Is My Horse Happy? A Horse’s Wish List
Everyday driving up to the stable I pass the same 2 lonely horses. I feel terrible for them; their stalls are hardly cleaned, the poop just pilling up in back. One of them is forced to live on an awkward slant, the stall isn’t too small but it’s not very large either, and yet all this horse does is stand in the enclosure all day, everyday. His stable mate lives nearby, but not within touching distance, in a round pen much more appealing than the slanted stall. And while they went without fly masks all summer, come the start of cold weather and a dramatic deduction in flies, the pair has been wearing fly masks nonstop for weeks now!
So you’re wondering why I haven’t called the human society to come rescue these poor guys? Well you see the horses are fed regularly, I see the farrier come every once in a while to trim their feet, and the vet’s familiar truck can be spotted sometimes too— and so technically, they aren’t ‘abused’, yet they need so much more just like any other living, breathing, being would! Horses are not plants, meeting their basic necessities for life is simply not enough; just like you and I, horses experience pleasure and pain, boredom and joy, and in order to keep your horse not only alive but also happy, he’s only asking for a few small perks! Considering all of the bliss they bless us with, I believe that we owe it to them.
Wish #1: Entertainment Please!
In many parts of the world a box stall is an unavoidable residence for horses—especially where I live in Southern California. Not only is land major expensive on the coast, but if you plan to board your horse almost all of the options are stalls only. So while it’s not exactly natural for a horse to live confined to a small square space, it is possible to keep a happy horse that lives in a stall. For starters, make sure the stall isn’t the only place they frequent, instead try to get them out almost everyday if possible; hit the trails, work out in the arena, or simply head to the crossties for some TLC, anything you do with your horse outside of their stall will come as a relief. Exercise will also provide entertainment and will use up their energy so that going home isn’t so lack luster, but rather a chance to rest and relax.
Wish #2: Feed Me Variety
Horses are said to have some of the most sensitive palates in the animal kingdom. In proof, these naturally lazy creatures travel great distances grazing in the wild, always in search of the next best grass. Don’t deprive your horse of his ultimate inbreed pleasure: eating. In fact, my horses are just as crazy about food as my parent’s beastly golden retrievers! Make their day with some grain, ginger cookies, apples, carrots, sugar cubes—mix up the treats too (in healthy serving sizes of course!) Feeding a horse strictly alfalfa or all grass-hay deprives them of important nutrients and is also boring for your 4-legged friend.
Wish #3: Minimal Whips, & Spurs Please!
It is commonplace to ride with a pair of spurs attached to your boots or a whip at your side; in fact most trainers suggest students use these tools on certain horses. The problem arises when these training tools are overused and ultimately abused, once your horse knows how it feels to be hit by a crop you shouldn’t have to do much more than wiggle it around up there before even the laziest horse will start to pick up his hooves a little quicker. Horses that are abrasively ridden with lots of crop-slamming action become desensitized, among other vices that will eventually harm a horse’s resale value and overall temperament. To create a supple, happy, and pleasurable ride try using gentle and verbal commands before getting physical. For your horse to best understand you, think like him– horses in the wild only use blunt pressure to communicate with their herd when all other forms of communication have been exhausted.
Wish #4: A Friend to Call My Own
I don’t know about you, but with all of the work I have to get done every day I am lucky to spend 3 hours up at the barn each morning, leaving 21 hours that my big guys are all alone out there, with only one another to keep each other company. Perhaps you are blessed to spend far more time at the barn than I, but no one can be there 24/7, which is why horses are happiest when kept with a stable mate. After all, they are pack animals that roam in numbers for their #1 goal: safety. When horses are left alone they have no one to keep guard as they sleep, entertain their eyes when they are awake, or help keep the flies away—and no horse likes that! So even if a horse has grown accustomed to living alone, he’d greatly appreciate a friend; thankfully that friend doesn’t have to cost nearly as much as another horse, in fact pigs and sheep can make swell friends too!
What are some things you do to put a smile on your horse’s face?