A small herd of woolycoated horses looks up alertly from
their watering hole. A moment later, a ghostly gray lifts
his head and stares intently
over the hill. With a toss of his head and a loud whinny,
he blazes over the hill with the rest following. They thunder
over the uneven rocky ground, nimbly navigating trees, shrubs
and fallen logs.
of their excitement is a woman who stands with arms outstretched
in joy. Each horse gets a carrot and a scratch on
the withers; each hopes it’s his or her time to play.
Today, the woman holds the rope halter toward the gray,
who enthusiastically sticks his head in while she gently
ties the knot. The rest of the herd watches with knowing
interest and approval.
seems to dance with the woman as she communicates her wishes
from the ground. There are no whips to make him obedient.
Instead, through communication and respect, the gray follows
her cues and navigates logs, jumps and hills, obviously
enjoying every moment.
This horse paradise seems a far cry from the usual equine/human
relationship, but it’s easier to achieve than you
might think. By designing an environment for your horse
that’s as close as possible to what his wild counterpart
would experience, you too can create a natural paradise
for your equine partner. All it takes is the desire to allow
him to be what he is – a horse and to understand some
basic concepts about equine nature and behavior.
At Home in a Herd
“One minute he was grazing, walking at a snail's
pace, nibbling on the succulent grass tops. The next minute,
the exotic dark dapple gray realized the herd was gone.
Where was his herd? A panic like no other shook his very
insides and he realized he was ALONE. Screaming at the top
of his lungs, he ran blindly to the top of the hill and
saw his beloved herd. Whinnying loudly, he slipped into
the middle of the group and again felt safe.”
Horses are herd
animals, so being separated from others of their kind will
cause them stress and anxiety. Being part of a herd, even
if it's only one other horse, imparts a sense of safety
and is a strong instinctual drive. Horses have evolved and
survived because of
this herd concept; a wild horse that became separated from
his herd often perished, so a life of solitary confinement
goes against the grain of equine nature.
”As the rest of the herd dozed lazily in the afternoon
sun, the two gray geldings had other ideas. It was playtime
and both had excess energy surging through their bodies.
the perfect time to do it, and a quick nip to the rump of
the dark gray signaled the start of play. He responded with
a kick of both hind feet aimed at the intruder's chest;
but instead of the bone crushing impact, both of his feet
stopped short as if to say, "I could have gotten you."
The next weapon of choice was teeth. Both stood next to
each together taking turns trying to nip the other's face.
Although the sound of clamping teeth could be heard for
miles, not once did those sharp teeth ever tear the skin,
although small tuffs of hair occasionally floated to the
Many people believe that if horses are turned out together,
they will hurt each other, but this isn’t the case.
Horses need to be together, to touch and play with one another.
Although they will play games of dominance to determine
the hierarchy of the herd, actual contact is minimal, at
least by horse standards. Often, when a horse is termed
"unsociable," it is due to lack of socialization
skills with other equines.. If horses were truly
antisocial creatures, why would their feral cousins choose
to establish herds? It’s because they have an
instinctual need for preservation, comfort and companionship.
physically or through communication, takes place constantly
within the herd. Nuzzling, scratching, lipping, or just
standing close helps establish strong bonds. Also, because
horses love to play, a good round of rearing and biting
will raise their spirits and strengthen their bodies. Horses
can only learn proper equine behavior by being with other
horses and watching their body language. It isn’t
something humans can teach them.
A Stimulating Environment is Key to Equine Well
the draft colt first arrived, navigating the uneven, rocky
natural terrain was a challenge. Coming from a small pen
with soft footing, he never had had the chance to worry
about where to place his feet. In fact, he had never been
able to move faster than a couple steps at the trot. His
muscles were sore, his hooves chipped badly, and he was
at a complete disadvantage in the horse play games.”
Ideally, we need
100 acres for our horses to roam on. This is rarely possible
in the real world, but even a small property can offer your
equine companion a natural
environment. First and foremost, a natural living area should
provide your horse with enough room to be in almost continuous
motion except during rest and sleep. Horses are built to
move, and in the wild will cover a total of ten to fifteen
miles a day. When not able to exercise, body circulation
is hindered, causing problems in the legs and feet. When
a horse moves, blood from the lower legs is pumped back
through the body to the heart by the hooves, tendons and
muscles. In order to have strong, healthy feet and legs,
therefore, a horse needs constant freedom of movement. This
activity also stretches and strengthens the muscles and
joints and promotes healthy gut function, helping to cut
down on the risk of impaction colic.
