I own two horses – Charlie(30) and Blue(21), and have spent many years as a horse owner in livery yards. I am always trying to find the best way to keep my horses and they have spent the last few years living out 24/7. In 2014, after 20 years of being at livery yards I got the chance to rent a small place with land and stables. Fantastic! We moved here just over a year ago. We have 2 full size and 3 smaller stables which are mainly used for storage. The stables have a gravel surface in front of them and are very close to the house, in the garden and have a small passageway to the field which is long and narrow.
It is a lovely place but we are on the middle of a fen and it can get very very windy in the winter. Blue has suffered from gastric ulcers and was treated for these in 2013 but sadly they returned soon after we moved here, I believe that this was partly due to some high sugar haylage and partly due to the fact that I started to stable him. He gets incredibly stressed when stabled to the point where I believe that he could be in pain when being stabled. I also think that he suffers from claustrophobia as he can also get extremely upset in the trailer if I make the mistake of stopping anywhere and leaving the top section of the ramp closed and he cant see his surroundings. At the age of 28,possibly due to the openness of the surroundings, my other horse Charlie stopped lying down in the field and loves to spend some time in the stable where he will lie down and have a good snooze. Horses need to lie down to get REM sleep and if they dont lie down then they will become sleep deprived (Why does a Horse Lie Down?) I had one horse desperate to spend the night stabled and one horse desperate to live out. What would I do? I could not afford and would not be allowed to erect a barn or field shelter. In addition to this I had sycamore tree down one side of my paddock and infrequently, if the wind blows hard in the wrong direction spreading seeds across the paddock,the horses needed at times to be indoors for their own protection. I like my horses to be out as much as possible but having spent a lot of time in traditional horse keeping methods there is still a part of me that loves to see my horse tucked up in a warm building munching hay on those nights when there is torrential rain and a ferrocious gale, especially when the horse is 30 and wants to be indoors.
This summer I was lucky enough to meet Jane and Stuart Myers of Equiculture and later hear them give a talk about their Equicentral system. It made a lot of sense, a way of preserving grazing over the winter and giving the horses freedom of choice about their environment. It would take too long to describe the system in this blog post, but the main idea revolves around the horses having a “lounging area” with a hard surfaced yard, shelter/barn, water and hay and a path from each paddock to the lounging area with the land being frequently rotated and the land being used in small areas and rotated to protect the grazing, in this way only a small percentage of land is being grazed at any one time and recovers rapidly.
I began using 2.5 acres in an equicentral manner that summer by strip grazing the horses but always with a path to the house where they have always wanted to be, we have a hose to supply their water into a static bath at the house end, and so it saved me the work of carrying water when the horses were at the far end of our long field. Then this autumn we fenced off a little part of the garden and left the stable doors open. Initially both horses would get into one stable and eat one hay net. We had some teething problems – Blue was a little sore in his feet initially on the gravel but this has been adjusted with a change in trimming and he is fine now. We only have a small drive so parking has to be considered and careful. It has been both fascinating and surprising, this winter has been very variable with warm dry days, when the horses are to be found out grazing, and wet, cold windy days when the field becomes very wet. On the latter days Charlie and Blue are to be found inside their stables, sometimes two to one stable, sometimes in their previously allocated stable and sometimes the other way round. It is a little messy with bedding so we keep one stable fully bedded and the other almost bare, the boys are happy to share “the bedroom” and “dining room” alternately.
On these bad weather days my hay is not blown around a fen being wasted and my grazing is being saved, meanwhile the horse who stressed and got ulcers if kept in now stands in his stable all night long, on some weekends the horses seem to have put themselves on box rest! I meanwhile can satisfy my desire to see them tucked up at night. The best thing about this system is the flexibilty, we have not needed to put up a shelter, lay concrete or lay down track surfaces. And the horses love it, it is wonderful to see how clever and sensible they are and how good they are at making decisions for themselves.