When I first started submitting my horse stories for critiques and contests, I discovered many people had interesting misconceptions about how horses are cared for. I learned to include comments in my tales about how not all horses live in stables, and that it was often better for them to be out in pasture, even in a storm. These mistaken ideas surprised me given the images of wild horses on the plains and domesticated horses in large green pastures. So today I thought I’d talk a little about basic horse care.
First off, horses are grazing animals designed to move around and eat small amounts continually. Large pastures with plenty of feed are the healthiest choice. Of course, nowadays that kind of land is hard to come by and can be pretty expensive, so most people have to make compromises. Some use large fenced turnouts and provide free choice grass hay for the horses to munch on all day. You can do this with grass hay because it’s lower in protein and nutrients and close to real grass. Some feed small amounts of higher protein hay several times a day. While not ideal, this is closer to what nature intended and is easier for the small equine stomach to deal with. But most people feed larger amounts of highly concentrated hay twice a day, which fits best with human schedules, but is harder on equine digestion and makes them vulnerable to colic, the most common horse killer.
Because horses develop warm winter coats they really don’t need to be inside even in winter weather. They generally do just fine in snow and cold. Their hair fluffs up allowing air in to form insulating layers. In a herd, they huddle together and combine their body heat. The one time some sort of shelter is necessary is when they have to deal with wind and rain. Either by itself if okay, but if their coats get soaked, the hairs can’t fluff and provide insulation against a cold wind. Then they need some protection
Even though pastures and large turnouts that allow horses to roam and exercise are healthiest, they have some disadvantages, mainly for the owners and riders. Number one, the horses get a lot dirtier and take more work to groom and get looking nice. They also develop heavier winter coats, which are harder to deal with, particularly if the animals get sweaty and wet. So, in general, it’s easier if they are kept in a stable or barn. Hopefully the stable will have large, airy stalls with plenty of ventilation and paddocks that allow the horses move around and go outside. Bad air from a closed up barn can cause serious respiratory problems.
Of course we all love our horses and want them to be warm and comfy. In addition to keeping them in a stable, many people put blankets on their equine buddies, something many horses don’t like. We used to blanket my daughter’s white Arab to try to keep her clean in our wet winters, but Duchess had different ideas. The minute it rained, she’d find a puddle and turn into sloppy, muddy mess. She was one of the reasons we had a water heater for our grooming stall. While our other horses didn’t usually wallow, they did often prefer to stand out in the rain, rather than be inside. Waterproof blankets-R-US.
What kind of things to you do for your animal friends that are really more for you than them? And how do they react?
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/charlesfred/598978125/”>CharlesFred</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>