EQUI LIVING special exhibit Horse habitat - Balancing act between sports and horse-friendly husbandry?
The natural habitat for horses is to live in the wild. Horses are flight and herd animals with a genetically predetermined desire for social contact with other horses and a distinct need to move. Horses require a lot of free exercise, as well as visual and tactile interactions with other horses in order to be healthy, happy and productive.
“Horse friendly husbandry” and “individual care” are trending.
The innate needs of the horse are increasingly recognized thanks to a wide range of scientific and behavioural research. These include factors such as living among conspecifics and with playmates, freedom of movement and breed-specific or needs-based feeding. More and more horse owners are striving to provide their horses with the most horse-friendly life as possible.
Photo: PferdeGut Tüshaus, Dorsten
This desire among owners leads to new concepts and products: Spacious box-stalls with attached paddocks (in and out) plus regular turn outs, stable components for group housing, frost-proof waterers for outdoor horse keeping in winter, numerous floor coverings options, right down to a “bubble bed” for horses. As well as time-controlled, automated feeding stations and pasture gates. However, anyone who believes that group housing is easier or even less cost-intensive than stall housing is mistaken. A lot of equine expertise is needed in both behaviour and physiology. The requirements for successful husbandry apart from the box-stall are complex and time consuming. What is available and what is realistic? What does it cost and for whom is it suitable? All these questions need to be answered individually and are different for each horse owner and his horse. The myth that sport horses can only remain uninjured and perform well when kept in box-stalls is being disproved by more and more riders. Many of these riders are successful at the top levels of their sports and their horses happily romp around in the herd all year round.
Photos: Uta Gräf
Let horses be horses
“We want to keep our horses close to nature and in an horse-friendly, socialising environment. Although we cannot offer the horses complete freedom as in nature, we are coming pretty close to the ideal: several hectares of large meadows surround the old monastery walls and the old barn, which used to be used for storage and is open on the long sides. We have designed our horse living conditions in such a way that the horses - kept as much as possible in a large herd - have maximum independence though natural husbandry and sufficient social contact. Our housing system encourages them - over hill and dale or on frozen ground - to train their surefootedness and balance and to take care of themselves, avoiding injuries and pain. We deliberately do not want to take this away from our horses and overprotect them, even though they are valuable. It is very important to us to let our horses “be horses”. We quickly realised that this natural and horse-friendly form of husbandry is a very definite contribution to the fine riding style we strive for. The horses are well-balanced, content, and relaxed and supple at all times. This is due to the fact that they can move around the clock and are involved in what is happening in their environment, thanks to the open stable concept. Even in winter, when it is crisp and cold, we sit on completely relaxed horses that are not remotely “hot” or “pithy”. That's why this kind of husbandry is also beneficial for us riders: it makes riding safer.”
Uta Gräf, German dressage rider and multiple Grand Prix Winner
Traditional stabling is undoubtedly the most convenient for the horse owner because it saves time with short distances to cover. Arguably, it can be more time consuming as an owner first has to collect his horse from the other end of the paddock trail prior to the training lesson and scrape off the mud crust before the horse can be saddled. There are more and more horse owners who want to give their horses maximum freedom and quality of life - for the significant amount of time during the day that they cannot spend together. However, group keeping is not always the perfect solution. Each individual case depends on the local conditions, the facility potential and the different needs of the horse group (breed, age, sex, etc.).
Industry and manufacturers are called upon to design products that meet both the owners and the horses needs.
Whether the best solution for a particular horse is a stall system, with additional exercise in a small group, or an open stable, with automatic feeders and a blanketing service adjusted to his needs, is something that every owner must decide himself. At this point, product designers and manufacturers are called upon to develop sensible and practical solutions that meet the needs of horse owners and their horses. The possibilities and offerings of the market are increasing. Due primarily to evidence-based research, this movement will continue to head in the direction of horse welfare. The special exhibit “Equi Living” shows contemporary options in horse living spaces and invites visitors to an exciting journey of discovery.