As part of my Masters Degree in Equine Science, I recently spent two weekends studying for my final module (which is very sad), Equine Behaviour and Welfare. This was a fantastic few days and very relevant to all of you horse owners and carer's as it honed in on topics about the welfare of our lovely horses and ponies, some of which we don't currently teach - but which we most definitely will do in the future!
We had a fantastic trip to Redwings Horse Sanctuary (you can see one of their ponies in the picture above), and I had no idea how big they were and how brilliant they are in rescuing, re-homing and caring for horses. They told us all about their 'Stamp out Strangles' campaign, and their excellence in biosecurity (steps to prevent disease spreading) which they would love to become common place in all stable yards. We will most definitely be writing some courses on these areas in the future so watch this space!
Back at Hartpury we spent a lot of time discussing the natural behaviours of the horse, that of foraging, roaming and socialising, and there was much discussion on how we can help to give our horses access to these natural behaviours even when being kept in an unnatural environment. Some examples included bars between stables so that they could see each other and socialise, obviously access to as much turnout as possible, environmental enrichment such as mirrors in the stable, several sources of hay, and offering different varieties of forage. The more we can provide our horses with access to their natural behaviours, the less likely they are to develop stereotypical behaviours such as crib biting, weaving and box walking. One important lesson I learnt was that by trying to prevent horses performing stereotypical behaviours, you are actually making them more stressed, so please remove your cribbing collars and weaving grills and turn your horses out more and give them more hay to eat. Did you also know that horses lie down more on straw bedding therefore getting more REM sleep? Food for thought!
One topic covered was nutrition and we discussed the anthropomorphic nature of humans and how sometimes the love of our equine friend means that we over feed them. Equine Obesity is a big problem and can cause more long term problems in the horse than malnutrition. I was amazed to learn that there are racehorses who win races with a 100% roughage diet - good quality roughage, but roughage none the less. This is such an important step forward in the racing industry where some horses have up to 90% concentrates and only 10% roughage. Horses have evolved to eat forage and with more and more incidences of obesity and gastric ulcers, it is really important that we only feed concentrates that the horse actually needs. I would suggest that with your own horses, if in doubt, feed less concentrates!
These are just a few snippets of what I have learnt but I am so excited to share more with you over the coming months and to help horse owners care for their horses correctly with their welfare in mind. We all want to do the best for our horses but simply need the knowledge in order to do that. I hope that I can help in some small way!