Helping You Horse Avoid the Winter Blues

Bloged in General by admin Tuesday January 9, 2007

We humans who live in climates where the winters are cold,
dark, and long can often go stir-crazy from not getting
enough time outdoors. Some of us are lucky enough to be
able to get away to sunny places for a while–that’s why
North American winter is a top tourist season for the in the
Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America.

But what if you are a 1000-pound horse who can’t go to
Expedia for travel reservations and a few days of sun? Even
worse, what if your owner doesn’t have facilities to let you
out for pasture exercise when the weather permits? Chances
are you may be feeling a bit down, both from boredom and
from being kept in a confined stall area for long periods.

Those horses without pasture available would benefit
immensely if they could be kept in loose boxes with outside
access to a small paddock that they could enjoy at will
during the day. Barring that, they really need sunlight,
and as much as possible, streaming into their stalls.
Humans are known to develop SADD, or “seasonal affective
deficiency disorder”, which can lead to severe depression,
when their brains don’t get enough full-spectrum sunlight
reacting with the optic nerves, and in my experience horses
seem to get glum, or even “angry” when kept way from sun
for more than a day or two.

Another concern with stall-housed horses is their tendency
to develop mild respiratory problems from constantly
inhaling hay or bedding dust. Bedding susceptible to mould
can also create an allergic reaction in your horse, so shop
around and try to find a bedding that is treated to
minimize dust or mould.

Horses evolved to be outdoor animals, and have a highly
developed sense of smell. You already know this if you have
ever had a horse stop dead on the trail and simply refuse to
take another step, and discovered by dismounting and having
a look around the next corner that there was a washout in
the trail, or a dead animal, or a snake—I’ve had all three
happen to me. And confinement to a stall does nothing to
reduce your horse’s sense of smell.

Horses will want to see what they smell, so try to provide
your horse with as much opportunity to keep an eye on what
is happening outside its stall as you can. If your horse
is in a barn with other horses, they may want to start
conversations, so it’s also helpful if they can see whoever
might be whinnying across the way.

Putting grass hay down as a snack can also relieve
boredom–alfalfa is too sweet and, if your horse isn’t out
moving around can lead to over-fermentation during the
digestive process, and discomfort if not outright colic.
But nibbling on high quality grass hay will give your horse
something to do that is very close to the natural grazing it
would be doing outside.

Some horses will actually play with foreign objects in their
stalls–rubber feed tubs seem to encourage games of
kick-and-toss with some horses I know. Try experimenting by
putting some of your horse’s feed in a discarded rubber–not
steel-belted–tire, so that feeding time will be a little
more interesting as your horse moves the tire about the
stall in an attempt to get all the feed.

Sunlight, fresh air, a view, and a chance to snack, converse
or play a bit are just some of the things with which you can
provide your stall-bound horse to make its indoor winter
pass just a little more quickly!

 

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