It’s nearly a year now since I first started owning horses. I’ve been reading a lot about horses in the wild; domesticated horses; horse psychology and so on. And I’ve come to the conclusion that domesticated horses should be boarded as naturally as possible. Horsey people reading this post might disagree with me – that’s fine. They are entitled to their opinion as I am to mine.

One of the books I read literally changed my relationship with the horses, including Muff, my stallion. The book is called Paddock Paradise by Jaime Jackson. The concept behind Paddock Paradise is that you should strive to create a stimulating world for your horses. One that mimics (as much as possible) what horses do in the wild. A herd of horses will travel many miles/kilometres in a day and they’ll do various things: graze, sleep, play, fight, seek shelter. They will travel over different terrain and some of this terrain might be tough on the hooves. They are exposed to all sorts of weather. Wild horses don’t drop into their local Saddlery to pick up a horse cover to protect them from rain. Nor do they ring up their local farrier to book in for a hoof trim.

Jackson advocates that horse owners should take all this into consideration and provide the domesticated horse with an environment that will keep them happy and healthy. Keeping a horse in a paddock 24/7 and delivering it hay that is scoffed down in one go is not a natural condition.  It’s a bit like keeping your horse in a zoo enclosure. The concept of Paddock Paradise is to keep your horse moving forward – encourage it to walk as much as possible as it would do in the wild.

How do you do this? Create a track for your horses to move along and get them out of the paddock. I’m a bit lucky with the set-up of the property in that there is a square track around some of the paddocks. I’ve opened this up for the horses and they hoon around this track. I scatter their hay along the track so they are forced to move along it and hide carrots to keep them curious and stimulated. There’s some gravel along the track too so the horses rough up the hooves.

We will soon be sacrificing one paddock and creating a great environment for the horses, complete with watering hole, sandy area, herb garden and shed-like shelter. Horses love to bathe and then have a roll in some dust or sand – it’s like a bath towel for them. Eventually, the whole property will be one big Paddock Paradise.

During different times of the day, I find the horses in totally different areas. They might be nodding off under a tree; walking or hooning around the track; fossicking for carrots. Rosie loves to trot around the track and it’s pretty muddy these days what with the rain and hooves. Our new farrier noted the other day that the horse’s hooves had grown far less than before. I put this down to a bit of self-trimming because the horses are constantly moving.

I can now groom all the horses and do their feet along the track if I like (rather than take them to the stable area). I’ve taught them all to stand without being tied up (that was a challenge with Karma and Muff in the beginning) so I can groom them or play some games. Rosie particularly loves to play “run around the track” with me. Karma and Muff have their own Paddock Paradise area but I am considering running them all together eventually. Naturally, Karma and Rosie will fight it out over who will be boss mare. I’ll wait until Karma has had her foal.

I don’t cover the horses. They are out there in the wind, rain, cold and heat. Horses have the ability to regulate their internal temperature and, when it’s cold, horses raise the hairs on their coat to create an insulating layer. Horses also grow a wonderful woolly coat to keep themselves warm – Muff is like a woolly mammoth. If you cover your horse with a rug or blanket, it makes it impossible for the horse to raise their hairs and create that insulating layer.

Many owners cover their horses for a variety of reasons. For example – because their horses are for showing and a woolly winter coat isn’t “the look” or to keep the horse clean (which really only benefits the horse owner). Personally, I think we attribute human characteristics to horses – because it’s a cold winter night and we’re wrapped up in warm pajamas or enjoying the warmth of our bed, we think we should wrap up our horses too. But this fails to understand the thermo-regulation system of the horse. I admit this aspect has been hard for me. A few months ago, I bought a lovely blue winter cover for Rosie. I haven’t used it and I suspect it will go on TradeMe soon.

There is an argument to say that if it’s cold, raining and a southerly wind – you might want to protect the horses but if you have a natural environment (such as large trees or macrocarpa for shelter), the horses should be fine. And of course if your horse is sick, it might need to be temporarily covered.

Both the vets we use were out recently and commented that the horses are looking in good condition going into winter. So I’ll continue studying the natural horse philosophy and do some update posts.

In the early morning, looking out the kitchen window - this is where I usually always find Rosie. She is looking towards the house and the moment she sees me, she neighs.

Rosie ambling along the track.

You can see how well-trodden the track is.

Danny coming along the track from a different direction.

If you are serious about wanting to create a healthy, stimulating environment for your horse - get this book. But keep it out of the way of puppies - otherwise you get chewed corners.