In the Shadow of Horse

In the Shadow of Horse
In the Shadow of Horse

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Locomotion: Essential Horse Health

Horses in natural settings eat two thirds of the time, walking and grazing together. The key to keeping confined horses healthy is to re-create this scenario in the stable as best one can manage. All systems of the horse are dependent on miles of daily locomotion for proper function. Digestion, respiration, metabolism, behaviour, learning, training, and hoof health are all dependent on abundant daily locomotion. Horses are born to move, and move they must to maintain health and prosperity. The last place a horse evolved to live is in a stall. When horses are stalled, natural must be re-created for them.


 Movement is necessary for normal, optimal digestion. Roughage is the diet of preference, and horses in natural settings arrange their lives to generally always have grass roughage in their stomach and grass roughage before them. Horses at pasture move most all the time. In caudal cecal grazers such as horses, digestion is linked to locomotion. Digestion is dependent on locomotion accompanied by near-constant grazing.

Colic is often initiated by deprivations of locomotion. Digestion is locomotion dependent. For the horse's gut to move, the horse must move, abundantly. Stalled horses require miles of daily walking to maintain digestive health. When stalled they should have constant access to appropriate forage. Bedding stalled on horses on clean straw helps re-create the constant moving and grazing horses are won't to do. Horses bedded on straw (with 24/7 access to hay), spend hours moving about, head down, lipping, and tonguing through the straw. Straw encourages the constant movement that aids digestion in a big way. It is relatively easy to keep stabled horses' stomachs full with roughage. Appropriate hay should always be present, in addition to the straw bedding. The straw bedding needs cleaned of manure and fluffed several times a day.
Behaviourists know stomach volume, and so now do all of you, 1-4 gallons. How easy is it to keep a horse's stomach full of a gallon or two of hay? Quite easy
Listen to McGreevy: Lack of forage is the most important management factor causing the development of stereotypic behaviours. 
Please understand horse's dependence on roughage, and please come to fully appreciate that the horse did not evolve to assimilate grains or concentrated protein, please. And for goodness sake, do not feed locomotion deprived horses grain, as the practice is detrimental. Only moving horses can handle grain. Long-standing horses fed grain develop obesity, and metabolic syndrome, laminitis follows, keeping the veterinarians busy, and the horse owner bank accounts depleted.
Tell me the ways that horsefolk in-the-know provide stabled horses roughage to graze two thirds of the time, and the necessary movement and locomotion to digest and assimilate the roughage.
Of course, by now we all know what failing to provide these simple roughage and stomach-content requirements causes in horses (poor learning ability, stereotypies, lack of motivation to perform, lameness, tying -up, ulcers, more veterinary bills...)

Oh, and do not forget water. And where the water is placed.
Tell me the reasons why when you lead a horse to water she will not drink the water, please, and remember horses will seldom eat when they start to become dehydrated (when they are thirsty), or after you clip their vibrissae.
Remember horses' good and essential friend, salt. Lead a horse to salt and she will lick and later drink. Make sure salt always travels with your horse. It seems lack of salt while traveling causes a lack of hydration, which leads to colic. Horses require salt and water 24/7 as they do forage and locomotion.
Minerals may also be required to be supplemented, and of course the most important minerals after salt are calcium and phosphorus, balanced please. Calcium and phosphorus make up bone, and bone makes a horse durable and sound. Do not forget the bone minerals, please.

Healthy horses make happy and willing partners.
When we have problems with a horse in this class, we all know to first make sure that the forage, friends, and locomotion are adequate, plentiful, and appropriate before devising some heavy handed training strategy. Unhappy horses are hard to train, yes, as are horses who are not pairbonded to their trainer.
When confronted with a horse with behaviour or training issues, we have all learned to first consider stabling as a primary factor in teaching, learning, and training. The proper method to address training issues is to first address stabling and socialization issues. 
Locomotion is also essential for pulmonary health. Horses locked down all day bleed into their lungs when exercised strenuously, as in a race. The leading cause of bleeding in racehorses is a lack of abundant daily locomotion. 
Metabolic disease and laminitis are caused by a lack of adequate locomotion. Colic is caused by a lack of locomotion. Obesity is caused by a lack of locomotion. Tying up is caused by a lack of locomotion. Bucking is caused by a lack of locomotion. Cribbing is caused by a lack of locomotion and constant chewing and grazing. Take locomotion away from a horse and she will give movement back to you in the arena in ways you do not prefer.
Happy horses train up happily. Set yourself and your horses up to succeed, please. Keep your horses happy with friends, forage, and locomotion, and grooming. 
Stalled horses require movement. For horses unable to move because of injury, we must re-create movement with massage and passive flexion of all the limbs.




Dr Gustafson is an equine veterinarian, veterinary behaviorist, and novelist. Applied veterinary behavior enhances optimum health, performance, soundness, contentment, and longevity in animal athletes. Natural approaches to development, training, nutrition, and conditioning sustain equine health and enhance performance.
Behavioral and nutritional enrichment strategies enhance the lives of stabled horses. Training and husbandry from the horse's perspective result in content, cooperative horses. 
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