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  • Pasture retirement... where a horse can just be a horse.

  • You have worked together and played together, and now the time has come for your horse’s retirement.

    When most of us envision our retirement, we have definite ideas about how we do, and do not want to spend it.

    If our horses could talk, they would certainly not ask us to put them in a stall for long periods of time (in their golden years or otherwise). To understand this, we need only a basic understanding of the biology of the horse, and the ten million years of evolution that brought them to this point.

    First and foremost, horses are flight animals. They are genetically predisposed to flee when confronted with danger. This instinctive behavior governs every one of their behaviors and body systems, each of which must work together for this incredible animal to survive.

  • Horses who spend a lot of time in a stall lose muscle mass and bone density. The musculoskeletal system “tightens up,” predisposing the animal to the risk of arthritis, fractures, and other injuries.

    Confined horses often demonstrate chronic inflammation and other evidence of suppressed immunity. They have more allergies, carry more insect-borne diseases, and show an increased tendency to catch infections from other horses. Age-related health issues appear earlier in these animals.

    As we all know, exercise is essential to maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system. Reduced blood flow to the extremities and hair follicles results in hoof issues such as navicular disease, and a lackluster coat and mane. Low activity in confined animals leads to a host of metabolic and digestive issues, such as insulin resistance and pre-diabetes.

    Perhaps most critical is the equine digestive tract, which relies on nearly round-the-clock grazing to maintain good health. The entry and exit points of the stomach are both located at its top; for food to leave the organ and be further digested, it must be pushed out by incoming forage. If horses do not have access to a continuous supply of fiber, they can suffer from serious ailments such as impaction colic, ulcers, and torsion. Likewise, the ability to move freely is essential to promoting blood flow to the muscles of the digestive tract. When confined, circulation is substantially reduced for potentially long periods of time, and severe medical conditions can result.

  • Finally, horses are highly social animals that build relationships within the herd based upon experience and intelligence, rather than brute strength. They absolutely require the companionship, leadership, and security that a herd provides. When deprived of the mental stimulation of the great outdoors, the ability to flee from perceived dangers, and ability to bond with others of their own kind, the toll on a horse’s mental health becomes immense.

    What is truly heartbreaking is the development of undesirable behaviors in horses that are confined, typically referred to as “vices.” These include stall pacing, circling, pawing, wall-kicking, and weaving (when a horse repeatedly shifts from one foot to another). In addition, such horses may engage in self-biting, head bobbing, and cribbing, which may lead to injuries of the oral tissues or digestive tract. These behavioral problems typically result from incredible frustration in an animal that is trying to get rid of excess energy and alleviate boredom. Vices are not often observed in pasture horses.

    There are instances when confining your horse to a stall or paddock is preferred, and even essential, such as during inclement weather, or if the animal is recovering from injury. Other motivations, however, are for our own convenience. It is faster to get saddled up for a ride when you don’t have to catch the horse from the pasture first. Stall boarding helps to protect the horse’s coat from the elements. We may even think of certain animals as too valuable to risk the perceived dangers of the outdoors, and those “doomed” to stall retirement are the unfortunate ones. But the truth remains that confining a horse, especially in his later years, accelerates aging while decreasing his quality and longevity of life.

  • The ideal environment for the horse is one in which he can graze to his heart’s content, move freely at will, and socialize with his herd. When it is time for him to retire, we owe it to our equine friend to place him in an environment where he can do what he was meant to do. Where a “horse can just be a horse.” At Pine Brook Farm, we are committed to providing exactly that.