by Linda Chamberlain
This winter was probably one of the wettest and the last few were some of the coldest. We’ve had some difficult winters – enough to make you want to give up horses and move to Capri.
I should have got a Shetland because I’ll never get my horse into a suitcase…so I probably won’t go anyway.
But this year a friend confessed that she felt for me amid all that rain and not a stable in sight. Well, yeah, it’s a bit tough feeding animals twice a day but I think she felt sorry for my horses who had to stay out in it longer than I did. Did they suffer? Her comment made me question my set up through fresh eyes and here’s what I think.
No, they were fine.
What would they have preferred? Big field shelter, large fields with trees and hedges that supply them with food whenever they want. A herd that offers a chat and some comfort when there’s nothing on TV. A large yard they can access at all times to dry their feet off. Rugs off on sunny, winter days as in the above picture. Oh…and a personal slave to rub oil into legs at risk from mud fever.
Or, a stable? No physical contact with other herd members. Doors shut at 4pm in winter – reopening at 7am (maybe). Hay often finished by, what? Midnight? Not a lot else to do for an animal who only sleeps for 20 minutes snatches at a time. Boredom? Stiff joints?
Years ago, I used to stable my horses and remember the feeling of ease I experienced putting them away at night knowing they were warm and comfortable so I understand why people favour them. The sound of horses munching hay contentedly meant I could go home satisfied that I’d done my best for them. I hadn’t of course. They weren’t moving and they were alone – a frightening situation for an animal whose ancestor’s were prey. And their feet suffered from standing mainly still in what became a non-flushing toilet by the morning.
My horse used to rush from that box every morning and, frankly, we were probably both smelly by the time I’d mucked out. One night I decided to leave the stable door open and see where my cob, Barnaby, spent the night. I was lucky in that I had a little patch of grass (paddock would be an exaggeration) and a yard in front of the stables. I put his hay in the stable and left him and a stabled friend to their own devices.
By morning, I could see he hadn’t spent much time indoors. The hay had been eaten but the droppings were outside and his bed hadn’t been slept in. This behaviour didn’t change whatever the weather did.
I never stabled him again.