Sunday, February 15, 2015

What Humans Can’t Teach: The Importance of Herd Socialization for the Performance Horse

Today I would like to share this great article on herd dynamics and how important the herd is to the mental, emotional and physical development of horses.  In nature, horses live in bands and the bonds formed within this extended family are bonds for life.  Horses need this social interaction as much as they need air and food, and isolation is a major contributor to stress, illness, stereotypical behaviors and poor attitude.

However, turnout as a lone horse denies a horse important herd dynamics and the lessons that can be taught by socializing with other horses. Although this may not always be possible or ideal with older, experienced and highly valued show stock, allowing a future performance horse to be raised in a herd structure proves beneficial to his development as a herd-savvy horse for the lessons and experiences that the herd can impart for all future encounters in and out of the pasture.
The lack of the herd experience creates not only the problems caused by stall-bound horses not allowed to ‘be horses’—cribbing, weaving, insecurity and overaggressiveness—but it also creates performance horses who can’t perform. 
There is much to be said about the bond between mare and foal, but also much to be said for the village that raises the foals. As the new foals enter the pasture in the spring by their mother’s side, they encounter other foals next to their mothers and open mares in the pasture to be bred. As soon as the mares with new foals become comfortable with the other mares, it is not strange to see an open mare acting as an “auntie” or another mother “babysitting” a group of foals. 
As athletes, horses need room to grow and develop. The opportunity of growing up on ample pasture within a herd structure offers many striking benefits for future performance horses. Foals learn early on about balance over terrain and “obstacles” such as streams, fallen logs, holes and rocks. This course in balance subsequently builds good bone, strong feet, athletic ability and a brave character. Horses growing outside get their grazing instincts met and are constantly allowed to move about, perhaps contributing to fewer instances of colic. Being in a herd allows them to build relationships and learn how to be secure, horse-savvy horses. All of this lends itself not only to better athletes, but also to happier horses. 
Click here to read the full article

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