Equiculture:

Responsible

Horse

Care

 

 

Your horse deserves this...

     Learn how...

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Good (or great) Horse Care and Management are essential. On this page Equiculture will highlight what you really need to know:

Feed & Water
Exercise
Rugging
Shade & Shelter
Grooming
Companionship
Hoof Care
Dental Care
Parasites
Gear Fitting
Health Assessment
Mental Health Care

But first of all you need to learn about The 3 Fs - Forage, Friendship and Freedom:

Forage

Horses are basically a fibre processing animal. Everything about their behaviour and the way they are put together (their physiology) enables them to thrive on a very high fibre diet. In fact fibre is essential to the workings of their digestive system, so it is very important that a high level of fibre is maintained.

Because fibre is SO important to them, when it is restricted horses become very stressed, both mentally and physically.

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So a horse should have access to as much high-fibre, low energy/low protein forage (hay/grass) as they want/need (this is termed ad-lib). Fibre should always be available, they should never run out (because this is how horses live in the wild). For most horses, this means sourcing low energy/high forage so that they do not get too fat.

Stick with us and we will show you the Equiculture way of keeping horse/s and how you can make sure you feed your horse/s in the most natural way possible in your own situation...

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Friendship

A horse is a highly social herd animal that develops strong bonds with other horses. If we separate horses, we deny them this basic need which can cause behavioural and management issues for them as well as problems for our land (think 'walking the fence lines' etc.).

All horses need companionship and as a responsible horse owner you must try to ensure that this basic need is met.

Horses ideally need other horses for companionship; lacking other horses, they will form bonds with other animals, cattle, sheep goats etc., but this is no real substitute for another horse.

We as owners like to think that our horses bond with us, and they do to a certain extent, but beside the fact that we cannot live with them 24/7, we should never assume that we are a good enough substitute for another horse.

Stick with us and we will show you the Equiculture way of keeping horse/s and how you can make sure your horse/s friendship needs are being met.

Freedom

Horses should be free to be able to make at least some choices in their daily lives.

Domestic horses are usually ‘micro-managed’ - kept in stables, given their food in weighed out amounts in nets and buckets, only brought out to ride or to train.

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Sometimes every aspect of their day to day life is dictated by a human.

Compromises usually have to be made due to the constraints of the boundary fences etc. But within these boundaries we can usually give our horses some choices, and in many cases, lots of choices. At the same time we can meet their other needs and ours.

If horses are allowed to make choices they usually become calmer and easier to manage.

Stick with us and we will show you the Equiculture way of keeping horse/s and how you can give your horse/s the freedom to make choices that will result in less stressed, calmer, safer horses.

The Equiculture Essentials of Horse Care and Management

Feeding and watering

Horses need clean, fresh water available to them at all times. 

Feeding is a little more complicated however not usually as complicted as people often make it. Keeping it simple and as natural as possible has great benefits for your horse/s, for you - and for the environment.

Basically a horse need to eat a VERY high fibre diet. So fibre should be the main component of what you feed a horse. This means 'ad-lib' hay/forage if possible .

However it is only safe to do this if the food is low in energy. You cannot feed 'hard feeds' (such as 'museli' type feeds, grains etc) ad-lib.

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Anything extra to this basic high fibre diet depends on what extra nutrients the horse needs (e.g. if the hay or grass is deficient in certain nutrients) and what extra energy the horse needs (e.g. if the horse is working hard).

Most horses do not need supplementary feed. Be careful to not overfeed your horse. Obesity is a huge problem for modern horses.

When horses are kept the Equiculture way they initially have to go through a period of transition, but the aim is that eventually they are allowed to eat as much low energy/high fibre forage as they want/need. The water and hay are usually placed in the 'loafing yard' and the horses can access it at all times.

Stick with us  and we will show you how to transition your horse safely from a restricted diet to a more natural, healthier diet.

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Exercise

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Horses are naturally active animals. A lack of proper exercise leads to behavioural problems, obesity (and therefore more risk of serious health issues such as Laminitis), circulation problems etc.

One of the best ways a horse can get their core exercise is by grazing - because horses walk continuously while they graze, especially if the pasture is biodiverse. Grazing with other horses means they walk even more because they keep each other moving.

So grazing = walking. In the wild horses spend most of the day (between 12 and 16+ hours) doing this slow steady (grazing) exercise with short sharp periods of faster exercise between grazing bouts.

The Equiculture way of keeping horses is to try, as closely as we can, to replicate this behaviour.

If a horse does not live out 24/7 or is not turned out every day for several hours then you need to create more movement by exercising them in some other way. In fact, for many horses, just being turned out is not enough and they may need structured exercise as well.

Stick with us and you will get lots of ideas of how to increase your horse/s movement/exercise.

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Rugging

Domestic horses may or may not need to be rugged depending on the horse and the situation. Reasons to rug:

  • If they are confined they may be unable to move around enough to keep warm.
  • They may not have access to adequate shelter.
  • Older horses and thin-skinned horses may need extra warmth.
  • Horses that are allergic to insect bites usually need rugging for protection.
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However, rugging is a controversial subject as many horses are rugged when they do not need to be. Rugging in hot weather can certainly be a welfare issue.

