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Selection Of The Horse
Conformation Of Horses
Disposition Of Horses
Saddlery And Equipment For Horses
Care Of Saddlery And Leather
Feeds And Bedding For Horses
Care Of Horse Feet And Shoeing
In Or Out Of The Stable
Basic Physiology Of Horses
Genetic Considerations Of Horses
( Originally Published 1954 )
Since we have gone to the trouble to construct a nice barn with warm and comfortable stalls, we think the horses should be happy to stay in them. Therefore we assume we know what is best and lock them in with great regularity. This only further shows that the human is as subject to unthinking routine as our more humble creatures. In the days of large stables of city and country working horses, stabling became essential in order to have them under control and in a minimum of space. Such considerations are not valid for the individual horse owner and perhaps we should stop and think a moment about what a horse will do if he is given free choice. Just because we like to be where it is warm and have a quiet eight hours in bed with-out disturbance, is no indication that our equine friends have similar desires. We have become so accustomed to going to bed at night that we assume our horses should do the same, and promptly at dusk they are all placed in their stalls and locked in until breakfast time. We do this because we think it is good for the horse and without any careful analysis as to whether this may be true or not.
I. have two neighbors, one a mile south of me and one to the east. Their method of caring for horses is almost identical: they both have excellent barns, supply ample well chosen hay and grain and have two or three acres available in pasture. Both have barns so constructed that doors can be open and the horses can come and go as they please. My neighbor to the south leaves his doors open at all times except for those few winter days which drop below freezing, and then he shuts them in, primarily to prevent freezing of the automatic drinking fountains. On these days the horses are locked out of the barn, but they still have the protection of the shed roof if they choose to use it. His horses always seem to be in top condition and certainly they have never shown a greater frequency of coughs or colds than those of my other friends. My neighbor to the east, on the other hand, keeps his horses shut in a great deal of the time and on many a spring evening the doors are locked at six o'clock. Since they have quite a bit of time out-of-doors each day I am sure that no harm is done, but I believe that his desire to be kind results only in more stall cleaning; and the horses sit around and probably think to themselves about why they are penned up.
The horse is a wanderer, a grazer, and a creature of the great outdoors. He has been domesticated but that does not mean that he prefers it that way. For a number of years I had an old pensioner at a ranch near the coast. The weather is not cold but it is rainy and very disagreeable by human standards, although the green forage is ample. Arrangements were made to have hay and shelter available for this horse whenever it might be needed. It was soon found that he wanted no part of these special arrangements, for he joined with several other old pensioners and they took off into the hills. They came down about once a week for salt, but otherwise even offerings of hay would not persuade them to stick around the barnyard. The only time that they did come in of their own accord was when heavy snow fall made the grazing too difficult.
We also have a stallion and group of mares on a central high plateau ranch. The stallion and his harem are all registered Thoroughbreds and were raised under domestic conditions, but do they hang around the corrals and stables? They do not. Off they go into the hills in search of the higher and sweeter grasses, and they range the whole ten thousand acres of the enclosure regardless of the weather, and apparently thrive. They prefer the bunch grass to the best hay that can be put out and they avail themselves of supplementary feeding only when the snows have completely covered their favorite form of sustenance.
The great part of the year my horses find their barn doors open and they are allowed to come and go as they please. I spent a bit of time observing their habits and perhaps I have learned something about what they will do when left to their own choosing. A horse likes to have protection from excessive heat and sun, from flies and from severe rain and cold winds. With few exceptions a horse will be outside unless one of the above conditions prevails. In the heat of a summer day they will gather under trees for shade or go ino the barn if nothing better is available. They will also seek the barn in bad fly season. In certain Mid-central and Southern areas flies are so bad that all horses are kept in during the days of the summer months. This, of course, is a very sensible procedure but its usefulness is entirely dependent upon the prevalence of insect pests.
Horses will usually seek shelter from a cold and hard rain but they will not come in out of a light drizzle, particularly if grazing is good. After all, his coat sheds rain fairly well and he will probably not suffer from cold as long as he has ample calories available to supply the heat to keep him warm.
Horses do not seem to mind the cold at all and they will go out through the snow by choice.
Much more important than simply allowing a horse to do as he pleases is the benefit which he derives from his constant motion. Confinement reduces muscle tone and makes for sluggish circulation. This is particularly important in the legs of the horse because of the difficulty of returning blood and lymph up the long extremities against the pull of gravity. The slightest overfeeding of grain or concentrates may cause digestive upset when horses are continuously confined to the stall, but it is most unusual if they are allowed to move about freely the greater part of each day. If there is any doubt in your mind as to what your horse would like to do, open the doors for a few days and watch him and I think you will find his habits will be very much as described above. They will always come in at certain hours of the day which they will know to be feeding times, and when you see a horse standing in his stall at six in the evening he is not trying to tell you that he wishes to be locked up for the night, but only that he would like his supper.
As mentioned elsewhere in this volume, horses may be kept in during the first cool nights of Fall in an attempt to keep them from growing a heavy coat. This is about the only justification I can see for so doing, and it may or may not work: since there is great variation in the amount of winter coat developed in various horses. If your riding is to be slow and occasional, it is just as well to let them have the long hair and go without clipping and blanketing. If you intend to do fast work it will be a saving in labor to clip them so that you will not spend hours after each ride with a wet and soggy animal. Immediately after clipping, a horse should be kept out of the cold for a few days until he becomes adjusted to the change, but that still does not mean he should be a house pet for the next six months. I am one of the few in this part of the country who turn horses out in blankets because over ten years' experience of this method has convinced me that it is practical, a labor saver, and a benefit to the horse in general. At the present time my procedure is roughly as follows: During Spring and Summer months the horses are never kept shut in. During the Fall and Winter the doors are kept open all day and usually not closed until quite late in the evening when the last feeding of hay is given. The doors are also kept closed during severe cold and when there is driving rain. These two latter are primarily for protection of the bedding in the stalls and to prevent the plumbing from freezing. Just because a horse has come in from a long and hard ride is no reason why he must be shut in. He will usually prefer to go out and wander around and, therefore, he is not restrained unless it is cold and wet. Actually the only real reason for shutting horses in at night at all is to be prepared in case of sudden weather changes which might do damage.