Natural Horse Care Depends on Three Important Aspects
I believe these three aspects are critical factors in keeping a horse happy and healthy naturally. Without a naturally happy and healthy horse, your riding will always be compromised, however good a rider you are. So let’s look at each one separately.
The first most important aspect in natural horse care and health is their environment. Horses are herd animals. Keeping them in isolation can be done, but at a price. No herd animal will ever be content on their own, even if they appear to be adjusted to it. Even if they have companions in adjacent fields or stables, they will be unhappy and stressed. Part of the companionship is contact. Horses are very tactile animals. They need this contact.
A herd is ideal as this serves all their emotional needs, but this in rare in domestication. Two horses makes a small herd, but enough to keep at least a semblance of contentment.
This will mean that when you ride one, the other is likely to be stressed, but this is short lived. So three is better, but as horses tend to pair, an odd number is not satisfactory. However, having four horses when you only need one, is not going to happen for most people, unless you share grazing.
Horses need to graze all day, at will. They will suffer with stomach ulcers if they can’t do this. Stomach ulcers are very common in stabled or yarded horses who are fed just a few meals a day. If they can’t graze on grass all day, then they need free access to hay.
Overweight horses, or those inclined to laminitis/founder will need some restriction of their grass or hay. A sparse paddock, a small paddock or a specially designed hay net that makes it difficult to pull the hay out can be the answer to these problems.
The feed needs to provide them with the energy that their work demands of them, as well as any nutrients that may be missing from their grazing or hay. This depends on your location as much as anything. So getting a soil analysis done is a good start.
The modern horse feeds are not all they are made out to be. Many contain suspect ingredients, often from slaughter house waste. Although veterinarians and the producers will tell you this is fine, common sense tells you otherwise. Horses are herbivores. They are not designed to eat animal protein. They can’t digest it and it can cause problems, not necessarily immediately.
The best horse feeds are the natural ones, the whole food ones, preferably organically grown. This is especially important in today’s climate with the uncontrolled and widely used GM foods, such as soy. The whole grains such as oats and barley are still excellent feeds for hard working horses.
If you purchase supplements that are called by the nutrient, such as calcium or vitamin B, you know they have been produced in a laboratory. As such they are virtually indigestible and unfit as a food. If you are lucky they will pass through as expensive poo/poop. If you are unlucky, they will hang up in parts of your horse, to cause mischief some time down the track.
All nutrients are co-dependent on other nutrients. They need to be in the perfect natural balance, that only Nature has developed. So supplements should be food based, not laboratory based.
The best nutrients come from good quality, organic grass. Next to that is the same for the hay. After that, whole food supplements such as kelp or spirulina provide a balanced, natural, all round, easily digestible range of essential nutrients. I give a heaped dessertspoonful of kelp (Tasmanian kelp is healthier than that from the heavily polluted North Sea in Europe) every day. Adjust according to the work and condition of the horse.
Diatomaceous earth is an excellent source of minerals, especially calcium. Make sure this is the food grade, rather than the swimming pool grade! I use a heaped dessertspoonful per horse, three times a week. Adjust according to the work and condition of the horse.
Linseed/flaxseeds are also an excellent supplement for horses. I use about half a mug of dry brown linseed/flaxseed which I then soak for 24 hrs in about twice its volume of water. This is an excellent source of many essential nutrients as well as omega 3, so helps to keep the coat in good health. Adjust the amount according to the work and the condition of the horse.
Try to avoid lucerne unless it is organic, because it is one of the most toxic plants with heavy spraying. Don’t get sucked into the idea that horses need vitamin A. ALL sources of vitamin A are animal sources, something horses have not evolved on. Instead they convert betacarotene to vitamin A. Sources of betacarotene are green feed, or dark coloured vegetables such as carrots.
The second most important aspect of natural horse care, is how you work them.
It goes without saying that your riding, even when learning, should be sensitive and sympathetic. Horses, as prey animals, are far more sensitive than most people realise. Treating them accordingly will reap its own rewards. Your aim should be less about using your horse than about partnering with your horse. Try to connect and feel and be at one with your horse. You will both benefit enormously. Jenny Pearce and Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling are both people who respect the horse for who they are.
Whichever tack you choose to use, make sure it fits comfortably and allows for movement. A tight throat-lash will restrict breathing at the faster gaits.
I prefer bitless bridles or the use of halters. A bit is all too often misused which causes great pain to the horse. The mouth is full of nerves. Insensitive hands have been known to break jaw bones. A bit can compress the tongue, restricting blood flow. In any event, if your riding skills depend on the use of a bit, maybe a change to more sensitive riding would improve your relationship with your horse. For compelling reasons NOT to use a bit, you may like to read research on this topic.
Few horse people respect a horse or their space. How would we feel if someone walked up to us and put a gadget on our heads, without so much as a greeting? Yet we do this to horses all the time! Standing outside the horse’s space and waiting for a signal to come closer shows that we respect their space. This may take time to perfect, but time well spent, that your horse will appreciate.
The third most important aspect of natural horse care is what you use to treat any disease or maladies. If you are providing for all their natural needs, as explained above, they will be naturally healthier than any other horse. A natural, species-specific diet, contentment in their environment and happy in their work all go to ensuring your horse has a healthy and efficient immune system. This means they will be able to shrug off pathogens other horses can’t.
Accidents are much less likely to occur.
If you use holistic health care, especially homeopathy, to treat any problems that might occur, your natural horse care is complete! Not only is homeopathy effective, non-toxic, free of chemicals and really easy to administer (horses love it, so there is no coercion or manipulation), it is very cost effective. You will need the help and support of a professional homeopath initially and for chronic conditions. However, with a little guidance, you can learn to use the common remedies for acute conditions, such as minor injuries, over exertion, fever, colds, etc.
You still need to have the hooves trimmed and the teeth checked periodically, but this combination will drastically cut your horse’s health care costs.