When a healthy horse can move around and is able to access shelter then rugging is not usually required. You need to be careful that you are not being pressured into rugging just because others think you should!

Rugs can result in a horse feeling colder - for various reasons. Rugs flatten the hairs of the coat - which normally rise up to trap air and keep the horse warm. An ill-fitting rug can make a horse not want to move as much etc.

Another, often overlooked, issue with rugs is that they may be contributing to the obesity issue. Horses have evolved to gain weight in spring/summer and use up this fat store in winter to keep warm. Using a rug can override this process. The horse no longer needs to burn off the extra fat to keep warm and often comes into spring already overweight. If you have an overweight horse consider leaving off the rug for at least part of the winter.

When horses are kept the Equiculture way rugs are not usually required because the horse has access to shelter at all times.

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Shade and Shelter

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In hot weather shade is very important, in cold/wet weather shelter from cold, rain, snow and wind is important. Remember that in the wild horses can usually take themselves to shade/shelter when they need it.

Most of the time shade/shelter are one and the same thing (i.e. a simple roof will do both, as will vegetation).

Horses generally prefer to be under or behind something to being inside an enclosed building. Horses like to be able to see outside and to not feel trapped.

Horses usually spend a significant amount of their time utilizing shade and shelter, it is particularly important to them, and yet often horses are kept in paddocks with neither. This is definitely a welfare issue.

On many horse properties adequate shade/shelter already exists - but it may not being used properly. Good design means that expensive buildings are utilised effectively.  

When horses are kept the Equiculture way they always have access to shade/shelter and can decide when they want to use it.

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Grooming

Domestic horses are usually prevented from carrying out the skin care routines that they would otherwise do naturally.

Rugging prevents the behaviour called 'mutual grooming' and slows skin and hair shedding (mutual grooming is important for skin care and is an important bonding process for horses). Also horses that are separated from other horses cannot carry out ‘mutual grooming’.

Rolling without a rug removes lots of dead hair and skin but this cannot happen when a horse is rugged.

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So if your horse is rugged you will need to groom them more than if they are not rugged. You will need to set aside time each day to take the rug/s off and give your horse a really good brush to get rid of all that dead skin and hair.

If possible allow horses time to carry out their own skin care routines – so take the rug/s off for regular periods if you choose to use them.

Keep horses in a herd if possible so that they can mutually groom. Provide surfaces that are good for rolling (such as sand).

When horses are kept the Equiculture way they always live in a herd and they usually do not wear rugs. So any time spent grooming is usually just to tidy them up before riding etc. They are being allowed to take care of their own and each other’s skin and do not need you to do it for them.

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Companionship

Companionship is vitally important for horses but the way that many domestic horses are kept often completely disregards this fact. Horses need other horses. Like other large grazing herbivores they are herd animals.

Living with companions allows horses to sleep better as they take it in turns to watch out for danger while other herd members fall into a deeper sleep. Within the herd young horses learn from older horses. Herd members protect each other, discipline each other and relax around each other. Living in a herd is totally natural for a horse.

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In the wild horses live in what is called a ‘home range’ and they always live as part of a herd. A home range is an area that contains the resources (water, food, shelter) that the herd needs. The size of the home range is totally dependent on the availability of the resources. In a home range the herd makes decisions about where they want to be and when.

It is usually possible to make small changes to a domestic horse’s ‘lifestyle’ that results in them being able to live more ‘naturally’.

When horses are kept the Equiculture way they always live in a herd and they usually live in a (mini) ‘home range’ where they can access their resources as and when they need them – as a herd. This is usually much easier to do than you think. We can show you how.

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Hoof Care

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Irrespective of whether a horse is shod or ‘barefoot’, horses all need good, regular hoof care.

A domestic horse is usually unable to wear down their hooves as nature intended and horse shoes completely prevent that wear from occurring. Even barefoot horses, unless they are getting just the right amount of movement, on just the right kinds of surfaces, still do not get enough wear to the hooves and need regular specialist attention.

Standing around for long periods in mud or in very dry conditions also is not good for hooves.

The old saying 'no hoof, no horse' is very true. Without good hooves, and the good circulation that goes with them, a horse cannot function well at all. Aim to learn as much as possible about your horse's hooves so that you can make informed decisions about their care.

When horses are kept the Equiculture way they move more than they do when kept traditionally, usually over a variety of surfaces, and they do not stand around in mud, this helps enormously with hoof health (particularly if unshod). Stick with us and we will show you how you can vastly improve your horse’s hoof care.

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Dental Care

Domestic horses normally eat different quality food to their free-living counterparts. Free-living horses eat a very varied diet but many of the very fibrous plants they eat are abrasive to their teeth.

Domestic horses tend to eat less abrasive plants and they often eat grains too, which creates different and unnatural chewing and wear patterns to their teeth. This usually means that a horse develops sharp edges to their teeth. These sharp edges are commonly out of sight, on the back teeth (the molars) and they can cause a lot of pain.

