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  • Writer's pictureLouise Stobbs

The 3 Fs - Freedom

To be mentally and physically healthy horses need to have the freedom to express their natural behaviours. They are designed to forage and graze for upwards of 16 hours per day. Much of their time is spent pottering about with short bursts of high energy. You might think your horse just stands around in the field so it doesn’t make much difference but having the ability to at least walk about and explore his environment will go a long way to reducing the stress of being confined alone between 4 walls with only the space to turn around.


Obviously the ideal setup would be to give your horse access to free choice turnout or shelter 24/7. Realistically this isn’t available to many of us, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try our best to improve what we have. So lets look at some options and ideas.


🐴 First and foremost choose the biggest stable that you can, I have seen horses in stables barely big enough for them to turn around and there is no way they could roll or lie flat out in there. The bigger the stable the more enrichment you can provide.


🐴 Make sure the horse has comfortable and dry footing to lie down and stand on, rubber matting is great for this and any clean, dry bedding.


🐴 Horses need other horses, if you have horses who get on well with each other it is great to have them able to touch over the walls/through the bars so they don’t feel like they’re alone. Just be careful if they don’t get on well as it can be quite stressful to feel forced into a small space with another horse even with bars between them. Another option that some horses find comforting is a stable mirror, I wonder if it feels a bit like the presence of another horse for them.


🐴 Alongside ad-lib forage, you can provide lots of enrichment options. Picking suitable plants, herbs, carrots, celery etc and tying them up in different parts of the stable to mimic foraging for your horse. Also use slow feeder options and have different hay stations in different parts of the stable.


🐴 An even better option than a stable would be a larger barn/shelter/pen set up where you can keep two or more bonded horses together.


🐴 If you don’t have access to a field even just letting horses out in the arena or a hardstanding area together so they can express some natural behaviour can help a lot. If you can put some forage out and leave them to it even better.


🐴 If your horse is not getting access to much turnout take him hand walking, as long as it is safe, and allow him to explore, graze and forage rather than just making him do what you want.


Just a note to say riding, lunging, groundwork or going on the walker are NOT substitutes for turnout, they are not getting to express natural behaviours or having down time to do what they feel like doing. Don’t sacrifice your horse’s turnout just so you can work them.


Also horses do not want duvet days just because the weather is bad, if your horse doesn’t want to be in the field its because it is not enriching enough for him or he doesn’t feel safe out there. If you provide friends, forage and shelter they will want to stay out. Horse’s wait at the gate because they know coming in equals food and/or other horses, not because they love being confined.


Just because a horse seems calm being stabled doesn’t mean they aren’t stressed, there was recently a study showing stabling for long periods weakened the immune system. I also know a horse who was very calm, never outwardly stressed and was fed ad-lib hay. He was kept in for two weeks only leaving the box to be ridden and developed stomach ulcers, his behaviour literally changed overnight. Coping doesn’t equal content. 🐴


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