Horses are designed to be moving most of the day. They have hooves that grow and need to be worn out, they have a digestive system that needs movement to stay healthy, they have a huge bodyweight that needs strong muscles and healthy bones and tendons to stay functional… their whole body is designed to be in relaxed movement most of the time.
Horses in their natural environment would be grazing and covering long distances between food and water sources. They’d stop for a snooze here and there but mostly they are leisurely strolling along. Even during the night, they only sleep for short periods at the time, deep sleep happening lying down on the ground and lighter sleep standing up.
In domestic surroundings, it is our responsibility as their guardians to ensure they get enough movement and exercise.
Providing horses with turn out is crucial, ideally we would have them living outside 24/7 and never lock them up in stables.
Just providing large space turn out is not necessarily enough – although horses need movement, they are also naturally energy saving, or lazy. So, even in a large space, if food and water are in set locations, horses are likely to park themselves at the hay feeder and move only for a drink. As a prey animal, preserving energy could save their life.
As their guardians, it’s our responsibility to make sure we provide them with enriched environment that encourages them to move. Horses are naturally curious animals,they like to investigate. Large, plain field is not necessarily as interesting to them as a forest or a hill where they can’t see all the space they have access to at once.
Easiest way to motivate horses to move is to spread their hay around, imitating pasture. Offer them the opportunity to wander from pile to pile and look for their food.
We do this every day with our horses, spread the hay in 50-60 piles all around their paddock. Behind rocks, on tree branches and at different heights too.
It’s like a massive game of hide and seek, and the horses always find the hay. There’s never a pile left untouched and the horses eat together, moving from pile to pile in a very relaxed manner.
It’s hard work for us and it takes more time than filling up a single hay station, but seeing them healthy, happy, curious, moving and grazing together it’s all worth the effort.
Photos by Nina Laiho