Monday, August 25, 2014

Horses are Horses

5 Things Wild Horses Teach Us About Horse Care | Horse Collaborative

The article above should be required reading for all horse owners.

No, I'm not launching a rant on our current style of horsekeeping.  We know what we're doing wrong.  But we're also doing some things right, and that's where this is going.

Yes, horses were meant to graze 24 hours a day.  Left to Nature, they live with their heads down and their lips busy ripping the heads off grasses.  This serves several purposes.

1.  The head-down attitude makes choking less of an issue.  Try it.  Your coffee might come out your nose, but it's unlikely it'll get stuck going down your throat.  Horses are very fond of gravity.  It works well for them.

2.  Their eyes, which can see roughly 300 degrees around them, focus best at that angle.  We like them to be standing up with their heads in Pretty Picture Position.  They're not entirely in tune with that.  They like to see what's coming at the level where their fragile legs are.  If a distant sound catches their attention, they'll raise their heads so they can focus in the distance (barely), flip their ears in the direction of the sound, and snort to clear their nasal passages of all the stuff that dripped there while their heads were down so they can smell what's coming.  It's a very effective way of using their bodies as they were designed.

3.  Eating small amounts of forage all the time keeps their guts happy.  They're less likely to develop ulcers if their tummies are constantly working on grass rather than on themselves.  You never see a fat wild horse.  Keep that in mind when you're doling out bits of hay and grain to that stomach-on-legs in your barn.

The meeting of the Random Weeds Fan Club will
please come to order.
4.  They are herd animals.  They like other horses.  They like to form clubs and associations and pick leaders and have meetings.  They get lonely and strange without a social life, kind of like Uncle Curly who made odd noises in the basement where we weren't supposed to go.

5.  Their legs and bodies stay reasonably fit from walking around.  Try that, too.  Walk around all day for a week.  You can lie down for four hours, but not all at once.  You'll look amazing, and you'll have far fewer Weekend Warrior-type injuries when someone makes you run a marathon and jump over barricades on Saturday afternoons.

So, yes, there are issues with our trying to keep horses penned or stalled up for most of their day and night.  Sometimes we can't help it. Sometimes it's all we've got available (and with all our meddling creating all those horses, sometimes it's just the best alternative). Sometimes the horses get hurt just standing around (a Horse World Mystery coming soon to a pasture near you) and need to be stuck away to heal.  It's not all bad, and it's not all good.
The grass is always greener on the lawn.

But what we've also done (and this is why you need to actually read the assignment since by now you're feeling defensive and irritated) is add a dozen or more years to our domestic horses' lifespans.  As the linked post clearly and accurately states, in the wild a mild colic, a pulled suspensory, a hoof injury, a poked eye--things we're so good at dealing with that we barely give them a second thought--would spell doom.  Period.

 Death.  Destruction.  Being eaten by hungry predators.  Being thrown out of the herd for unspeakable infractions of the rules and left to die alone.  All of those things don't impact our domestic horses.  We're caretakers.  We take care.  We also meddle where we shouldn't, but we do take care once the meddling happens.

It's up to each of us to decide how we feel about this scenario.  Do the horses get that we've given them long, healthy lives in exchange for their captivity?  I don't know.  Can we finally put the whole "Natural Horsemanship" concept to rest and just go with "I've got horses and I'm doing my best not to be mean to them"?  That would be a really good thing.  Without us, there wouldn't be so many horses.  There are breeds today that, like in the dog world, wouldn't exist without human meddling.  Is that a good thing?  And there are more horses than we have homes for.  That's a definite bad thing.  But the horses with homes with good horsemen with some semblance of a normal horselife--lots of pasture space and appropriate social situtaions--are probably as happy as can be, and they probably feel secure in the knowledge that they're unlikely to be eaten by anything in the normal course of their days.
Nom, nom, nom...

We try.  We could try harder.

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