So many of us in the horse world have systematically imposed our ideas of what is an appropriate lifestyle for our equine companions based on faulty assumptions of what our horses “need.” We may have purchased a horse from an abusive situation, rescued one from the slaughter house or bought our dream horse for the particular discipline we pursue. We then proceed to implement every possible luxury and preventative measure we can conjure up to make our horse’s life pleasant and healthy. Yet, so much of what we do for them is totally contrary to the lifestyle nature designed for them: cushy stalls, lush pasture, dozens of inoculations, massive pesticides, creative shoeing, horse clothing for every season and limited interaction with other horses. Why? Because these are the things we transfer from our own perception of creature comforts, health and safety. It really has nothing to do with understanding an environment truly healthy for a horse.
The horses in our stalls are genetically the same as the ones roaming the deserts of the western United States. Those wild horses exist on a very small amount of protein, a highly varied diet of sparse grass and other edibles, constant movement over rough terrain, limited access to water, blazing temperatures, no parasite control, no supplements, no pesticides, no vaccinations and no horseshoes. And they thrive! Without hoof problems, without colic, without rampant disease, without ulcers and without neurotic behaviors. Granted, extreme environmental conditions can be detrimental to any species but my point is: Whatever the issues with our horses, it is likely the result of our interference with the “natural” state. The more we interfere, the more the issues compound.
We’ve all seen horse properties we consider “less than adequate.” You know the ones...fences barely standing, weeds more abundant than grass, horses without grooming or hoof care, no apparent creature comforts whatsoever. Yet the joke was, “And you know, that guy’s horses are never sick or injured or anything! My horses wouldn’t last a day over there!” Is there some convoluted truth to that sarcasm? That the minimalist approach to horsekeeping is actually more beneficial than over-the-top indulgence?
I recently read “Founder - Prevention and Cure” by Jaime Jackson (a native Arkansan and the “natural hoof” guru); he has the expertise and the background to substantiate these very issues. Some of his facts are truly eye opening and I found that much of his information is exactly in line with my newfound approach to life. Simplify! Embrace a holistic approach to life and allow our horses to enjoy the same.
As I have implemented changes (albeit some were the result of the economic squeeze many of us are in), I have seen a steady and positive improvement in my horses’ physical and mental condition as well as my own.
Food for thought, my friends. “Natural” horsemanship is now the accepted standard of training, natural trimming is sought out as an alternative to shoeing, natural products for the outside and inside of a horse are multimillion dollar businesses, natural treatments for physical injury are proving effective time and again. The trend is clear. A step or two further in our approach to horsekeeping and we may see an end to many of the problems that have plagued our horses for centuries.
As a horse lover and someone who desires to improve life for all living things, I will personally do my best to not “kill my horses with kindness” any longer.
Marsha Wyatt is a lifelong horsewoman currently focusing on horsemanship lessons for people with fear and confidence issues. Through natural horsemanship methods she also helps horses with their people problems. She operates the Double Diamond T Ranch in Winslow, Arkansas. Contact Marsha at firstname.lastname@example.org or (918) 774-4828.