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. 😉