The Horse…Naturally

natural horseWHAT IS A NATURAL HORSE?

There are many connotations associated with the word ‘natural’. Some people think ‘wild’ and I can’t have my horse wild … I want to ride him! Others think of leaving him ‘fend for himself’ outside and in the weather. This is not what we mean by natural horse. Please read the following INTRODUCTION to the natural horse.

The word Natural is so misused and over used in our society that some of the meaning has been lost. The dictionary says…

Natural: is in accordance to what is found in nature; produced or existing in nature; not artificial or manufactured; in a state provided by nature; wild; uncultivated; free from affectation or artificiality; not altered, treated, or disguised; present by virtue of nature; innate; having certain qualities, abilities; innately felt to be right; based on an instinctive moral feeling.

betaYou have to see, understand and accept that the natural horse is a whole entity … the core and sum of many portions. In order to start to decipher what is Natural Horse, we have to explore the various circumstances which credit the horse.

What is a horse? One has to start with a zoological definition. Let’s just consider the horse in zoological terms for a moment.

To me the horse has and always will be a mystical creature. I liken them to ‘land dolphins’. Smarter than given credit for and able to communicate with it’s own kind (and others) easily through noises , energy and intention. Humans can learn to tap into that energy and direct their very souls….and it starts when you learn to look into their eyes. What magical wonder and ancient wisdom is seen there in some while sadly suppressed, hidden, or shut down in others.
The equine is a nomadic prey animal found in herds. As primal defense mechanism, they have an innate ability to instantly react (fight) with explosive vigor to a threat but often choose instead to run away from it. It is most likely able to outrun and out distance any predator. I remember seeing a tv special of men trying to round up wild mustangs and their mounts could not keep up with the pace or cover distances of the wild horses. They abandoned their horses for a helicopter!
Horses are grazers-foragers and wonderers…they have a very small stomach which is ‘on duty’ digesting all the time. Digesting juices are flowing constantly because horses are designed to be eating grass for up to 18 hours a day! That leaves only 6 hours of not eating and that is not all at once. Why are ulcers so prevalent in todays horses? Because they are fed meals rather than forage.
The horse has no day-night rhythm as we humans do. The horse is a highly social animal that can form intense friendship bonds. This is something humans seek…a friendship bond with their horse. Isolation and confinement stresses horses…wether that stress is shown in behavioral outbursts or on a physiological level manifesting in stresses placed on the heart, and internal organs. How much stress he can handle, depends on different factors such as age, temperament, habituation but all horses thrive at liberty and in the company of other horses.

Lets break it down. Living ‘naturally’ entails the following …

Living outside 24/7 in all seasons on supportive ground.

Living in a herd environment with enough space to move freely, maintaining and interest in their living space.

Grazing /Foraging or at the very least mimicking the grazing /foraging action

Freedom from continual human mandate

And finally, Iron FREE with a supportive barefoot trim

Ok….let’s get started …

Living outside 24/7 in all seasons on supportive ground
b Living outside … all year round? Most people don’thave a problem with that and claim to do it, except when it’s too cold, or too hot, too many bugs, too windy, too wet, too dry, too humid … or “we just bring them in at night”.

I have lived all over Canada. The winters there are long, cold and in some zones, very humid. LOTS of snow, freezing rain, ice pellets, slushy rain, slushy snow, with extreme fluctuations in temperature…..all in one day!!

When it comes to 24/7 turnout, the number one concern of horse owners is the winter.

Not my favorite season but the horses love the winter. No pesky biting bugs, plenty of white stuff to make ‘snow angels’ and when you have a custom fitted fur coat it’s not too hot and not too cold.

