Natural Horse Keeping
I recently finished reading Joe Camp’s best-selling book, The Soul of a Horse: Life Lessons from the Herd. I must say that I was already familiar with many of the ideas Joe discussed (like barefoot and no blankets), but this book really made me think more about how I’ve been keeping my horses–as far as their ‘living arrangements’ go.
Even though I have a beautiful eight-stall barn (my husband’s an over-achiever!), I’ve never been a fan of stalling horses. Since we have so much grass though, at times, I’ve kept horses in a dry lot or small pen, and I’ve even kept them in my arena. But I’ve always felt there must be a better way.
Then, I read a while back about Paddock Paradise–a natural horsekeeping concept introduced by barefoot trimming guru, Jaime Jackson. Joe talks about Paddock Paradise in his book as well and has implemented this system successfully with his own horses.
Living with the Herd
The first key to natural horse keeping is allowing horses to live with the herd. This concept was a bit scary for me at first. When I’d put geldings and mares together before, someone usually ended up getting hurt. But then I realized we’d always kept our horses as a herd when I was growing up. After all, we’d only had one small, two-acre pasture then.
Since living at our present residence, I’d grown used to keeping the mares in one pasture and the geldings in another. No more though! My four horses are all running together now (and quite happy about it!)
One thing I’ve never done is keep a horse isolated in a pasture by himself. I’ve always felt this was unnatural and just wrong. And it turns out there is data to back this up. A horse living by himself is likely to be more stressed, which can cause unnatural behaviors like cribbing and weaving and also digestive problems like ulcers and colic. He is also less likely to get the sleep he needs since horses are prey animals and often rely on one another to ‘keep watch’ while they sleep.
The second key to natural horsekeeping is movement. Feral horses typically move 15-20 miles per day. And it’s this movement and constant grazing that keeps them healthy. Many of the hoof and digestive problems we see with domesticated horses today have to do with their sedentary lifestyles and the unnatural feeding schedules we’ve imposed upon them.
I’ll admit, before I had children, I used to ride a heck of a lot more than I do now, so my horses got quite a bit more movement then. But you can increase horses’ movement in their living environment too. It just takes a little more work on your part–at least initially.
My goal is to build a real Paddock Paradise–a track system which goes around the perimeter of my pasture. (I tried this temporarily, but took it down because I’d like to get better fencing material.) The horses will continually move around the track due to their natural herd tendencies and in order to keep grazing (or eating hay which has been spread along the track.)
The ideal Paddock Paradise system would include hills and rocks, as Joe’s does, but I’m limited to flat and grassy here, so I’ll have to make do. It’s important to have some form of shelter in the track though, and luckily we have a big grove of trees. I’ll be sure to post pictures and report any changes I see with my horses when I get it set up.
For more information on natural horse keeping and Paddock Paradise, I recommend visiting these pages:
You might want to check out this interview I did with Natural Horse Care Specialist, Stephanie Krahl, too.
And I’ll leave you with these words, from Joe Camp:
“What’s best for the horse is almost never what we humans think is best for the horse. . . We must always ask ourselves, Is this what I want or what my horse wants? Is this truly best for my horse? To ask those questions might involve embracing change. . .But it’s a lot easier to accomplish what’s best for the horse than most people think.”