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Finding a Healthy Balance of Air, Space and Light:
You Choose for Your Horse

by Mary D. Midkiff

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The Women & Horses Newsletter - October/November 2007

As we enter into the winter season, horses are confined more often and an unhealthy environment becomes likely. Well educated horse owners know that horses need air for healthy respiration, space for constant movement and light for healthy immune, reproductive and nervous system functions. Without one or all of these essential needs being managed, you begin to create problems for the horse.

It is your choice to select an environment where air, space and light are fully available to your horse. If your horse has adequate turn out daily to meet his air, space and light requirements and is getting plenty of healthy exercise I have no problem with the horse living part of his day and/or night in a box stall, that is, if the box stall is in a clean, well ventilated (no ammonia smell), well lit barn.

Horses that are confined to a box stall without daily turnout and exercise develop problems to handle their lack of movement and energy expenditure. Mental, emotional and physical imbalance turn into vices such as wind sucking, cribbing, biting and lunging at humans and other horses, kicking, weaving, stall walking and nervous ticks. They can become lame from lack of movement and blood circulation from the feet up through the vascular system and into the nervous system. They can also become lame from kicking and pawing at the walls and at the door causing bruising and inflammatory injuries.

Horses move to function. Their digestive system is dependent upon movement as they ingest and eliminate constantly while on the move. If the opportunity to move is taken away, colic and ulcers are more likely to occur. And, to add fuel to the fire, some horses such as race and show horses are always confined and given high protein density feeds which makes their existence even more volatile and damaging when there is no release for the tremendous amount of energy that is being created.

Don’t blame the horse for one second for their behavioral issues when they have this kind of restrictive environment. It is counter-intuitive to everything they are. Every horse deserves a healthy dose of air, space and light everyday.

Even on the days when you cannot turn them out due to severe weather or an injury give them open windows or a sheltered space where they can roam such as a fenced off section of an indoor arena or a round pen. Something, anything to give them their nourishment of physical, emotional and mental health.

We tend to create everything around the horse for the human convenience when it should be the opposite. We have taken horses out of their herd environments and we need to consider how their bodies are designed and operate within our horse keeping practices. There are happy mediums and you as a caretaker should always be seeking to compromise on behalf of the horse.

I see confined performance horses all too often and they are kept in 24/7 because of the possibility of injury to a very expensive horse. Some are kept in heated barns for the humans to be comfortable when the horse is not getting good quality air and ventilation from the outside. My counter argument to this approach is he is going to have just as many injuries and issues if you confine him, and he or she will develop a sour disposition to training and their job if you keep him stalled up versus turning him out daily with protective boots and allowing them to enjoy themselves. If you have a horse that is explosive when turned out, give him or her a few drops of Bach Flowers' Rescue Remedy in their mouth and in their water before you take them to pasture.

If you are introducing a horse to pasture that has been confined, start them off in a round pen with some hay, after a day or two move them to a paddock with hay available, then in a week or so to a field or pasture. Go and sit out in the pasture with them for a few hours if you have to to make sure they are settled and enjoying their time outside. If you can give them a buddy to be with even better. Horses are herd animals and become depressed when isolated.

Each season brings its own challenges when managing horses. In the hot weather months, horses need a break from the baking sun and the ferocious bugs so we provide them with a shaded area and perhaps a fly mask and fly sheet if they are hypersensitive to bug bites, or perhaps consider turning them out all night and keep them in with fans during the day.

This past summer I was spending a lot of time in a barn where automatic fly sprayers had been installed hanging over every stall and in the aisle ways. It was a toxic environment when every 30 minutes the horses and humans would be sprayed with insect repellent. All of us were breathing it into our lungs and absorbing it through our skin. The show horses in this barn are all confined to a stall 24/7 year round and try to survive in this environment. It is unhealthy, disturbing and nerve wracking for me to be there on a temporary basis much less to have to live like this everyday. No horse deserves to live this way and yet these are expensive horses that are supposedly receiving the best of care.

Closing horses up inside a dark barn, in a dark stall no matter what the season leads to neurosis, physical deterioration and emotional depression. Horses get a great deal of their nourishment through the retina of the eye from sunlight. They need light, just as we do, to thrive and function fully through the life cycles. It is my intention to give you as much information as possible to make an educated, reasonable and healthy choice for how your horse lives, eats, works and plays. If you ever have any questions or want to discuss your horse’s well being please do not hesitate to email me. I welcome your inquiries.

Thank you for giving your horse as much air, space and light as possible.

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: The Dynamic Rider System (DRS) ® Insert 2 – Exercises for Functional Core:A is now available!! Insert 2 is available for $13.95 and includes an introduction to Functional Core, four anatomical drawings of the core muscles, a four-color fold-out exercise pamphlet and an article from Maggie Parker, "Pilates for the Equestrian: Ride Stronger, Ride Longer."

In order to purchase Insert 2 you must purchase Insert 1 or already have purchased Insert 1. Insert 1: Finding Your Foundation is $17.95.

*Recent insights: Over the past few weeks I noticed my horse’s brow band and bridle getting tighter and tighter around his ears. I took his bridle off and measured his brow band at a 15 ½ inch horse size. I went to the tack store and found a warmblood size of 17 inches and took it home to try it out. It fits perfectly and he has plenty of room now around his poll, ears and forehead to feel comfortable and unrestricted. My horse was 6 when I bought him and the 15 ½ inch fit him at that time. He is 8 now and his forehead area has expanded almost two inches. I pass this along for you to notice that your horse's body changes with work, maturity, diet, detoxification, energy work and stretching, and in the winter months when he or she has a heavy coat the size of your equipment may need to be adjusted accordingly. Always check your equipment and its proper fit; you never know when your horse may need an adjustment or new size! Don't wait for bad behavior to begin, be aware of what your horse needs to be comfortable.

I pulled my horses shoes off for the winter last Friday. I find that if I allow his feet to grow out over the next 5 months any cracks and nail holes will be gone and he has a much stronger foot to work with over the 7 months when I have him shod and he is in heavy training. I also love it that he is barefoot for the winter because I do not have to worry about pulled shoes in the mud or ice balls gathering under his feet. I can ride him through mud and snow with no problem all winter too. I use the product Keratex on his bare feet once per week and it is amazing how well this product works. I see immediate relief of his sore feet when I first pull his shoes and he is tender. I use it once per week until I put his shoes back on in April. I work and ride him all winter using the indoor and outdoor arenas and if I want to go on a trail ride I put on his Old Mac boots. My farrier highly recommends giving your horse's feet the opportunity to grow and spread without shoes when you can.

I started doing this with my horse two years ago and his feet are tough and in great condition because of the 5 months barefoot/7 months shod approach. Give it some thought.

Happy Riding!!

Mary D. Midkiff

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Mary Midkiff, 1119 Merrick Drive #362a, Lexington KY 40502
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