One of the main differences between horses in modern day times and when horses were not domesticated is the fact that many horses are confined to stalls for the majority of the day. This is really the only option for horses that are competing and cannot stay turned out all day or even be turned out at all. In order to compensate for this unnatural way in which we keep many horses these days, there are several management strategies you can take to make your horse healthier and more comfortable.
First, let’s talk about roughage in the horse’s diet. Roughage should consumed in the amount of about 1.5%-2% of the horse’s body weight per day. Since we are talking about horses confined to stalls, roughage obviously needs to come from non-pasture sources. Popular options include hay, complete feeds, and beet pulp. The best course of action to take is to allow horses to have free choice hay to munch on all day long. This is best done through a slow feeder. Slow feeders prevent horses from gobbling up their hay too quickly and then being left with nothing else to graze on until the next feeding. If you are concerned about weight gain, putting a low calorie grass hay into a slow feeder will most likely not cause your horse to gain weight, but will prevent issues such as ulcers, stress, and stall vices like wood chewing and cribbing from starting. Horses having roughage to eat all day is what is closest to their natural way of operating, which will lead to a happier and healthier animal. For horses with problems eating hay, most likely due to dental issues, complete feeds can aid in that. Complete feeds have roughage sources in the feed that are easier to chew, allowing the horses to get closer to its roughage requirement. Beet pulp is another great roughage source to add if you feel like your horses needs some more calories in addition to added roughage in its diet. Horses with ulcers benefit greatly from beet pulp. Some commercial feeds have blends with beet pulp in it, but if you are just adding straight beet pulp, it is a good idea to soak it first to prevent choke.
Second, make sure the horse is receiving all of the vitamins and minerals it needs in its ration. Not being allowed on pasture can cause the horse to not receive its requirement for Vitamin A or E. Salt blocks should also be provided for horses confined to stalls because the horse is not receiving this from nature as well. This is where your feed provider comes into play. You can find commercial feeds fortified with Vitamins A and E as well as many other important nutrients that your horse needs. If your horses is competing, feeding a feed that provides it with adequate protein and fat as well as vitamins and minerals are vital to give the horse the energy to compete as well as making sure it does not have any nutrient deficiencies. For a horse in a stall that does not need much energy because it is not working hard, then a ration balancer would be a great option. This would make up for any vitamin and mineral deficiency resulting from no pasture, without giving the horse too many calories.
Finally, make sure your horse is getting enough exercise. Horses are made to be walking across miles and miles of land constantly throughout the day. Limiting them to a stall is obviously the opposite of what they were designed to do. A horse not receiving enough exercise will likely experience stress, ulcers, and stall vices. Make sure your horses is getting out plenty and you can avoid many of these problems.
The competitive horse industry has become so big. More horses are probably confined to stalls than not these days. Make sure to keep in mind these above tips to ensure that your horses is as happy and healthy as possible.