Horses are social animals that, given the opportunity, graze for 16-18 hours a day and would roam over a large home-range. As such the ideal management system is for horses to be turned out 24/7 in a suitable environment, which includes adequate shelter, appropriate ground (e.g. hard-standing available), appropriate acreage for the number of horses kept, additional care of horses where required (e.g. rugs, supplementary feeding of hard feed and/or additional forage) and so on. In cases where groups of horses are kept, appropriate protocols for introducing horses should be followed and sufficient resources for all animals provided.

We understand that such management systems are not widely available and thus we encourage owners to explore how they can encourage natural behaviour given practical constraints. For example:

Stabling: Where stabling is used to manage horses we promote enrichment (for lots of ideas see this EBTA article on enrichment) and ideally social housing (see below). Also thought can be given to other aspects of the stable environment - for example ensuring that the stable is an appropriate size for the animal, that there is adequate ventilation, appropriate bedding material, and a comfortable temperature.

["Normal" facilities can be adapted in order to increase welfare.]

Social housing: The ideal social housing is a barn management system in which a well-socialised group of loose horses share a large covered area ideally with freedom to come and go. However, where this is not possible then social interaction can be encouraged by modifying a stable block so that there are 'windows' in the sides of individual stables allowing social interaction or simply allowing horses that are turned out together to also be stabled next to each other.

[Introduce new horses safely.]

Diet: We promote a diet that meets not only the nutritional needs of the horse but also the behavioural needs. Therefore we advocate high-fibre diets with ideally ad lib access to grazing, hay or haylage (with due consideration to any veterinary constraints such as management of animals prone to laminitis). The way the food is presented can also be taken into account - for some horses hay nets cause frustration for example.

[Try to provide a varied diet, either in the field or leading out to browse hedegrows.]

Rugging: Ensuring that a horse is a comfortable temperature is another important aspect of management. Naturally horses regulate their temperature by changing the angle of the hairs of their coat to change the amount of heat retained, by increasing or decreasing the amount they move, and by moving towards and away from shelter. When we clip and rug horses and keep them in a restricted environment (whether stable or field) these natural temperature regulation devices can be disrupted. It is important that due consideration is given to these issues so that the horse is a comfortable temperature.

Transport: When we transport horses between yards, to competitions etc. we should ensure that the horse is appropriately prepared for the journey in terms of the appropriate safety precautions, and also training so that the horse is not anxious about any element of the process.

Preventative veterinary treatment: Part of good horse management is ensuring that the animal is up to date with vaccinations, appropriate measures are taken to avoid a high worm burden, the teeth are checked regularly etc. Behaviour problems are often rooted in pain and so it is vital that owners are vigilant and observant of the animals in their care so that appropriate action can be taken quickly.

Farriery: Horses need appropriate foot care to meet their individual requirements, conformation, amount of work etc. See the EBTA statement on barefoot management.

Handling and day-to-day interaction: Finally, to best ensure that a horse has a good quality of life the day-to-day interactions with human carers must be based in compassion and consideration. If a horse is fearful of people and not fully habituated to aspects of management then his/her welfare is compromised as they struggle to cope with day to day life. As such when going about daily care, the horse's perspective should be taken into account. For example, is the horse comfortable with having his/her legs hosed down or is some time required to gradually introduce the procedure? Is the horse anxious of building work on the yard and what could be done to help them cope with it?

[Training with positive reinforcement can enhance the horse-human relationship.]

See also the EBTA article on enrichment
Back to list