Written by  2013-12-04

Paddock paradise or hell?

(7 votes)
Paddock Paradise or Hell?
Lately I keep receiving the question: “Why rugs on your horses?” I even received some judgemental remarks about my horses having rugs on, or even that they are in the stable at night. But how can people make a judgement just from a picture without these people knowing my horses, me, or anything about their condition or situation?
I never ask people why their horses have rugs or not, why they are 24/7 outside or not, why they are in a herd or not. You see, without knowing a situation I usually expect that people have a reason for keeping a horse a certain way coming forth from experiences with that specific horse or their possibilities in general for horse keeping.
With yours truly, it is no different. Over time I have made choices for my horses purely on finding out by trial and error, what works best for them first and second, for me.
Because it somehow seems such an issue to a number of people that there are rugs on my horses or the fact they see them in a stable, I shall explain my choices here.
The Don February 2012. Why a rug is the question I get constantly. But is that really so strange for a (then) 28 year old horse with cancer, who lived in Sevilla, Spain until he was 18 and has lived in a box 24/7 all that time? The positive thing: people do not see Don Jamie's age... but it could very well be that we take excellent care of him.
Here you can see The Don January 2007,living 24/7 outside, no rug. He could eat hay all the time and received extra beetpulp with herbs, seasalt en electrolytes. His teeth were checked. But he was just to skinny and even lost more weight in spring. Loosing all his energy to trying to get rid of the coat, which he was still fighting with in May:
The 'good old days'...
I have been brought up with horses and when I was young it was normal that horses lived in a box during winter and lived 24/7 outside during summer. The horses had rugs on in the winter and they were shod. They received hay 4 times a day and oats 3 times a day. Of course we also used snaffles and for some horses a martingale. Luckily, internet brought information from all over the world and we could now research all sorts of other possibilities that might suit our specific horse’s situation better.
The shoes went first
15 years ago when we brought the horse I had then, to the place where we live now I had the blacksmith take of his shoes. Why? Because he had problems with his hind knees and I somehow wanted to see how he would be without shoes. It worked wonders and even though there was no information yet about natural hoof trimming, I never had a horse on shoes since then. Every horse that came to live with us had his shoes removed and did better after a while. I then learned about hoof construction and how the hoofs assists the heart, in fact. I also think bare feet are more safe for the other horses, dogs and people around.
I can tell you a lot about the advantages of bare feet, but I leave that up to the experts who educated me. Google Jaime Jackson and Pete Ramey if you would like more information on this subject.
To box or not to box
Then the next part would be the boxes or stables. We had our stables build 10 years ago. I must admit it never crossed my mind to build anything else then just regular boxes. All though I chose for half walls on the inside so the horse could ‘be in one room together’. We had two horses then, our half blind Holsteiner Astaire who was terrified outside at night and since a year we had Don Jamie, the ex bullfighting horse from Sevilla who had been 24/7 in a box all his life since 2 years old. Nevertheless, I always brought the horses out in grass or sand paddock at 7 in the morning and kept them outside for as long as Astaire could cope. If I waited to long and it became dark, Astaire would brake the fence, trying to jump over with only half his sight and I would find him in his stable with always some injury somewhere (and an angry Ralph needing to fix the fence again).
Then we rescued this 9 year old mare from Spain who was almost starved and worked to death. She was just skin and bones and crippled on all four legs. She seemed to be cold even in the summer and she too loved to be in her box eating straw and hay at night. In summer, Laura loved to be outside, in winter though you could see how the cold tormented her legs even though I wrapped them with special foil leg warmers. She was so relieved when being back inside, knee deep in warm straw. When Astaire and Laura passed away shortly after each other Owen and later Inocncio came to live with us. When we bought Owen in the midst of winter, he had no fur whatsoever. He stood in a tight shut stable with – believe it or not – central heating. He had a slight cough and he walked stiff. The cough, I thought would go away once out of that dusty hot stable and the stiff walk where the shoes and the far to short hoofs, I reckoned. I was in love and Owen went home with us. Alas, Owen was later diagnosed with liver decease and a long struggle for his health and at several points even his life, began.
Rugs… so unnatural
Of course Owen was very very cold at first. He shivered uncontrollably and even rattled his teeth. Even in the summer on a rainy cold day he would shiver and begged to go inside. He would bite at the rain and run in panic to the stable. That nearly caused me my life once when I was riding in the arena and it started raining. So I would put a very thin rain coat on him. It took me two years to build enough fur on him to be able to look like a winter horse and stand to be in the rain without rug. Jamie on the other hand had a luscious coat and could do well without a rug for years. Only a thin rain coat I’d put on him if the weather was really foul and he came running for it more often then not. Inocencio, young as he was also build a nice winter coat and he too was without rug for years.
