Monday, October 31, 2011

Stabling your Horse: Good or Bad ?

Here at the Adirondack Equine Center, we've been asked this multiple times before. It is always difficult to explain the reason why horses should not be stabled under normal weather conditions. Common fears for  stabling horses are to avoid injury (scrapes, cuts and various other abrasions) Our guests and riders, (most of the time) are laymen in regards to proper horsemanship. We take the time and effort to explain the differences between horses stabled for long periods of time and horses that roam free on pasture.

There are many reasons as to why stabling is not natural for the horse. We will attempt to name a few below:

Natalia shows "Windsucking" damage to teeth
Cribbing or scientifically "aerophagia" is a psychological "vice" or habit that originates from boredom and quite often, from stomach ulcers in stabled horses. Many show horses, race horses are kept in stalls, and allowed only one to three hours of turnout daily. The process of cribbing is when the horse gnaws on the interior wood of the stall, rail or tree stump and inhales air into the stomach. This action promotes the release of endorphins, which promotes the continual recurrence of episodes.This can be compared to the nail biting habits that children and adults develop over years from a variety of psychological factors.  In our case, nail biting results in a mild infliction of pain, resulting in an endorphin release.

Colic is another condition that increased mortality in horses. With the right management practices, colic is a preventable condition that affects a large percentage of horses, and when not treated, it poses a high mortality risk.  To avoid colic, it is best to have clean water available to the horse 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is also recommended to feed your horse a soft pelleted feed, which can also be in the extruded form, to ease digestibility. When we feed our horses pelleted feed, we ensure to add a little water to it to soften it and to avoid the incident of choke. The logic is that if the pellet can crumble in your mouth without consistently chewing it, the easier it will be for your horse to digest it. We do not feed whole oats, chaffed feeds, and other substrates such as sugar beet to our horses. We will discuss the to do's and dont's during a colic emergency, in a separate post.

Another rule to follow is "Keep it Simple Stupid". The more you add to your horse's feed the more difficult it will be for the horse to digest it, as the body process compares to that of a human's - for example - if you have saturated fats in your diet, or the absence of milk fats, your body will be unable to recognize how to process what you just ate. We have seen certain horse owners feed Omega 6's in the form of a black sunflower seed - which - from looking at it - looks very indigestible and is an unnecessary "matter" in the digestive tract. It is not found in the horses' nature, so why even attempt to feed it ? Your veterinarian will also put it simply "No, don't spoil the broth". If you need to peel it, crack it or crush it, don't feed it whole to your horse ! That brings up another good point - Flax-seed. If you buy it in bulk as a whole seed, mill it as you need it, otherwise as it "stales" it will release a harmful toxin. This applies to both you and your horse :)

Prebiotics AND Probiotics are beneficial if not indispensable to your horse's health as they build the digestive flora thus one's immune system, block by block. We will cover the Prebiotics vs. Probiotics segment in another post :)

"The study shows that allowing or not allowing (turnout) and the particular time of turnout affects the behavior of horses in the sable as well as those in training," Werhahn explained. All in all, she noted, horses' stall and training behavior was more relaxed when turnout was allowed.

"We conclude that owners should try to allow free exercise," she added. "The best particular time of turnout is very individual for each horse and rider combination. Very 'active' horses might be more concentrated in TBT. More phlegmatic horses might be easier to ride in TAT. But this is very individual."

A very insightful read - Are Stabled Horses at Increased Risk for Developing Colic ?  and
                                   Turnout Effects on Stall-Kept Equine Athletes (German Study)

"No Hoof, No Horse" - The lack of movement reduces the blood circulation thus less nutrients will be supplied to the hoof. The stall must be kept well ventilated, dry and have some type of support such as mats or sand/gravel mix under shavings to stimulate the hoof wall from becoming too thin or brittle. Many stabled horses suffer from thrush and other fungal/bacterial infections that take treatment and time to cure. Have a central sulcus infection ? Try the penicillin based treatment for mastitis in cows.

We have horses at the farm that can only be stabled in a group of two to three together. Otherwise one or the other will damage the stall by kicking at it, turn up the dirt or mats and continuously display some type of psychological trauma throughout the time that the horse is stalled. It is very stressful for many horses to be confined as they are claustrophobic by nature.
Well, I think this is it for this blog post, hopefully it answered a few questions :) If there is anything else that we will earn or stumble upon, we will renew this post to include it ! For more updates, as always, join us on Facebook for more photos and updates, and most importantly subscribe to our blog for updates ! ~ Natalia