Many modern-day equestrians subject their horses to long periods of confinement — some spend up to 23 hours a day in a stable, with just 1 hour of exercise.
But does this confinement cause an animal welfare issue?
In short, yes!
Continue reading to find out why and what you can do to help.
What Does the Law Say About Animal Welfare?
The laws on animal welfare are pretty similar in most developed countries.
In all of the above Animal Welfare legislation, it is stated that animals should be able to display ‘species-typical behavior’ or ‘normal behavior patterns’.
What does this mean for horses?
Horses should not be kept in a stable.
Horses are free-roaming flight animals. They are designed to roam 5-20 miles a day grazing and looking for food, water, and shelter. They thrive in herds and require social interaction for survival.
Horses that are confined to a stable:
- Have a small 10x12ft stable/stall to move around in
- Have forage put into hay nets or hay bars, removing the ability to graze
- Have water provided in a bucket or drinker, removing the ability to search for water
- They are separated from other horses
- Higher risk of developing stereotypic behaviors
The above points show just how restricting a stable is. Good horse care standards should enable your horse to perform natural behaviors in their living environment.
What Can I Do to Improve My Horses Welfare?
Firstly, if possible, don’t confine your horse to a stable or stall.
Even in conditions that humans would consider extreme, like cold temperatures, snow, and rain, horses can be outside. Domesticated horses are able to cope with harsh weather conditions as they, unlike humans, are ethologically developed to live outside. Being in a stable during a storm is dangerous for a spooky horse. Calm horses may be stabled if the barn is grounded correctly.
If your barn manager doesn’t allow unlimited turnout, then it may be time to look for a new barn with enough land to have your horse outside 24/7.
If moving barns isn’t an option, then consider exercising your horse more, taking them for in-hand walks, or even turning them out to the pasture for an hour or two.
If your horse has been prescribed stall rest by your vet, then there are a few things you can do to improve their welfare, until they get the all-clear to return to the pasture.
Enrichment Activities in The Stable
Horses on stall rest will be bored. To remedy this you can, for example, hang carrots on a string, hide their favorite treat amongst their hay, add flavored tea to their water, or give them a treat ball.
Give Them Some Company!
Giving a horse on stall rest a companion is the best form of enrichment. This could be another horse or a grazing animal like a goat or a sheep. Horses become very stressed when isolated, and this will help your horse keep calm.
Spend Time Doing Horse Care Activities
Horses don’t value human companionship as much as that of another horse, but your horse will feel less stressed if you are there. If your horse is on stall rest, spend time grooming, massaging, talking and just being there with them.
Stereotypies in Stabled Horses
If your horse performs a stereotypic behavior, the best way to deal with it is to find the root cause by hiring a behaviorist. However, some behaviors can be caused by what your horse is lacking in its environment:
- Box walking (where they walk in a repeated pattern in the stall) could be related to restricted movement
- Wind sucking/cribbing (where they bite down and suck in, making a burping noise) could be related to the restricted forage/grazing
- Self-mutilation/aggression (biting or hurting themselves or others) could be related to resource guarding or a lack of social interaction
If your horse performs a deep-rooted stereotypic behavior, then it may be too late to undo the damage. Horses like this will still benefit greatly from being turned out but will likely perform the same behaviors in the field.
Horse Welfare Today
All horses will live a happier, healthier, stress-free life if they are able to live in conditions similar to their natural environment. This means as much time as possible in the pasture with free access to grazing, water, shelter, and companions.
Improving animal welfare standards for your horse should be your first priority as a horse owner.
Leave a comment below! We’d love to hear your tips and tricks for horse care in the stable.