You can keep horses in all kinds of different ways. In this article we discuss a number of options and highlight the advantages and disadvantages.
Individual stabling – With individual stabling, the horses are kept separately in a box. In the traditional way, you often see a number of boxes next to each other. The sides are usually completely closed (a wall) or half-closed (half-wall or half-wall/half-bars). The front can also vary from a closed door with bars or a partitioned door. You may also see stables with a window, so you can choose whether or not the horse can hang its head out. Various beddings such as straw, flax or wood shavings can be used on the floor of the stable. The advantage of this type of stabling is that it is practical. The horses can easily be checked for health, food and water intake. The disadvantage is that the horse does not always have the possibility to practice natural behaviours such as exercise, social contact and foraging. This does depend on the stable design (closed/semi-open sides and doors) and the stable management (number of hours of free movement, feed management).
An extension to the individual stable is a more open stable plan. The horses each have access to an individual paddock from their stable. Fencing may be electrical, wood or metal. Paddocks often have a sand footing, but may also contain paved parts. The advantage is that the horses get more exercise and can choose whether they want to be outside or inside. They will also be able to seek social contact in the paddocks, provided that the paddocks are designed so that this is possible. Keep in mind that a horse in these paddocks is often not able to pull a sprint, so it is important that they are regularly turned out to larger paddocks.
Group or open stables – You often see traditional group accommodation at rearing yards, where a group of young horses live together in one large stable. Sometimes a walk-out paddock also connects to the barn. The front of a group stable often has bars with large openings in between, so that the horses can fit their heads through. You can then offer the food outside the stable. The bedding is often straw to create a deep litter system. The advantage of open stables is that it is more in line with the horse’s natural needs of social contact and movement. It is important in these stables that the space is large enough so that there are sufficient escape options. If the space is too small, the risk of (serious) injuries increases. The disadvantage is that there is less control over food intake. For example, some horses can keep other horses away from the feed, so that they gain weight and the submissive horses end up losing weight.
In addition to a stable, you can also keep horses together in pastures and/or paddocks. You often see this combined with individual stabling by turning them out to the field in herds during the day and bringing them in again overnight. If your field is large enough, you could have a herd on it 24 hours a day. The horses should always have the option to take shelter, for example by placing a shelter there or by planting trees in the field.
There are a number of variations in this more traditional way of group stabling, the purpose of which is to keep the horse as naturally as possible. With a Paddock Paradise©, a track is added around the field. Drinking, feeding and shelter stations are created along the track. This encourages the horses to move around. The pasture is divided into smaller sections, which are opened for a few hours a day. Want to know more about (creating) a Paddock Paradise? Take a look at this website.
Another system is the so-called HIT Active stable. Here, the horses have access to both outdoor and indoor spaces. There are different feeding stations, for both hard feed/concentrates and roughage, which stimulate movement. A chip in the neck is scanned to identify the horse, which allows it to enter a feeding station where it receives the correct amount of food. If the horse has already had its portion, it will not be fed again until the next feeding round. The disadvantage of this is that horses can tend to wait in line for a feeding station and this can sometimes cause aggressive behaviour. A HIT Active stable has been created at Mansour stable, more information can be found on their site.
In all forms of group stabling, there is a greater risk of injury due to the interaction between horses. But the big advantage is also that they can interact with other horses. It is important to keep an eye on the composition of the group, in a stable group it will be quieter than in a group of which the composition is frequently changed.
Natural needs – The way you keep your horse has to do with personal preference, budget and the possibilities that are available. In any case it is important to always take into account your horse’s natural needs. So ensure that there is the opportunity of social contact. Preferably physical contact, but being able to see and hear each other is more comforting for the horse than complete isolation. In addition, be sure to offer the opportunity for sufficient exercise. Horses are naturally accustomed to covering a good number of kilometers each day. You can exercise your horse by training him (riding, lunging, etc.), but free movement in a pasture or paddock is also important for a horse to feel good. Sufficient opportunity for foraging behaviour is also important for the health and well-being of your horse. Make sure that he has access to roughage all day, or offer it in several smaller portions throughout the day. If the horse is in a stable, keep a close eye on the stable climate.