You might not know it, but you could be treating your horse cruelly by being "too good" to him! "What?" you ask. "I take great care of my horse!"
Maybe you do. By your standards. Or rather, by human standards. The very best horse care is that which closely resembles a wild horse's existence without the bad stuff! Now, you're going "Huh? What do you mean?" Ok, consider this:
- Wild horses are plagued with parasites, as they are rarely offered a deworming program.
- Domestic horses cared for properly get regular deworming (ideally) and/or are kept in pastures well maintained to keep out parasites.
- Wild horses are exposed to nature and all of its elements, which can cause extreme stress to their bodies and raise their chances of catching disease. A wild horse that is not strong will die without human intervention.
- Domestic horses have stalls and shelters in which to get out of the elements. They also wear blankets (for those who use them), which, for older horses and babies, can truly aid in the strengthening of their metabolism and lower the risk of illness. Keeping them warm in cold weather can also prevent their body from having to work harder to maintain warmth. Any kind of "stress" on their body can shorten their lifespan.
- On the other hand, wild horses' body's acclimate more readily to weather, disease and illness, which helps keep them protected. But, it can also kill them.
- Humans often push horses to do activities not natural to their bodies, such as excessive jumping. You won't find a wild horse with navicular disease!
- Wild horses in the Americas often live on hard ground, which keeps their feet naturally trimmed with no farrier.
- Wild horses eat a wide variety of forage feed. This provides them with all the nutrients a horse needs.
- Domestic horses often need supplements in order for them to get the nutrients they need to remain healthy.
- Wild horses move up to 10 miles per day in search of food and water. This keeps them fit, their hooves in good shape and their metabolism strong.
- Domestic horses are worked an average of 30 minutes per day, and many remain in stalls most of their lives--small boxes that barely allow them to move. 95% of domestic horses do NOT get enough exercise! Even those living in pastures and paddocks during the day and brought in at night with average riding time, are not getting the necessary amount of exercise for their half ton bodies to maintain the correct level for proper metabolic conditioning.
In other words, what humans have done, is take the horse and try to replicate a "natural" lifestyle in a domestic situation. If your horse was born into this lifestyle, then that is what his body has grown accustomed to... However, try to duplicate nature as much as possible without putting your horse at risk. Lengthy turn out is best, even in winter (please provide shelter), with continuous movement. The stale, dusty atmosphere in barns can be a true health hazard for horses. If your horse is not accustomed to an outdoor life, especially in winter, keep them in at night, but minimally and with maximum air flow in the barn.
Try to mimic the horse's feeding pattern. DO NOT feed small hay rations once in awhile. Horses are NOT meant to eat a "three meals a day" regime like humans. They are grazers. Forage feeds should be available 24/7 (if not grass, then a good quality hay). DO NOT supplement forage with grains. Forage is better! Too many people think that if their horse is thin, they need to feed more grain. NO! Feed more forage feeds (which can include many supplemental feeds available today, not just hay). Beet pulp is natural, as is any chopped hay, grass hay and other natural forages.
The best advice I have for all horse owners is to research and to know YOUR horse! Within the parameters of your particular horse's needs, try to give him the most natural lifestyle possible without compromising his health.