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==== ==== Learn about Natural Horse Care for your favorite horse ==== ====

We all want to keep our horses as healthy as possible for as long as possible. How to do this is the tricky part. Fortunately we have a superb source of information available. Studies of wild horses show just how well these amazing animals have adapted to suit their environment. It follows then that by recreating the horse's natural environment as far as possible you will be promoting his health and well being. One of the most obvious differences between the environment of a wild horse and that of our domestic horse is the amount of space they have available. Wild horses are free to roam, and typically cover great distances each day. Most domestic horses on the other hand are kept in small paddocks, barely a few strides from one side to the other. The impact of this incarceration on the horse can be significant, both in terms of mental health and physical health. Boredom: In a small paddock there is very little to keep the horse occupied, and extreme boredom is a real possibility. This can promote the development of bad habits such as wind sucking, crib biting and the rest. Horses are generally curious, active and intelligent creatures. Being contained in a small square however dulls the senses and it is hardly surprising that such horses invent ways to keep themselves busy. Musculature: Horses in the wild typically display enviable condition, being both fat and fit. People often explain this as the result of not having to carry riders. In fact, it is not being ridden that impacts the condition of our domestic horses as much as the restriction of their natural environment. Wandering across distances as great as 30km per day, every day, builds tremendous stamina in the wild horse, as well as conditioning the musculature. Domestic horses are largely stationary, with infrequent bursts of high energy usage when ridden. This is not the best way to ensure your remains fit and sound. Hoof Wear: The inability to roam means a big impact on hoof wear and the circulatory system. Wild horses wear their hooves naturally. Domestic horses are usually shod. As a result the hoof cannot wear

normally, and the mechanics of the hoof action depend upon the skill of the farrier. Circulation: The hoof typically plays a large part in assisting the circulation of the horse. In fact it has been said that the horse has five hearts - a cardiac pump and four hooves! Unshod, a horse's hoof flexes as he walks, with each step drawing blood into the hoof and then forcing it out again along the veins. If the horse's movement is dramatically reduced, this pumping mechanism is drastically reduced, leading to the pooling of blood in the extremities and decreased blood flow from the hooves. Feeding Patterns: In a small paddock a horse typically cannot graze 20 hours a day as he would tend to in the wild. In order to make up for this horses are often fed concentrated feeds. This provides the necessary amount of calories that the horse requires, but falls short in other ways. Firstly, a horse's digestive system is built to handle a constant flow of fibre. Without this, the horse will feel hungry, even if he is receiving sufficient nutrition in total. There is also evidence that few high-calorie feeds lead to ulcers in the horse. Not surprising, considering the stomach is empty for most of the day. Secondly, concentrated feeds can upset the bacterial balance of the horse gut, leading to complications such as laminitis and colic. There is no doubt that any good horse diet must consist primarily of fibre, and lots of it. A biscuit of hay now and again is not sufficient! What to Do: It's very simple. Provide the maximum amount of space for your horses that you can. If you have large paddock try and ensure that your horse spends as much time there as possible. If you have several small paddocks, open them up and let your horses wander at will. This will provide them with another natural factor - company. Your horses will reward you by being more curious and active, happier, healthier and more fit with less effort. Wouldn't that be a wonderful result?

Carol Botha is passionate about horses, having been involved in riding and caring for them since she was a toddler. She has participated in numerous equestrian disciplines, and has several years of experience in studying the psychology and behaviour of these wonderful creatures. Read more about horse care and training at []

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==== ==== Learn about Natural Horse Care for your favorite horse ==== ====

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