There is so much focus on training, you can find countless videos online showing you how to “fix” your horse’s unwanted behaviours, but I rarely see anyone addressing management practices in relation to training/behavioural problems. If a horse’s basic needs are not being met the ramifications on a horse’s ability to learn and perform can be huge.
Obviously we need to ensure horse’s are free from pain and discomfort in their bodies, but that’s another post for another day. I want to talk about the 3 Fs:
🐴 Freedom - being in an environment where they are able to express natural behaviour, such as foraging, rolling, playing and pottering about.
🐴 Forage - having access to species-appropriate long stem fibre and not being left stood without food for long periods of time.
🐴 Friends - being allowed to socialise and build relationships with other horses.
These are the things horses need as a species to be emotionally and physically healthy. I will elaborate on each one in another post and give some ideas. This doesn’t always have to look like 24/7 turnout in a perfect setup, there are many ways we can give our horses these things even if its not the ideal, but if your horse does not have access to all of these things on a daily basis their welfare is being compromised and, in turn, their ability to learn and perform is going to be compromised.
I have often been called out to help with a training problem, to find a horse that is really not coping with their day to day life and definitely doesn’t have any capacity for learning without the use of excessive pressure, which is just not something I will do any more. You can make a horse comply but they’re not going to feel good about you, nor is it going to help with the stress that is still present in their daily life. Often when you change your management to more horse-friendly those behavioural issues cease to exist.
It also makes no sense from a physiological standpoint to take what is essentially an athlete and confine them to a tiny space for 20 + hours at a time. Lack of movement has a detrimental effect on every system in the horse’s body and it is definitely not conducive to a strong, fit, healthy horse.
We are so used to seeing chronically stressed horses that we do not recognise abnormal behaviours for what they are, stress behaviours are not quirky personality traits. What is your horse doing all night after you leave him at 6pm?
I understand that while we are on livery we can be very restricted with how we are allowed to manage our own horses, but we are all ultimately responsible for our own horse’s welfare, he can’t fix it for himself. For how much we ask of our horses in pursuit of our own goals, it really is the least we can do and while you might not be able to change the yard management you can always vote with your feet. There are always other options, even if they’re not perfect and you have to make sacrifices in other areas, always put the horse’s needs first, he’ll thank you for it. 🐴