I have to warn everyone before they read this post that I am crazily passionate about horses, horse care, horse nutrition, and basically everything equine related. There will most likely be more horse posts to follow this, so if you’re a horse person you can look forward to that, and if you are not a horse person that’s why our blog has so many different writers!
A lot of my focus with horse ownership revolves around how to work with the psychology and physiology of the horse to create a more natural environment. The human and horse relationship began in around 4,000 B.C on the high steppes of central Asia. The domestication of the horse transformed the lives of the people in this area and allowed them to move faster, trade further, to have larger families, and engage in warfare (Levine, 1999). But for all the changes that horses brought to human life, humans also imposed large changes on the lives of horses. For the first time in history, forces beyond the scope of the herd controlled which horses were allowed to breed, how far the herd could roam, and what they ate.
As civilization has progressed and become increasingly industrialized, the lives of both humans and horses have undergone even more profound changes. While there is no doubt that life has become substantially better for both humans and horses, it has not been without consequences. In the same way that better medical care has increased the human life span, advances in veterinary technology and the protection from natural dangers that domestication provides, allows today’s equines to live as much as ⅓ to ½ longer than the average wild horse. But in the same way, just as industrialization brought new challenges to human health, domestication has brought new challenges to equine health.
In the developed world, industrialization has caused an increase in sedentary lifestyles, an increase in the amount of food (especially processed, fatty food) that is consumed, and has exposed our bodies to environmental (both indoor and outdoor) contaminants that can affect long term health. The same is true for our equine companions. Domesticated horses live sedentary lives compared to their wild counterparts, predisposing them to being overweight and developing associated conditions such as arthritis and insulin resistance. And just like modern humans, horses spend much more time indoors causing increased exposure to particulate matter, ammonia, and other toxic chemicals. Even though we do everything in our power to give our equines the best lives possible, in many instances the environment in which we house our horses can cause chronic health problems and psychological stress.
Horse owners can protect their horses by creating healthy environments that work with the horses‟ natural biology in order to optimize health. By taking into account both the needs of the horse in regards to its natural environment and how we can best protect our horses from the stress of the industrialized world in which we live, we can extract the maximum benefits from our equine facilities. To do this we need to understand how horses thrive in the wild and identify what needs, both physical and psychological, an environment should meet to create content, healthy horses.
Stay tuned for more musings on how to do this…
-written by Rachel Burmeister, Internship Coordinator 2011-2012