Paddock paradise… or hell?
My next step was to move towards 24/7 outside, all 3 of them together, without rugs inspired by Jaime Jackson’s paddock paradise. Ralph and I were already making plans to change our whole court into a paddock paradise. The boys were outside, with their natural, now thick coats, having hay 24/7. I loved it! No work with stables, accompanying them inside-outside. No sweeping the court, no rugs (I hate rugs, they get dirty, are heavy, they break but not enough to stop using them…). They have been outside for two years. The first winter was not that bad and they did as well as can be expected. Until Inocencio started to walk with his traumatised leg like a the Gestapo officer from ‘Allo ‘Allo. Several vets came over and examined him. X-rays were made. With many shots of traumeel he seemed better, but he did not walk much, just stood there and seemed very autistic again.
The horses hoofs however, where indeed fantastic! I barely needed a hoof trimmer. But then in the spring, Jamie had enormous difficulty to get rid of his coat. When it was July he still had much of his coat on. He had not put any weight on by the end of September, in fact he had lost weight. I had his teeth done again. I fed and fed, had holistic vets over, gave herbs etc but he went into the winter far to skinny. Still I kept going, reading about how constantly eating hay would keep them warm and a rug would prevent the coat from keeping them warm. That winter was gruesome.
Owen had a larger coat, like a bear. He had it already in October, for it had been really cold in September. But the all of a sudden November was really warm and Owen stood there huffing and puffing. Sweating like an old mule and he could not breath. He had a total fall back with his asthma. His coat started to come off and he was in a terrible state. I even had to bring the vets in again, for he collapsed a few times not able to breath, as if his thick hot coat was suffocating him. When the cold came back he was able to breath again and he seemed fine. Until spring came to hot, to fast and his winter coat nearly destroyed him again. Because of his asthma he did not have the energy to loose the coat. He lost an enormous amount of weight and was ill all the way up to June.
It dawned to me that natural living would select healthy individuals to remain. But my horses were not healthy. Jamie was 26 years old at the time and had skin and bowel cancer. Owen was 16 years old and had liver decease which caused asthma attacks amongst other things. Inocencio has had a severe accident with his leg as a foal, causing an injury that would never completely heal. Were they in the wild, they would not have survived. But we are not in the wild. So I decided no longer to try and be natural at any cost, but to choose what works best for every individual horse. When it became unusually cold last September I put thin rugs on my boys and put them in their box before it went dark and put the lights on until 10 o’clock p.m.. Ralph worried about them not having enough coat coming winter but I worried about them having to much. I am so happy that I made that decision for October was really hot again, and this time, Owen was completely fine for his coat was still really thin. When winter really struck I put thicker rugs on Jamie and lighter rugs on Inocencio and Owen. On bright sunny days or days when it did not freeze I left the rugs off. At night the boys were in the stable and some mornings when the weather was really foul, I just could not get them to move out. Often when I was opening the gate to one of the paddocks, they would already have run back into the stable. Do keep in mind that I put hay out for their breakfast, so it was not food they ran back to, it was food they ran away from. But I do my best to keep them outside at least 6 hours a day, but preferable 12 hours at least.
The result
With this way of half in, half out, even with this really cold temperatures, the boys are doing really well. In fact, they never have done so well! Owen has energy now and he feels really fine. He has had no problems with his breathing so far. Also he has not lost weight, so I am hopeful that this spring he might actually put weight on instead of loosing it. He has a slight fur coat, just enough to keep him warm but not to suffocate him.
Don Jamie has, for the first time in many years, actually put on weight! He also has fur but not such a ridiculous huge amount. So here too I am hopeful that he will be able to change coats more easy come spring. He will become 28 April 2012, and he is in better shape then he has been in over 4 years!
Inocencio has a nice fur coat but also not so much, but more important, for the first time his leg has not been troubling him! He walks just fine and plays a lot. I believe now, his injured leg simply can not deal with the cold. I have a thin rug on him to protect him from snow and rain and he is easier to handle since, less dangerous behaviour. I think it is because different sensations to his body makes him have those sort of autistic outburst for which you better not be around him. The rugs keep the sensations to his body stable. Inocencio lies down a lot in the straw at night. I can see the horses through a window from inside the house (how lucky and spoiled am I?), and he just loves laying down and he also sleeps more then horses normally do. The warmth of the straw and the stable and the many rest keeps his leg painless I must conclude.
