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Basic Equine Needs
WRITTEN BY: Cheryl Sutor   [March 17, 2000]


Question:

My horse runs like crazy in his corral and works himself up to a sweat every time I turn him out. There are no other horses on the farm and his corral is about 25x25 ft. I offer lots of hay to calm him down, but he never eats it when he is outside. I can only turn him out when the weather permits, so he goes outside only on good days. How can I train him to calm down when he is outside?



Trainer's Response:

There are several factors that may be instigating your horse's behavior. The first and most important is space. Horses, by nature, need plenty of space to exercise. Over time, the horse has evolved into an animal whos basic survival instinct is to run. Horses need to run to keep themselves healthy. Standing still or standing in limited space for periods of time is not good for a horse's lower legs, or for their mind. They need enough room to be able to gallop several (10 or more) full strides, non-stop. A 25x25 foot corral just isn't nearly enough room for that.

Horses, also by nature, need to be outdoors as much as possible. The ideal situation will allow the horse to choose on his own whether he wishes to be outside or indoors. Many horses given this choice will even stand outside in the rain and snow...they enjoy it and actually prefer being out in bad weather over staying indoors, because it is natural to them. A shelter which will shade the horse from sun, rain and other harsh weather should be available 24 hours a day.

If the horse is a stallion and he is not being used for breeding, I highly recommend gelding him. Gelding a horse will minimize excess hormones and excess engergy. A stallion's goal in life is to reproduce. If you are keeping a stallion and not allowing him to breed, it may result in mental and health problems in the long run. So, if he is not being used to breed, it is in his (and yours) best interest to be gelded.

Another variable that causes excess energy is feed. Horses that are not worked daily don't have any need to eat grain. There are some exceptions to this rule, for example: older horses who can't hold weight, or health problems that require the use of grain for feeding or for adding supplements. Grain is a high-energy food. If grain is fed, the horse will need extra exercise to burn off that excess energy. Horses, in their natural state, do not eat buckets of grain. They eat roughage (grass/hay and other plants).



It is very important to a horse's mental well being to interact with other horses. Horses are, by nature, herd animals. They strive for a pecking order, it gives them a sense of security and reassurance. If your horse does not have a pasture buddy, I highly recommend getting one (as long as you can offer a large enough area for both of them to run).


Sometimes, other farm animals such as goats or dogs are enough to satisfy a lonely or insecure feeling. When a horse is alone, he will most likely have feelings of insecurity. Horses who feel insecure may act panicky or frantic. He may need a buddy to keep him company.

To demonstrate the need for a horse to be close to other horses, we performed a small test. We placed two horses on opposite sides of the pasture. Each time, upon release, they immediately ran to each other, then settled down.

Another test we performed lasted 1 month. We moved one of our horses to a secluded back-yard barn with about 16 acres. Just before moving him, he weighed approximately 950 lbs. No other animals were supplied for interaction, except for a few barn cats. He had free-choice hay and abundant pasture grass.
During week 1, the horse almost constantly trotted and cantered around the pasture. He ran back and forth along the pond and fence line, frantically calling for other horses.

During week 2, we introduced a dog to this horse's new territory. The horse immediately began to play with the dog, taking turns chasing each other around. After playing, they both layed down in the grass to rest.

During week 3, a horse from an adjoining piece of land was introduced. This new horse's pasture was about 1,000 ft. from our horse's pasture. The two horses could see and hear each other, but could not physically interact. Our horse immediately began to call to this new horse.

The remainder of our horse's stay during weeks 3 and 4 was spent towards the back of the pasture, where he could best hear the whinnys of the responding horse. We ended up paying for damage to the mesh fence and wood top-rail where he had been trying to escape, to get nearer to the new horse. In addition, upon returning to our farm, we checked his weight and it was approximately 100 lbs. less.



It is very important that your horse feels that his basic needs are being met. If he doesn't, bad behaviors are inevitable, not to mention many health risks that may follow. In giving your horse these things, you will be restoring his basic needs as an equine. He will be much healthier and happier, and also safer for everyone involved.



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This article was published on: March 17, 2000. Last updated on: June 27, 2001.