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October 10, 2022
Making Stable Environments More Natural and Healthy for our Horses
By Kim Miller | Equestrian Writer
Horses are herd animals designed to live in a social group and travel many kilometres every day. They are trickle feeders who need to graze for up to 18 hours per day. When we stable horses, we take away the ability for them to do the things they would naturally do, for example – move, forage, and socialize. Stabling, or at least part-time stabling, is often required for convenience, pasture management, weight management and injury prevention, among other reasons. It is important to make the stable environment as natural and suitable for horses as possible.
Simple Stable Environment Improvements
• Visual contact with other horses is essential, but physical contact is preferable. Windows between stables allow horses to make contact with each other or, better still, adopt a group housing system.
• Provide salt/mineral licks or make small frozen licks by pureeing vegetables and freezing them.
• Provide access to forage as much as possible and consider using a Slow Feeder to allow your horse to eat in a natural position and regulate their pace – this is preferable over the use of hay nets.
• Provide low dust options for feed and bedding such as steamed hay and dust-extracted wood shavings.
• Activities such as mucking out, sweeping and leaf blowing all generate airborne dust and should be done while the horse is outside the stable, ideally during turnout. Grooming can also generate dust and is best done outside.
• Provide a minimum one hour of exercise per day, preferably turnout as many hours as possible.
Stable Design Basics
The building should be constructed soundly, with no exposed surfaces or projections likely to cause injury. All surfaces should be capable of being cleaned and disinfected. If surfaces are treated, non-toxic paints or non-toxic wood preservatives should be used.
Fixtures and fittings such as tie rings, hay racks and automatic drinkers should be free of sharp edges and positioned to avoid injury, particularly to the eyes.
Doors should be a suitable size for the individual horse as a guide 1.25m (4ft) wide. The height of the door should allow the horse or pony to see out over the door.
Enough light is essential within all stabling both for the horse to see adequately and to allow inspection and safe handling of horses at all times.
Stabling Types & Sizes
Stabling type and size vary around the world and across disciplines/industries. 2008 research led by Kelly Yarnell at Nottingham Trent University revealed some of the most compelling evidence relating to the way in which confinement affects the well-being of horses. The researchers measured the physiological and behavioral stress responses of horses housed in 4 different conditions (single housing, paired, group, single semi contact). They found that as housing became more isolated, horses exhibited higher levels of faecal corticosterone, a key indicator of stress (Yarnell et al., 2008).
The predominant housing used for domestic horses is individual stabling in loose boxes/stalls, with horses often confined there for much of the day.
Following Yarnell’s Research, the Swiss Government enacted Equine protection laws that mandated minimum sizes for box stalls and established requirements for access to or opportunities for social interaction among horses.
Other popular arrangements in Europe include housing compatible horses in pairs in double-sized stalls, as well as group barns. The Spanish Riding School’s stud farm uses double sized stalls for its broodmares, with mares going into private box stalls only at foaling time.
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