Your horse charges across a field, his jacket shining, his walk overflowing. He’s the perfect example of wholeness and wellbeing and joy, and it’s the way you love to see him. Getting- – and keeping- – him there, in any case, is the test. May some improve goals for the benefit of his well being be all together?
We suspect as much. To support your conceptualizing endeavors along this line, we reached four pony wellbeing specialists for their goals commendable counsel. Their tips cover a scope of classifications, from focusing on your pony’s fundamental requirements to respecting his equine nature.
1. Let Him Be Social.
As a herd animal, horses crave companionship, and they gain social skills that help them learn appropriate behavior. A young horse turned out with a wise old gelding will gain an education horse healthier and happy unmatched by human schooling.
If you don’t have other horses or there isn’t a place to turn them out together, consider getting your horse a companion, Beaver says. Stall a goat or donkey with him.
2. Give Him Time to Graze.
Hand-in-hand with exercise and socialization is grazing time. If you’ve ever watched a horse graze, you’ll have noticed that he nibbles a few bites, takes a few steps, then nibbles and steps some more. This process not only helps lubricate his joints and keep his feet healthy, it also keeps his digestive system active and more closely resembles life in the wild.
If you don’t have access to pasture, feed hay on the ground (in feeders or on mats) but divide it into several portions spread around his stall or paddock so that he has to amble from one pile to the next, much as he would while grazing.
3. Provide Mental Stimulation.
A bored horse is not only unhappy, he’s also more prone to stall vices and the illnesses that result from them.”Animals get hardwired to those vices, so your best bet is to prevent them,” Beaver says. Movement, socialization, and grazing can help. If your horse is stalled (horse healthier and happy), or in a small paddock or dry lot, try to make it possible for him to see other horses and barn activity (try stall guards in place of stall doors).
And consider offering him toys to keep his mind busy. Search online for stall toys like Likits and Jolly Balls, or make your own. Hang a gallon milk jug in your horse’s stall with some feed pellets rattling around inside. He’ll keep busy trying to tip the jug enough to spill a few treats. (For more on stall vices, see “Not So Vice,” November ’06.)
4. Respect Your Horse's instincts.
As a prey animal, your horse sees and understands things from a unique perspective. “Think about how amazing it is that horses let predators get on their backs,” says E. W. “Buff ” Hildreth, a Houston-area equine veterinarian. “The difference between people who own horses and horsemen is that horsemen are people who appreciate the sacrifice a horse has made to have a relationship with a predator–a human being.”
By keeping that perspective in mind, you can be more alert to safety issues and you’ll have a greater understanding of the why behind your horse’s reactions.
5. Create a Safe Environment.
Sometimes it seems as if horses are accident magnets. You’ll never be able to prevent every accident from happening, but by being alert to potential dangers, you can avoid many.
6. Listen to Your Horse's Subtle Cues.
Hildreth recalls a client calling about a horse who had suddenly become cinchy–biting at her whenever she tightened the cinch. After asking a few questions, Hildreth learned the client had gotten a new saddle six months earlier. She told her to check the saddle fit. When the client seemed doubtful, Hildreth pointed out that the horse had probably been horse healthier and happy being offering subtle cues of discomfort, but finally turned the volume up by making his cues more obvious.
7. Invest Quality Time in Your Horse.
Knowing your horse well will help you read his subtle cues of pain, fear, or illness. Grooming and equine massage can help alert you to pain or injury, build the bond you have with your horse, and even lower your horse’s stress levels.
To add some variety to your horse’s schooling (and improve his manners and focus), set aside time each week for groundwork.
8. Give Your Horse a Break.
Keep an eye out for burnout. If you’ve been schooling and showing heavily, try building in a break when you can. Hildreth’s horses are in cutting training, and she’ll often bring them home for training breaks
“You want a vacation every year, and your horse needs time off, too,” she says.