So today I notice two of the newspapers (although I guess that's a term you can only loosely apply to the Daily Mail) have articles about a new study that has revealed the astounding news that horses don't like being shut up in individual stables.
Really? Who knew?
Marvellous revelations abound in the Telegraph article such as "Group housing provides horses with an environment where they are able to display natural behaviour, and contact with other horses improves overall welfare." and "Researchers.......found that the animals became more stressed and increasingly difficult to handle the more isolated they became."
Talk about stating the bleedin' obvious.
Sadly though, in my experience many horse owners, who consider themselves caring, expert owners really do say that they'd rather have their horses "safely tucked up" in a stable under a pile of rugs in the winter than out in the field getting wet and muddy. They claim that their horses are always waiting by the gate ready to come in at night because they want to. But what I reckon is that the horses wait by the gate because they know that when they come in, they get a nice big bucket of feed and a haynet. They accept that they have to go into a stable to get this food, so they are happy to do it. But what about when the owner has gone home and the hay has run out? What do they feel like then with many hours of the night left to go with nothing to do, no interactions with other horses, nothing to eat? Given the choice would they want to stay shut in?
My horses live out all the time for most of the year, but in here on our farm livery in the UK, the rules are that they must come off the land at night for a few months in the winter. Because otherwise the field would get too muddy. This is what it looks like out there when they do come in at night, can't imagine it could get much worse if they didn't, but it's not my land, so I don't get a choice.
They don't go into a stable because quite apart from the negative social aspects of that, Gandalf's COPD would kick off. They go into a yard with an open barn down one side of it, next to the cattle. Do they choose to stay in the barn all nice and sheltered? Judging by the state of them in the morning after a night's rain (soaked) I'd say no, they'd rather be outside......
When we first start bringing them in at night, all the other liveries wait by the gate since they know they're going in for those nice big feeds, which apparently they need, all being thoroughbred types, but mine choose to stay down at the far end of the field. Night after night, we have to go and fetch them. They seem reluctant to come with us, judging by the amount of stopping they do (or buggering off refusing to be caught in Sky's case). After a few weeks of wading through acres of mud looking for them, we give in and start giving them a small feed when they come onto the yard. They eventually get the message and start waiting for us by the gate. But they wouldn't bother if it weren't for the buckets! And in the morning they are all jostling for position by the yard gate to be let back out. Says it all, really.....