Our goal is to bring horses closer to nature. Our aim is therefore to keep horses as naturally as possible. Of course, it is important to look at your horse and his/her specific wishes. Not all horses function well on being outside 24/7, just as not all horses can stand being stabled for a few hours.
Therefore, do not be blinded by the fact that your horse has to live naturally, but look at your horse. Here are some tips to keep your horse natural.
Tip 1: Poor forage so you can feed unrestricted
By nature, horses eat sparse forage. Not grass fertilised with artificial fertiliser several times a year, but grass that is succulent for only a short period and then stalky and spent. Lots of herbs, branches, bark and bushes. And that for about 20 hours a day, a bite at every step. So it makes sense that many horses cannot eat unlimited amounts of the roughage we feed horses.
For many horses/ponies, however, you can harness the possibility of unlimited eating, provided you adjust the roughage accordingly! Lean/poor hay is then the key. So low in energy, sugar and protein. Roughage that therefore consists mainly of fibre and that the horse has to work hard to digest. That possibly partly supplemented with a bit of barley straw, branches, bushes, trees. Especially if this is done in slow feeders and given in different places in the paddock. With this, you stimulate movement and the horse has to “work” to eat.
Tip 2: Outdoors as much as possible
Unfortunately, there are still places where horses are kept inside for 23 hours a day (in winter) and actually only leave the stable when the owner is there. This often means the horse has to work and there is no free movement or choice of movement. Therefore, look for and choose a stabling place where your horse does get a lot of free movement. So where your horse is only stabled for the night or where it is even stabled outside 24/7. And not all horses are happy with being outside 24/7, some like peace and quiet at night. But make sure your horse gets at least 12 hours outside during the day.
Tip 3: Provide at least 1 buddy
Horses are herd animals and social contact with each other is hugely important for their mental and also physical health. Grooming each other, being in each other’s presence, frolicking, running together and sleeping together is an important part of horse life. It creates friendships and ensures safety. Therefore, make sure your horse is never alone and always has at least one buddy with him. Also ensure a stable herd with few changes. Because every change will put pressure on the ranking order and create an unstable group. And realise that horses need up to a year to feel completely at home in a new place and in a new group. Therefore, introduce new horses calmly, don’t just throw them in and give them time to get used to each other.
Tip 4: Feed what your horse naturally eats
Horses naturally eat herbs and then only what they can get at that moment. So not dandelion or nettle all year round. So horses actually eat with the seasons, in spring and summer this often means an abundance of herbs and different kinds of grasses and in winter there is more bark and branches.
And a horse hardly eats any grain by nature, sure they may come across a wheat plant and eat a few grains. But they then eat the whole plant, making the starch from the grains negligible. So look at your horse’s concentrate feed in that way too. A horse naturally eats little sugars/starch, so make sure your concentrate is also low in sugars and starch (and thus free of grains). And are there herbs in your concentrate? Then change your concentrate regularly so that you do not feed the same herbs for months on end. In fact, it is always advisable to stop using the same herb for a period every 6-8 weeks to avoid habituation and counteracting effects.
Not every horse is the same!
Do not stare blindly at natural horse keeping, but look at what suits your horse. Is your horse developing behavioural problems? Then see if the management of the current stabling can be adjusted, if not, move your horse to a place where he/she can become happy. In addition, we as horse owners can already make some easy steps ourselves by adjusting nutrition to bring your horse closer to nature.
Every horse is unique and has its own needs, so what is perfect for one horse may not work for another. Therefore, never compare your horse to the horse next door, but look specifically at your horse’s needs. We do believe that every horse likes to live as close to nature as possible. So as much free movement as possible, conspecifics around him and a safe environment with good nutrition.