To Stall or Not to Stall a Horse?
By guest blogger Juliane Dykiel
Upon reading Margit H. Zeitler-Feicht’s Horse Behavior Explained, I came across some important information that I believe every horse person should know, yet not many seem to.
While I already knew how important it was both psychologically and physically for a horse to get out of its stall or turn out, I was not aware of the specific facts that prove that keeping a horse stalled all day is detrimental.
A 1998 survey “confirm[s] that more than 95% of horses are ridden or driven for less than 1 hour a day.” It may now be 2012, but can’t we all think of many horses that don’t get out enough?
So I decided to attempt to share this important information with the rest of the horse world. Horse Behavior Explained is a fairly dense book but its importance can’t be missed, so I’ll summarize some of it here.
In the wild, horses walk between 3.7 – 10.6 miles a day. A horse that remains stalled all day travels 0.1 miles per day. In Margit’s words, “the ‘day off,’ a day on which the horse never leaves the stall, is designed exclusively for human benefit. It offers nothing but disadvantages for the horse’s health and psyche…days off should rather include a quieter form of exercise such as pasture turnout or a trail ride at walking speed”(77).
Margit also explains that in the wild, the walk is the primary gait used by horses. They walk long distances with rare occurrences of trot and canter. However, stalled horses “spend most of their time standing and exercise is often limited to 1 hour but proportionally faster…highly concentrated exercise in this manner cannot compensate for a lack of slow movement spread out over a long period of time”(77). This clarifies the importance of trail rides, especially walks: after all, horses are nomadic creatures, and moving through woods is a psychological necessity.
A way to help satisfy the exercise requirement for horses that are not ridden enough, Margit explains on page 74, is to turn out horses at least several hours a day.
Another way to help is to “motivate horses to walk” by spreading out the “areas designed to meet the horse’s varying needs”(74) – for example, putting the water bucket on one side of the pasture or paddock, shelter on the opposite, and feeding them in a completely different corner. This will bring the amount of ground the horse covers a day when turned out for 12 hours from 1.8 miles to 3 miles, almost double.
Once the exercise requirement has been satisfied, and I have found this to be true from first-hand experience, a horse will usually be less prone to behavioral problems. After all, “Lack of exercise is a well-known cause of problems arising during handling”(77). Other physical aspects of the horse such as its musculoskeletal, digestive, cardiac, and circulatory systems will be healthier, and your horse, like any human who takes care of their body and exercises enough, will last longer.
Reading all of this, I found that I’m guilty myself – many of my projects don’t get out as much as they should. I feel like I’ve been subconsciously aware of this, yet always justified it by the fact that “I don’t have enough time” to ride all of the horses I’m charged with adequately. Well, today, instead of just riding my client’s horse hard for a half hour, I also squeezed in a half hour walk. Tomorrow, I’m going on a trail ride, and I’m going to pony one of the other horses along, since she’s been trained to pony students for years. Consider leasing a horse out to a quiet or experienced rider. Take your horses on trail rides; it’ll be therapeutic for the both of you. But most of all, pick up Margit Zeitler-Feicht’s Horse Behavior Explained for even more mind-blowing horse truths that most people need to be, yet are not aware of…or just wait for my next summary to come out: “Why A Horse Should Always Have A Companion.”