There is a common thought in the equestrian world, especially in the Bay Area, that horses should be kept in stalls. There is a large number of people that even believe that keeping horses in stalls is better than putting them out in a paddock or, dare I say it, a pasture. To everyone that puts their horse in a stall, I ask you this:
Do you put your horse in a stall for the horse, or for you?
Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of perfectly good reasons to put your horse in a stall. Stalls afford you the ability to feed your horse by himself. This means no one can steal his food and he cannot steal anyone else’s food. It makes it much easier to keep a horse at an ideal weight. Given the choice, I would have stalls for all of my horses for this exact purpose.
Stalls are also great for injury or extreme weather. They provide a safe, controlled space that can either keep the horse protected and out of the elements or limit his movement sufficiently to allow him to heal properly. However, inclement weather is an occasional thing and I don’t think it is a good enough reason for the horse to live inside all year. Injuries are also temporary and therefore shouldn’t result in permanent stall life for a horse.
I think most people keep their horses in a stall for themselves, not for their horse. Most of these people don’t even realize it. They say things like, “I keep my horse in a stall to keep him comfortable and safe.” Or, “Those poor horses that have to live outside. I would never do that to my horse.”
Have you ever asked your horse what he would rather? Have you ever stopped putting your preconceived ideas over top of his to decide what was better for him? If you asked your horse, I don’t think they would agree with you. After all, horses are herd animals. They are used to being in the constant companionship of other horses with room to roam. Wild horses have been shown to walk several miles every day. Imagine what all that walking would do to your horse that is “too hot” and needs to be lunged before work or is “too stiff” and needs constant maintenance to be rideable. This is a totally different lifestyle from anything a horse gets in a stall.
Have you ever noticed how excited your horse is when you lead him out of his stall for turn out? Does he have that same level of excitement about coming back into his stall? Or does he drag his feet and walk calmly? Even in this situation many people say the horse just had too much energy going out. Coming back he is quiet because he has let the energy go. Is that really true? Moreover, even if that is true that the horse had too much energy that still proves the point. How would you feel if you were caged up in a stall unable to get exercise? Being stir crazy is never a pleasant experience.
Everyone knows that more turnout is better. Everyone agrees that your horse would rather spend three hours outside than one. What is so different about a long turn out and living outside full-time? If your horse would always choose to stay out longer in turn out, why would he ever choose to live in a stall? Wouldn’t he much rather live in the turnout?
You might say that your horse is always excited to come in from turnout for his dinner or his grain. And that might be true, but what if you put the dinner in the turnout? Then would he be so keen to go back to his stall?
In my experience horses given plenty of food and water have little desire to come in. Mine always come because they get grain, a treat, when they come in. However they are just as excited to go back out after as they were to come in for their food. Occasionally when the weather sucks some of the horses wish they could stay in. Given the choice I would allow my horses that choice, but I know they would rather be out in driving rain than in the rest of the year with only a few scant hours of turnout a day.
Hopefully this article either reaffirmed your belief in putting horses in pasture or gave you some food for thought about why your horse really is in a stall. Please make sure that you are doing right by your horse instead of humanizing him.