You spend a lot of money on vets and farriers. You buy the best grains and hay. Your horse gets immunized and is constantly being observed for any signs of illness. He or she seems frisky, happy and looks the epitome of great health. Yet, can you say your horse is as healthy as he can be?
Here’s a brief comparison of food and exercise for wild vs. domestic horses:
- Eats a variety of grasses, plants and trees, all of which contribute to meeting nutritional needs.
- Spends up to 70% of his time eating these goodies.
- Travels about 20 miles per day over rugged country.
- Lives an average of 30 to 40 years.
- Eats grains and other commercial food we provide.
- Eats on a schedule, sometimes having nothing in his stomach.
- Doesn’t travel much and when he does, it’s typically less than a mile a day over soft ground.
- Lives to between 21 and 30 years of age.
From this little bit of information, it would appear that wild horses are healthier than their domestic counterparts. The “wild bunch” gets enough food to sustain its lifestyle and enough exercise to burn off the food.
We need to remember, however, that these two groups -- wild and domestic -- have vastly different environments and styles of living. There may be something to be said, though, for adding a little “wild” to our horses’ lives from time to time in an effort to not only maintain their health, but to increase it. We can do this by simply turning them out for longer than 6 hours per day.
Another school of thought says that working and show horses may be exposed to too much risk if they’re turned out for long periods of time. They might become injured or “lose their edge” if they’re generally tuckered out from too much running around. If, for example, your horse needs abrupt bursts of energy when performing or competing, he may not find the energy there if he’s been turned out for long periods.
On the other hand, allowing a horse to remain in a stall or paddock for one or more days at a time cannot be good for him, and most of us are able to turn out our horses for nice, long stretches of time. This is especially possible for people whose horses are often pastured, which provides more freedom for running, hanging out in close contact with other horses and freely grazing.
There are other horse owners who don’t have the luxury of having their horses live at home on a large property. They may have just one horse and perhaps use boarding facilities. Because of work and other considerations, they may only get the opportunity to spend time with their horse friend just once or twice a week. In this case, they can stipulate to the barn managers that the horse be turned out for long periods of time with other horses, always first considering the risk impact on each individual horse.
Overall, a sound horse can enjoy increased health if given enough exercise balanced with the proper quantities of food. Take some time to evaluate where your horse is with respect to exercise and food. If it’s possible for you to optimize both, your horse will kick up his heels in healthy gratitude.
Photo: Viktoria Makarova
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