A healthy natural horse can and does adapt to any weather presented to him. He is made to do so. Livingoutside with the Eq-system gives the horse all the necessary stimulus they need to produce an incredible winter coat.
Exposure to the elements and the changing hours of sunshine per day triggers all those physiological changes to take place. This innate programming has been present in the horse for millions of years. There are different ways the horse adapts and deals with the changing seasons. It has to start with being outside 24/7 all year round and being exposed to the environment in which they live. In the fall, we notice an increase in the amount of hay they eat and even how they eat. They follow natures plan by putting on more fat for the winter and building a brand new winter coat.
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IF you have ever seen a natural winter coat you would never think that they could ever get cold…or wet. A thick, soft undercoat is formed much like that of a seal. It’s job is to ‘seal’ out moisture as well as provide excellent insulation. You can even warm your hands in their fur. The hairs in the top coat are longer (guard hairs) and their job is to shed excess moisture and prevent leaking through to the skin. The little muscles on the end of each follicle in the skin can raise and lower the hairs to allow for more or less air passage. (Similar to the way those little hairs can stand up on the back of your neck) The natural horses coat has a build in thermostat to regulate body temperature despite the weather. Just have to keep the ‘furnace’ stoked with grass hay and supply shelter (in the form of trees, wind walls or man made buildings). Movement as always is key. Penned horses are restricted in space and there fore not in a natural setting.

cRiding in the winter is easy … saddle up and go. Then simply make sure the horse’s breathing is normal and put the him back out. They usually will take a roll in the snow (or you can put out shavings /straw pile for rolling), shake and fluff out and continue on their merry way … eating and moving. They dry very quickly. The horses will even sweat themselves up when playing hard, far more than I ever would when riding. They steam like crazy and just roll and shake it off the skin. The health benefits of living naturally are absolutely essential. Ideally the horse would be living in specifically designed Eq-system. You don’t need large amounts of land to do this… we have had successful EQ Systems for 5 horses on less than 5 acres.

Living this way, helps to ensure a healthy functioning foot, a healthy body from increased movement, as well as mental health. Outside 24/7 with fresh air to breath, NO MUCK and in tune with other horses and nature … you get the idea. Life is never the exact same day twice.
Living outside also allows for …
… freedom of choice. Good for the horses’ emotional and spiritual well being.
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We have a great run in shelter. In a snow storm you might expect the horses to chose to be inside … but they don’t. They remain outside, in different areas of the field (living space), depending on the weather. If the horse evolved as an animal of prey, then it makes sense that his instinct would not agree to put him in a place where he cannot see (or flee) potential dangers. We know that when given the freedom to chose, the horse is happier and healthier. It may not be what we humans would chose to do but we respect Mother Nature to take care of her own. If instinct says to put your butt to the wind and ‘hunker down’ for the storm … who are we to question. We accept that to be a whole horse, his mind, body and spirit needs to be out in open air and in touch with the elements of the earth.
Some horses can fool their owners into thinking they ‘like’ the barn and want to go in. They stand at the gate (at feeding time) to come in. They come in and get a reward … usually the highlight of their day. It can takeup to a week to wean them off the gate, but once you do, they will never look back. Feed more hay and spread it around to keep them busy foraging. This keeps the mind calm. High sugar and processed feeds are not used as they are addictive and totally unnecessary. Whole foods feed the body and mind.
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Living in a herd environment with enough space to move freely, maintaining and interest in their living space.

Well, that’s a mouthful. To break that down a bit … the first part says living in a herd situation. To be in a herd means to be with others of his own kind, to socialize and interact. Here at Equinextion we have horses coming and going on a somewhat regular basis. We have one main herd to hold a constant ‘order’. Horses are very social animals and need the company of others to live with at all times. It’s not the same as being caged next to another horse. They need to learn to touch, groom, play, rest, etc. with other horses This also calms the mind. A lot of behavioral problems will be solved by giving your horse a natural lifestyle. a To have enough space to move freely. You don’t need TONS of land to do this either. In New Brunswick we had less than 4 acres of land and not all of it belonged to the horses. We kept adding to the list of innovative ways to keep them moving and exploring and interacting within their ‘ecosystem’ ( EQ-System ). Some things include ‘pick-a-pooing’, a compost program, and utilizing electric fencing to balance their system with the seasons. Maintaining an interest in their environment. We simply mean we keep them moving … exploring, if you will. Plugged into their living space… which is often changing. Using the whole area allotted to them. Movement is the Essence of Horse … but they need to be given reason to do so when they are living in a concentrated ecosystem. We have variable strategies for each season to insure a lot of natural movement in addition to regular exercise and training programs. Enhancements to utilize the living space and make the land benefit and the horses.