Keep in mind as well that domestic horses also tend to live a lot longer than free living horses, so they need their teeth to last for a long time too.

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So regular dental care is an essential part of horse care and management. Make sure you enlist the services of a qualified equine vet/equine dentist to take care of your horse's teeth.

When horses are kept the Equiculture way they are generally eating a high fibre/low energy diet. This goes a long way to helping with dental care. Stick with us and we will show you how you can keep your horse/s in a way that keeps them as healthy as possible.

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Parasite Management

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This subject can be very confusing for horse owners because there is so much conflicting information out there. You do need to have an effective gastrointestinal parasite ('worming') program and this needs to be backed up by good pasture management.

Most of the information that is freely available only talks about the first part, the chemical worming program, because there is a lot of money to be made from selling 'worming' products to horse owners.

That is not to say that they are not needed, no. But if you manage the parasites (‘worms’) on the land as well as possible then you will not need to rely on the chemicals anything like as much.

And this is important, because these chemicals are becoming less effective over time (the parasites are becoming immune to them) and overuse of them can have harmful effects on other animals (including very beneficial insects). It is crucial that we reduce our reliance on these chemical wormers. This way they will still be effective when we really need them.

Think about how antibiotics have been overused and how we now we have a big problem in the world because of this. It is a terribly similar story for worming chemicals.

There are lots of ways that you can vastly reduce the parasitic 'worms' on an area of land. These include, cross/mixed grazing, harrowing, pasture rotation, encouraging dung beetles, chickens, manure collection, composting, vermicomposting, using egg counts etc. By using some or all of these strategies you can make a huge difference to parasite management.

In short, the better your land management the less you need to rely on chemical ‘wormers’.

When horses and the land they live on are managed the Equiculture way parasite management becomes much easier. We have helped thousands of horse owners around the world, so stick around and we will show you how.

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Gear Selection and Fitting

The correct selection and fitting of gear is very important if you want your horse to work with you without being uncomfortable or even in pain. Much of the horse gear for sale today harks back to a time when horses were used simply as a tool for work. The use of some of that gear needs a rethink with regards to the needs of modern horse management/welfare.

It is not always a case of the most expensive gear being the best. In some cases, if you have a limited budget, it is better, and safer, to buy good quality second-hand gear (this is particularly true for saddles) than new gear for the same price. Good gear will last you a lifetime and serve both you and your horse well. But you need to make the right choices.

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Gear should be fitted/checked by an expert if you are not experienced in this subject, otherwise your horse may start to behave 'unpredictably' through no fault of their own. Remember, a horse has no way easy way of telling you that they are in pain. They do not even whine like a dog.

When an owner is experienced they can learn how to read the signs that a horses is in pain, but an inexperienced owner certainly cannot. So always give your horse the ‘benefit of the doubt’ and get qualified advice when necessary because many so called behavioural issues are caused by badly fitting gear.

When you manage and ride your horse/s the Equiculture way you learn how to develop a better bond with them. Stick with us and we will show you how.

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Basic Health Assessment

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All horse owners/managers should know how to do a basic health assessment of their horse so that they know when to call a vet.

Learning how to check the hydration status of your horse, take the temperature, check respiration and other vital signs can be fun and gives you peace of mind. It is also very useful information to be able to give a vet over the phone if necessary.

When you own/manage a horse there will be times when you definitely need to call a vet and times when you do not. Learning how to judge this is a vey useful skill to have.

Stick with us and we will show you how to make those important decisions.

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Mental health care

The subject of mental health is now a hot topic for humans. This subject should also be top of the agenda for horse owners. Much of what we humans incorrectly term 'vices' in horses can be attributed to mental health issues. These stereotypic behaviours are often caused by poor management at some time in the life of a horse that displays them.

When you understand what a horse really is then you can provide what they need. So to ensure you take care of your horses’ mental health you need to learn about horse behaviour. Stress and anxiety are major contributors to both physical and mental health issues in horses.

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Understanding horse behaviour is at the forefront of everything we teach at Equiculture. Horse owners who are following Equiculture methods consistently observe that their horses are much calmer and more relaxed.

Stick with us and we will show you how to take care of your horses' mental health.

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Read what people have to say about us and our work...

Julie Spencer USA

'The Equiculture approach to everything horsey - from how you manage your horses to how you ride - has been a revelation for me. My horses have benefited so much. My partner also loves this approach and is now much more involved in our improved 'horse lifestyle''.

Alison Kingsbury (UK)

 'Equiculture's practical solutions and sensible, well-informed advice is much needed in the equine community. I am thrilled that I can better meet my horses' needs. The bonus is I feel that I can also contribute to the bigger global picture by looking after my small corner of the planet in a more holistic way.'

Paula King AUS

'Jane and Stuart Myers have changed our lives. I wish I had met them sooner. When you start to 'think outside the box' anything is possible, and this is what Jane and Stuart have made me do. The way I keep my horses now works with rather than against my principles.'

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