07 April 2010

Stable vices???

I came across a so called 'horse whisperer' web site the other day which looked well laid out and professionally finished etc - BUT - I was very surprised to read the following passage:

"Any horse owner who has experienced the maddening scenario of a cribbing horse (a horse that chews and wind sucks on fences, borders, etc.) knows all too well how quickly this poor behavior can spread. If you are not careful about isolating a cribbing horse, or do not take steps to prevent the behavior, before you know it nearly the entire barn can break out in a cacophony of horse belches."

It worries me that many readers will believe the above statement to be true and unfortunately I've heard the same statement made on many yards I've visited. Usually it's said in a loud authoritative voice, by a rosy cheeked lady in her 50's wearing green or blue wellies with one of those quilted waist coats with a couple of badges pinned to it.

Vets are finding more and more these days that horses who perform these so called 'stable vices' also suffer from ulcers.

I strongly believe that horses do not copy habits from other horses. If they did surely we would all have super well behaved ones that loaded well, didn't kick the farrier (or us) that rode like a grand prix champion etc etc. We would stable our horse next to one who 'behaves' well and let it watch and learn without us having to do anything.

I believe the reason this myth has come about is down to the environment the horse is living under. I've been to a good number of yards (full livery and DIY) where I've been told that the owner has put a one hay net limit per horse per night. Obviously this is down to cost and wastage. Trouble is, a horses stomach is designed to trickle feed throughout the day for up to 22 hours. If a hay net is put up at 8pm probably by 11pm the hay net will be empty. So, the horse could be stood in a stable for 9 long hours with nothing to eat. During this time the stomach juices (acid) are still doing their bit, but because there is no food to break down it acts on the stomach lining instead, causing ulcers. By performing a so called 'stable vice' it is now believed to be the horses way of relieving the discomfort of these ulcers.

As with humans, some horses are more susceptible and will start to show signs earlier than others. So, on a yard of say 8 horses one of them starts to show signs of a 'stable vice', 2 weeks later another horse starts to show the same signs - WALLAH "copied behaviour". Wrong - as all the horses are under the same feeding regime it's far more likely that the second horse could cope slightly better but has now succumbed.

It would be much safer to put sufficient hay in so that there is some still left in the morning. If you're worried your horse will pile on the weight, change to small-holed hay nets. If you're already using small nets double the nets to make the horse works harder to get at the hay. It'll keep them busy and allow natural trickle feeding.

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