ALL our modern sport-, performance- and pleasure horses, including yours, are anatomically, physiologically and psychologically alike. Their make-up has not changed since the Ice Age. They have the same biological requirements for optimal health and survival.
What are the biological requirements of the horse and what can we do to provide our animals with the best life possible in a domesticated situation?
First we need to understand what horses are, "biologically speaking":
Over about 55 million years, horses have evolved to be:
Their anatomy and physiology is designed and functions optimally when the animal is:
*Moving continuously in a head-down posture (long neck, long head, strong forehand, acute sense of hearing and good vision)
*Is feeding continuously on a vast variety of grasses/plants (set of continuously growing teeth for clipping and grinding; digestive tract with small stomach and long intestines for maximum extraction of nutrition from large amounts of plant matter)
2. Herd- and Prey animals
Their anatomy, physiology and psychology is designed, functions and is programmed to:
*Survive in a group as part of a team and hierarchy where the individual finds protection (early warning), social contact and a better chance to escape a predator. If kept alone, a horse will feel continuously stressed. Being alone means certain death to a herd and prey animal.
*Horses are fright-flight-fight animals and almost all equine behaviour originates on the instinct to survive a predator attacking a herd.
In a domestic situation, providing you have a few acres of land, you can easily make "natural compromises" and therefore accommodate for the biological requirements of your horses. The good news is, it's less costly to create your own "horse-haven-a'-la-natural" than keeping your horse conventionally.
If you care for them in a way close to how nature has intended (and equipped them for), you will be able to enjoy them longer, because they will stay sound in body and mind.
Everyone is able to some extent provide an environment that mimicks that of how the horse would naturally live. You just have to follow Mother Nature's example and do what your can within your own four fences
Hints & Tips
Provide your horse with enough space to move freely (e.g. paddock to roam, large enough to stretch, in walk trot and canter) with shelter or trees for protection against the elements or for a rest in the shade. Good paddock management is important if you have land limitations (who hasn't?) This includes safe fencing besides maintaining the pasture. Ensure (sow) a good variety of grasses and look after ground conditions, clean or break up manure.
If you hand feed, feed at ground level and in various places (to encourage movement and healthy posture). Get hay from various sources, as every paddock has different ground/mineral content)
Provide a body of water (dam, creek or overflowing trough) with clean water, large enough so the horse will stand in water or mud when drinking. Water is essential for healthy hoofs.
Give your horse a friend or two (or three or four....) of its own kind, so it has the social and functional importance of the herd to take care of its emotional well being.
Allow your horse to regulate its own body temperature by letting it grow a winter coat in winter, remembering that they have survived the Ice Age without rugs! (To all Australian readers: We are known as rug-crazy nation: The average horse owner here in Oz is gathering more rugs in her tack room than an average riding school in Europe! Since our climate is relatively mild, nobody really knows why?!)
Avoid force-medication (supplementing) feed, unless you are absolutely sure your horse needs a certain nutrient / mineral / vitamin. If feeding a good variety of pasture hay, your horse should get everything it needs.
If you use chemical wormers, make sure your horse needs worming first! Chemical wormers are poison!
In case of sickness, discuss alternative treatment methods with your vet first. Unfortunately most conventional medications and treatments suppress symptoms and obstruct healing. Find ways to help the organism to heal itself.
Ride and train "horse friendly". Gymnasticise your horse so it is physically able to do what you expect from it. Allow it to warm up, stretch, and warm down. Train with compassion, tact and patience so your horse is mentally
ready to understand your requests and physically able to do them. Be a rider whom the horse can enjoy. (They love to please)
Learn about and provide natural hoofcare. Your horse needs its hoofs for a variety of important reasons. Look beyond the traditions of only a few hundred years, again, remembering the horse survived very soundly for the past 50+ million years: Their anatomical, physiological and psychological make up has not changed. Not even that of your flat, shelly hooved thoroughbred!.
A natural lifestyle includes natural Hoofcare.
* Learning how a functioning hoof looks like (look over your farriers shoulder and ask questions, so all farriers know that putting shoes on horse's feet is just not good enough!)
* Regular trimming to mimic natural hoof wear on breed appropriate terrain and in optimal lifestyle conditions (including water, travelling 15km per day)
* Facilitating hoof mechanism
hoof mechanism is the function of the hoof:
- circulatory pump,
- metabolism and waste excretion in form of horn growth,