags for company. When i go to the USA it pains me to see all the horse stabled 24/7 that are only worked in knee deep sand have hooves likes stilts and have the social skills of wildcat!

cool blog though you bring up some awsome points glad u see sense

achieve1dream said...

Heh, I was one of those kids who weren't allowed to climb trees . . . and it totally sucked moving on into the real world and trying to learn how to be an adult. I've adjusted now for the most part but it was definitely more difficult than it should have been.

My horse and donkey live outside twenty four seven on twenty plus acres. They have a run in shed, fresh water in barrels near the barn, two ponds and when I have the money round bales of hay to stuff their faces on twenty four seven. The only things I would change about their home is better drainage, better fences, no holes, no stickers and better grass (the people who leased it before us didn't take care of it so it's overrun with weeds). :) At least they have room to run and play and graze like horses should. :)

CTG Ponies said...

Mine are out 24/7 in a pasture with free choice hay (grass when it's plentiful), fresh water, a shelter that is more than big enough for all of them to get into and I only blanket when the temps are about 40 F or less and it's going to be wet. Rosie may need a blanket over the winter but she's at least 21 and had been starved (she's gained 135 pounds since July) so I'm perfectly ok with blanketing her if she's cold.

Merri said...

ours are all out 24/7! and they love it. they love getting dreadfully dirty and muddy, and I love it too! the dirtier the better!
- The Equestrian Vagabond

Caitlin said...

I agree! Rose has always been out with a herd and presently runs about on 12 acres with about 10 other horses. I know she likes being in the herd and the only time she was ever stalled for a period when her cold was young she developed a serious attitude. There are people at the barn who don't understand why I don't blanket heavily in the winter but she makes her own coat and I feel like any additional layers should only be added on those wet miserable winter nights when I'm trying to keep rain rot from setting in. She also doesn't get pulled from a regular riding just because she's got a scrap or a bite mark unless its serious and/or right under the saddle. She's a horse, not a poodle. She gets groomed as a social greeting from me, not from a fear of dirt. Hell... you should see me some days. =)

Snowhawk Przhevalsky said...

My fiance is one of those kids. It's garnered him an adult diagnosis of Aperger's, though it may or may not be the case. His mother is angry with herself at how she raised him, and confused at how to help him open up more.

I was that kid who you couldn't keep in the house. I still hate being in doors, but my boy burns very easily, so I try to restrict when I'm outside. I never was much of a tree climber, but I was -out- and playing in the mud and dirt and streams near the house.

He grew up with video games, and yeah, I had a few, but I was mostly playing them on the crappy weather days.

I had my bee stings and dog bites and cuts and scrapes. I was not the most athletic (I've had pain issues all my life), but I did the best I could, and always tried a little more than that.

I didn't have a horse, I still don't have a horse (though I will change that once I can afford it). I do have my growing up experience, and knowing that you need to let an animal be an animal. I am a pet groomer, I've seen, in the past few years, what happens when you don't let your dog be a dog. So when my puppy came into my life (err, after we decided to get him, I've known him since the day he was born, as I was the groomer for the breeder), I let him be a dog. I was lucky to be a pet groomer, I can take my dog to work. My two biggest clients were breeders, so I got him snipped as soon as I could and he got to play with as many dogs as he could handle. He's a great dog, very laid back, very easy going, he does bark when there's someone outside, but is very relaxed once they come in. Okay, so he apparently fails at being a guard dog, but he loves people, and other dogs, and cats since he grew up with my 8 yr old cat, and my mom's new kitten around.

It's hard to see some of the dogs I've seen, especially after seeing him. Those dogs who are wrapped in bubble wrap and never allowed to just be a dog are some of the nastiest, most ill-tempered dogs I've seen, but I can't blame them (even if getting bitten does piss me off), because they didn't do that to themselves. Strangely contrary to what most groomers see, in both of the kennels, very, very few of the dogs had any kind of temperament issues. The breeders, being thoughtful to the fact ill-tempered dogs sometimes make ill-tempered pups, would re-home the problem dogs. These dogs were the ones like the horses you mentioned, in being the "solitary" types.

I know horse ≠ dog, but I've seen more and more of the same. Let the horse be a horse, and let your dog be a dog.

(Sorry that's kind of long and ramble-y. I just found your blog and <3 it. :3 )

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