Shut The Barn Door – after the horse is out

26 Jan

I was recently reading a forum post where people were expounding the virtues of stalling their horses. Post after post common comments were “My horses are in every night and in bad weather.” and “Maybe some climates are mild enough to have horses outside 24/7 but not here.”

Horses evolved to survive outdoors. They roamed large areas, grazing as they travelled. Their digestive system works best for small frequent meals. Their speed, vision and reactive temperament all helped them to survive.

Colic is the number one killer of horses. When you take an animal ideally suited to frequent grazing and near constant exercise, lock them in a stall, and feed them relatively large meals twice a day, is it any wonder that their digestive system is disrupted?

Wild horses don’t get respiratory problems like COPD (“heaves”). Dusty barns and dry or mouldy hay are solely responsible.

There have been studies on the bone density of young horses were stalled from birth, versus those that lived out on pasture. Unsurprisingly, the pastured horses had stronger bones.  How many Thoroughbreds that “broke down” on the track might have had stronger bones, tendons and ligaments if they’d been turned out to stress their legs as weanlings and yearlings?

Two of the most common breeds of horses to have common problems with upward fixation of the patella (locked stifle) are Miniature horses and warmbloods, both breeds that tend to be kept in small areas – Miniatures because they’re so small, warmbloods because they’re so big. The first treatment for locking stifles is exercise; the joint locks because the horse lacks muscle to control the ligament that allows them to lock the stifle to sleep standing up.  Running and playing in the pasture would build muscle before it became a problem.

It’s easy to think that you’re helping your horse by bringing them into the barn, but horses are well suited for cold weather … they don’t grow all that hair for no reason!  The temperature change of bringing them in and out of a warm barn is hard on their immune system, making them succeptible to respiratory viruses.

I bet there’s not a lot of weaving or cribbing in the wild horse herds either.

I’m not saying that it’s never okay to stall a horse. There are many, many perfectly healthy and happy horses that spend part or all of their day in a stall, and there are lots of reasons why people might find that stalling their horse is the best option for them.

We don’t have a mild climate here. We get snow, and wind, and extremely cold temperatures.  Our horses live outdoors, except in special circumstances. They’re healthy, sound, and well adjusted.

And also, very fluffy. 😉


Posted by on January 26, 2011 in horses


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3 responses to “Shut The Barn Door – after the horse is out

  1. MovingEquus

    January 26, 2011 at 11:15 am

    Found this post interesting… I’m sure there’ll be many comments on this one with people expressing their opinions on stabling horses.
    Wild horses are adaptable to all sorts of conditions, but most people’s horses are no longer wild. Most people want to ride as much as possible and keep their horses fit. It’s just impractical to have hugely fluffy horses to ride, and a bit cruel to make a horse hot and sweaty and then turn them out into the cold straight afterwards.
    Don’t get me wrong, I completely agree with you that horses that live out have fewer vices and few respiratory and colic problems, but nowadays most people can’t just permenantly have their horses out.
    My horse lives out now, and she’s much happier for it, but she’s rugged up, clipped and cosy and is worked everyday.
    But at previous yards it’s not been my choice whether to have her out or not. I am a DIY livery girl, and it frustrates me when a yard tells you what to do with a horse, but mostly it’s for the good of the yard not just for you.
    When you domesticate a horse, some of those things that make it adapt so well are taken away, so you can no longer compare them with wild horses, nor can you treat them as such.

    • Kendra Gale

      January 26, 2011 at 11:38 am

      Thanks for your reply!

      It’s a good point – I don’t work my horses in the winter, just for the reason you said, I don’t want them to get sweated up. I’m also a chicken about them slipping on snowy or icy footing, but that’s another story.

      I compete in Combined Driving with one of my horses, so he needs to be fit, able to complete the marathon portion. He’s turned out for the winter on a very large pasture in a herd situation. When I start conditioning, he’s already in reasonable fitness and I’m able to get him in competition shape in a relatively short period of time, which is important as we’ll often have a very limited time to condition between the end of winter and the start of show season.

      I’m not going to say that if I won the lottery and built a fancy heated indoor arena I wouldn’t keep him in and work him through the winter, but I feel strongly about the benefits of a natural environment, particularly for young, growing horses.

      Thanks again for stopping by!

  2. MovingEquus

    January 26, 2011 at 11:43 am

    I completely see why you manage your horses the way you do, it is much better to have a roaming happy horse than a horse stuck in a stable looking grumpy!
    Good luck with the Driving!


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