And me? For the first time in years, I do not dread the come of spring, but are actually looking forward to it!
Herd, divide and conquer?
‘Not every horse has had the social upbringing to be able to enjoy a social life’
Until so far I have only talked about 24/7 outside and why I chose for rugs. I haven’t even discussed the herd dynamics. Owen is a very high alpha and he constantly needs to correct anti social behaviour. Inocencio has been taken away from mother and herd at a very young age and the accident have further more made him a dangerous horse to be around as he does not understand normal social interaction nor does he comprehend the concept of personal space. Almost on a daily bases have I been almost trampled over or hit by either hoofs or a jumping body during those two years of trying to keep my horses completely natural. Ino does not understand the concept of not running over or against me or other horses, it is not simply a training issue. Walking between the 3 of them is always dangerous for me. The Don has always been in a box all his life before he came to live with us and has violently covered tied up mares for a very long time. He too has a problem with social interaction and he therefore seeks fights, his old and frail body can not take on any more. For Owen this was 24/7 of trying to keep two anti social males in check and this too exhausted him, as he will never be completely healthy again due to his liver problems. He always asked to accompany me out of his little herd to play or work. But when he finally was alone with me, he could muster very little else than some jambetting. As he is the only horse I have with which I can show at least some of my work with as a trainer and both he and I need all his energy, I decided to take Owen apart in a different paddock. Anywhere up to 2 to 24 hours before I want to have a session with him that will be filmed. He can still touch and see the other horses, but he is free not to ‘herd them’. Jamie is never again with one of the others in one paddock, for he keeps fighting and thus gets hurt and the others have a lot of stress when he is with them. He also needs his energy. And lastly I can not keep running the risk that Ino gets a kick against his bad leg one day. That could very well be the end of him.
Of course we are talking about winter here. In the summer, the horses are of course always outside all though they have their own paddocks and a roof shelter to shelter from rain or sun. Inocencio and Owen are put together every day to play and interact if they want and Owen also often socializes other horses for his work here at TAONARA.
The Kinskies get to play together every day. I do not keep my horses in lonely confinement. Even if they are apart in paddock or stable, they can still see and even touch each other at all times:
One of the horses entrusted to me was 19 year old Arabian mare Percella, who also lived a life of boxing and rugs all her life with her former owner, a classical dressage trainer. When my student Samantha bought her, she thought doing her well by placing her in a herd. After 4 years, nothing was left from beautiful feisty Percella. She too was really skinny and had lost al zest for life. She did not want to interact with anyone, horse or human and did not even want to walk. She just stood there in a sort of autistic way. That is why she had come to live with us. Here she had her own small paddock and walk in stable, and was put  back under a rug. She was to thin to keep warm and her coat all though long was of really bad condition. She has recovered a lot in only 4 weeks. The sparkle came back, she was happy to play and work again. Now she lives a happy new life, together with an other arabian with one of my students.
Conclusion, or mine anyway
For many horses and people Jaime Jackson’s paddock paradise is probably a wonderful option. I very much want to advise it to every one to look into it! Jaime should win some award for coming up with that. When the horses are healthy enough and brought up socially by other horses and, also very important, happen to like each other, it should be great! But just like with everything else, there is not one solution that suits every individual, alas.
In nature, after all, horses get to choose with who they want to spend their live. With us however, we choose that for them and it is not quite often a choice they would make themselves. I think if horses are brought up outside 24/7 right away without rugs (which I would do, were I to breed foals) there should not be a problem. But if they move from warm countries, are old, not well or  have been rugged and stables all their live it could present problems. Think about a pampered city person from Manhattan all of sudden having to live in Mongolia in a tent…
So I would suggest people look at the horse. What does HE need? Experiment, yes, but not at any cost. For millions of years horses have survived a certain way and it stands to reason that copying nature will make them function best and I truly stand behind that. But if a horse gets uncomfortable to the point where nature would indeed NOT let him survive, I do not see why we should not expand the horse’s life and comfort with all we humans have come up with in our world to expand ours. Even if it means your horse turns in to a pampered Manhattan kind of person…
With my story I hope to inspire others to not judge a situation without really looking into it. The frightened dog, the skinny cat, the horse with the huge under neck… it could all very well be that these animals have been rescued and the person that is with them now is trying very hard to erase their past and make them happy and healthy again. I know from experience that it hurts really bad when you get judged for tormenting a skinny horse or a frightened dog while you were not the on inflicting it, but are working very hard to help this animal.
I for one try not to judge people and animals I do not know. What is the sense in that? I rather use my energy in expanding my own knowledge. Far more constructive if you ask me. Thanks for reading!


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