As I move forward into starting my own equestrian facility; I am excited to offer "wild horse" paddock models to my boarders as a form of natural horse keeping. I have done my research and I know that this will be the healthiest option for my horses and those who choose to do the same for their horses at our farm. But before I get into the specifics of what that will be, I want to take a side note about how easily this can be mistaken for "not natural" horse keeping.
I was reminded of this idea this past week when a lady moved her horse from a "natural" farm. And having her mind changed to never, ever going back to natural horse keeping again because of what this past farm was like. This idea in itself makes me very sad. I know the environment her horse came from, and I know that it has nothing to do with natural horse keeping whatsoever. As there is nothing close to natural about horses standing in a foot of mud, feces, urine and molding hay. There is also nothing natural about an over crowded paddock with one round bale to eat from.
So you can imagine what this poor horse came to us as; feet falling off, skin and bones, scruffy... but this is not the fault of "natural horse keeping", this is the fault of bad marketing and bad horse keeping. There is no excuse for any facility owner responsible for a horse's life, for a horse to end up in such terrible conditions. I would choose a stalled up lifestyle any day over that! At least their hooves have a chance to dry and get away from all of that burning ammonia...
So now, we have another horse owner pushed away from the idea of natural horse keeping because of one very unfortunate incident with a bad facility manager. *sigh* How many more have been pushed to this edge?
What is Natural Horse Keeping?
In my ideals, it means putting the horse back into it's most natural living environment. Now we're not going to be able to open up thousands of acres of grazing, with multiple types of land, rock, sand, pastures with some water features and the like to imitate that kind of natural... However we can make a paddock system to emulate their natural lifestyles. The most important of those is free choice grazing 18-20hours a day while constantly moving (trying to cover 10-20kms a day) over a variety of terrains, and a herd to travel with for safety.
In the wild a horse travels 20km+ a day while grazing on many different types of forage along the way. All that movement while eating bits here and there is what their digestive system is made for. It's also how their sanity is kept to the highest order. They need to have busy mouths, busy mouths eating forage! This is also very important for their hooves, and overall locomotive health. Their barefoot hooves on the ground, over that much distance, pumps a ton of blood around. With every step that hoof bends and flexes and pumps blood into the hoof and out up the leg. Every step brings fresh red blood cells full of oxygen, new white blood cells to fight any issue; and then gets pumped back up to the body to be taken care of. Their digital cushion (located just above the frog in the hoof) is constantly in flux, up and down, cushioning every step and absorbing more than 90% of concussion from every step, hop and jump the horse takes; suppling the blow for all the joints from the frog up. You know what happens when there is a shoe in the way of that action?
Concussion. On every joint.
Lack of circulation. In every hoof.
Ever wonder why there is more issues in hooves than anything else? I've been told by MANY people that it's because horses aren't evolved to have tough feet anymore, because we've bred it out of them. But that has been proven to be absolutely inaccurate. The reason why they don't have tough feet anymore is because we remove the mechanism which creates the tough feet right from the start! Horses are meant to walk on hard ground, from birth. At 2 hours old they are up and running to strengthen their legs, their muscles and their hooves.
The paddock systems which I intend to create are nothing new, they are a celebrated alternate system in the horse world to those who have stumbled on them. I am going to create a "track" out of a paddock, with grazing sites, hay grazing sites, water sites and many strips of different kinds of gravel, sand, etc. to mimic different terrains. It's been shown that a horse will travel 10km+ on their own from grazing spot to grazing spot throughout the day and night in these systems, over all the terrain sites... Becoming natural again. There have been huge successes in the way of fixing laminitis, navicular, cushings disease and general obesity. But also to fixing problems with horses who have trouble gaining weight too! By moving around again, they get that blood pumping, they get their feet feeling better, they get their digestive juices flowing; and guess what? They don't eat more, but they graze more all day long. Their body knows how to store away energy that way. They aren't designed to eat 10lbs of concentrate 2 times a day... they are designed to eat a bite here, and a bite there 100000 times a day!
These systems are uses as 24/7 turnout paddocks most commonly, but could also be used as a rehab system. I believe there is a happy medium for everyone to better house their horses than the options available now. Standing outside in a paddock eating from a round bale is better than standing in a stall all day, but it's still not ideal. They need to be moving more! These systems fill all the voids horses need to thrive and excel.
My goal is to get one paddock system set up right away for my 3 test subjects. My 3 geldings. Spirit; a 9yo quarter horse cross who can look at grass and get fat. Johnny; a 12 yo english thoroughbred with flat butter feet. And Q; a 4yo OTTB who could eat Spirit and Johnny's rations combined and still be a rack of bones.
My hypothesis is that each will find a middle baseline of living; harder feet (with Johnny's feet growing to have real concavity), and a mid level body score of some fat and muscle before I interfere with conditioning and training. It could take over a year for the feet to be perfect, but I know I will see results within the first few months!
So I hope you can go out and find a best of the best natural horse keeping facility to at least tour around and get an idea of what it all means. Instead of being led astray by those parading as "natural" but offering nothing but muck!