Unfortunately, many horses are confined to small pens or,
even worse, box stalls. Not only does this hinder the horse
physically, but it also affects his mental well being. Horses
are very perceptive and curious, so standing in a stall
day and night becomes boring and unsettling. Having nothing
else to do, a confined horse turns to "vices"
such as cribbing, pawing and pacing to relieve his boredom,
and eventually these behaviors become habitual. Once the
horse is liberated from his jail, however, many of these
Give your horse as much room as possible and don’t
be afraid to include uneven ground, including hills, rocks,
fallen logs, shrubs and trees. It is human nature to assume
that what we find comfortable is also good for the
horse. We therefore think we should level the ground
and remove rocks and other "dangers." This means
the horse has nothing left to do but mindlessly wander between
his feed and water areas. How can this be physically or
We ask our horses to go out on trail rides and expect them
to be surefooted when we may never have given them a chance
to learn how to place their feet and find their balance
before hitting the trail. We add the additional weight of
a saddle and rider (often unbalanced), and expect them to
keep us safe. What a burden to place on our horses.
A more challenging
environment is easily created. Obstacles can often be obtained
for free in the form of large rocks, or branches from trees
and shrubs. You can acquire logs from specialized lumberyards,
often for free from their scrap pile – just don’t
use wood that splinters or has been treated with chemicals.
Native plants, many of which have excellent beneficial properties,
can also be added, while trees and shrubs of various heights
and sizes are ideal for horses to scratch against.
If you find it difficult to add these elements to your property,
toys can be used to stimulate your horse’s mind. There
are numerous horse toys on the market, though homemade
alternatives work just as well: balls, orange traffic cones,
cans or barrels will stimulate most horses. By creating
a natural and challenging environment, and giving your horse
a chance to run and play, he learns how to use his body.
This learning is paramount both for his sake and his rider's,
since finding his balance and knowing how to move his feet
independently around obstacles is not necessarily inborn.
Only by practice and trial and error does a horse learn
to be handy with his body. And in order to learn, there
must be a challenge.
Adapting Naturally to Seasonal Changes
“Although the previous winter had been a harsh
one, our ragtag herd had actually enjoyed the reprise from
the summer heat and insects. Their long, wooly coats protected
them from the biting winds and feed had been generous allowing
some extra fat for warmth.”
As the seasons
change, a lot of people feel they need to help their horses
adjust to the switch. In the summer, many horses are kept
in a climate-controlled barn. In the winter, blankets and
heaters are used. Again, what we consider comfortable is
not necessarily what is healthy for horses. In fact, the
best protection a horse can have is a natural hair coat.
Horses don’t normally seek closedin shelters. They
are naturally able to deal with seasonal changes because
their coats provide insulation against both heat and cold.
They can also actually raise, lower, or turn their coat
hairs to warm or cool themselves. Blanketing not only
interferes with this process but may also cause the horse
to overheat and sweat, even in cold weather. This is because
the legs, belly, and head are not covered and are exposed
to the cold air. In order to keep these areas from getting
chilled, the whole body warms up, which causes sweating
under the blanket. Furthermore, blanketing interferes
with the horse's ability to grow a proper winter coat. In
short, blanketing and indoor climate control take away a
horse’s natural defense
against the elements.
“An impending storm was brewing in the distance,
large dark clouds billowing from the sky. Being able to
feel this weather change with his super sensitive whiskers,
the lead gray began to move his herd toward a more protected
area. Because the humidity was quickly going up, the blood
sucking ear bugs began to look for victims. However, the
fuzzy eared natural herd were too well protected by mother
nature and her grand design.”
practice that interferes with a horse’s ability to
protect himself is to clip his ear hairs and whiskers, and
trim his mane and tail. This might make the horse look tidier,
but we are in fact taking away more of his natural defenses.
Clipping ear hairs allows dirt, foreign matter and insects
to enter the ear canal. Many types of gnats often feed in
the inner ear, causing a horse to violently shake his head
and sometimes work himself into a frenzy. Trimming the mane
and tail limits
a horse's ability to combat flying insects, while clipping
the whiskers takes away his ability to sense his surroundings.
All of the above practices are relatively simple to apply.
First, give your horse a companion to play with and learn
from, even if it means adopting a retired or senior horse.
Secondly, allow the horses room to roam on natural terrain
even a small paddock, round pen or arena equipped with toys
is better than a box stall. Finally, allow your equine friend
to adapt to environmental changes without hindrance. Just
think naturally and the changes will come easily.
Lisa RossWilliams is a natural horse care consultant, clinician
and host of the “If Your Horse Could Talk” webcast
available at www.naturalhorsetalk.com.
She is a seasoned writer and former Senior Editor of Equine
Wellness Magazine. Along with her husband, Kenny, they share
their small Arizona ranch with their beloved animals.
Lisa has dedicated herself to extensive research, as well
as an exploration of handson experiences which included
clinics, seminars and courses covering natural horsemanship,
hoof care, dentistry, bodywork, homeopathy, iridology, essential
oils and nutrition. Since then, she has earned her degree
in Environmental Plant Science and has completed the Basic
Homeopathy Veterinary course through the British Institute
of Homeopathy. Known to colleagues and friends as
one who “walks her talk,” Lisa has positively
influenced thousands of horse owners and grateful horses,
sharing her knowledge of natural and holistic horse care.
to Related Articles