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Grazing /Foraging or at the very least mimicking the grazing /foraging action

Grazing in the most natural act a horse can perform. His survival depends on it. By grazing we mean: the act of eating and traveling at the same time. Covering ground while using those prehensile lips to full capacity. Actually, foraging is more natural for the horse. To forage means to search for what one wants or needs. So by placing hay all over the EQ system the horses stay busy foraging for food and continually ‘grazing’ in the process … and by feeding hay in this way, we actually use less hay and have little to no waste.
We have had 5 horses on less than 4 acres. Our method of feeding hay (like shaking out each flake of hay in different spots) helps the horses meet the grazing requirement. If the horse evolved as a grazer/forager it must mean that their digestive system is designed to process small amounts of food on a more or less continual basis. The horses always have a supply of hay (grass hay) day and night.. The act of foraging or grazing is virtually constant which may mean feeding hay 4 to 6 times per day… depending on how much land you have available. Sometimes during the cold winter months we utilize round bales, situated far from the water so they have to walk to get water, as well we spread hay in other parts of the field. The weather is a big factor on amounts of hay they consume. Colder weather equals an increase in hay consumption. In winter, the act of chewing hay is generally enough to regulate body temperature and we see them run and play when it gets very very cold.
Sometimes we will feed some whole oats and/or some black oil sunflower seeds. This is spread or sprinkled on the already spread out hay so there is no gulping … it takes longer to eat … no fighting with one another … and keeps them busy searching with those lips. Happier and no need for any sweet feeds or processed feeds. We also have whole foods and supplemental vitamin and minerals…all natural and organic. (This is the Magik Product Line)
One thing horses are very sensitive to is dust and molds. Make sure your hay is clean and dust and mold free. Grass hay should be the first choice for horses.
Horses tend to drink more when it’s hot and less when it’s cold. It’s important to either supply a constant non-frozen source of water or fill the water source at the same time each day which encourages them to drink a big drink.
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Freedom from continual human mandate

Simply what we mean is in the times when we are not riding or training the horses are given the liberty to live their life as intended for a horse. They live in a specifically designed and designated area we refer to as our EQ-System (ecosystem) – balanced to meet the horses natural biological needs as well as managed for the health and benefit of the land they live on.
All Equinextion horses (past, present and future) are happy, well adjusted confident individuals with a good sense of ‘self’. They each have their unique personal character and they all know what it means to ‘be‘ a horse. They act and interact like ‘equus’. They are allowed to do what they would want to do (grazing/playing/sleeping) … where they want to do it (in the shelter/in the trees/out in the open) … with who they want to be with (a favorite friend/alone/all together). Their lives are dynamic and interesting – not just standing around all day or all night.
Nighttime is a very active time for the natural horse. They don’t sleep all night. Rest is usually done during the day. Someday I would love to get a night shot video camera of all the night activity.

And to finish the definition of ‘natural horse’ …

IRON FREE with a supportive barefoot trim

The normal functioning healthy foot (natural foot) is so incredibly adaptable that it can and will respond to any stimulus presented to it. It can virtually take care of itself…All we have to do is supply the medium! The natural barefoot is conditioned by the environment to which it is exposed as well as the performance trim that it receives to help get it there.
All barefeet are not necessarily high performance conditioned barefeet. Improper or more commonly “Conventional” trimming, shoeing and lifestyle ‘glitches’ will contribute to contraction and impede the natural function of the foot.
The feet are the life force of the horse. Many things can and do happen because of conventional wisdom. The way we have been taught to trim, shoe and keep horses is counter productive for their biological make up and continues to cause disastrous effects on horses world wide.
A Naturally living performance trimmed barefoot horse is healthier in many ways. Better animation and movement for starters. Better skin and coat appearance and production, better circulation, better and more constant physical condition, better emotional health and behavior….waaay less chance of digestive upsets or colic. You can decrease or elliminate lameness issues like founder, navicular, ‘mystery’ lameness, thrush, canker, WLD,…etc…these are reversible with proper natural and barefoot care….not to mention elliminating stable vices!
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Anyone can learn to do a natural barefoot trim once the foot is put back to a physiologically correct shape, or started out that way. For help on trimming, rehabilitation or to inquire about Natural Horse Clinics… contact Lisa
If you would like to ask us any questions.