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Evidence-Based Horsemanship in a New England world, part II

Published: 2/4/2013
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By Maddy Butcher

Evidence-Based Horsemanship, the book by Dr. Steve Peters and Martin Black, devotes a final chapter to horses’ environment and management.
They outline best practices by looking at the impact of these elements on the horse’s physiology and psychology.

To paraphrase:
  • Horses are designed to move a lot.
  • Horses are meant to be with herdmates.
  • Horses should have access to near-constant grazing, but should get no grain.
  • Horses should not be confined.
  • Grooming, clipping, or shaving according to our perception of beauty and hygiene may interfere with the horse’s ability to take care of themselves.
In many horse community circles, Evidence-Based Horsemanship recommendations run counter to common practice. Indeed, especially on the East Coast, we tend to do just the opposite of what they advocate.

But, advised Dr. Peters, it doesn’t have to be so.

“It’s easier than you think,” he said. “You don’t have to buy more stuff. Buy less. Get rid of your grains. Get rid of your stalls. Get rid of your blankets - bring them into the house and let the dogs lie on them.”

Here are some modifications that might come close to the Evidence-Based Horsemanship model. They are not specifically author-endorsed, but follow the tenants as described in the Chapter Six: "Physiological and Psychological Consequences of Environments that Block Horses Normal & Natural Behaviors"

  • Shelter: Offer cover for your horses but take down stall walls and metal bars that may separate them.
  • Footing: Place pea stone or other hoof-friendly stone in high traffic areas. The gravel will help keep their hooves healthy and dry.
  • Food: Wean them off grain. If you’re concerned about the nutrition provided by your hay, have your hay tested. You can also look for deficiencies through blood work on individual horses. For horses needing to add more weight, consider soaked beet pulp, hay stretcher, and/or forage.
  • Body regulation: Let your horses tell you it’s cold, not the other way around. They will shiver to keep warm and become more anxious about food. They did alright with blankets for thousands of years. 
  • Turnout: Give them room to move. If you have plenty of pasture, consider rotating them to optimize the grazing. Click here to read more. If you have limited pasture, rotating them and supplementing with hay will work. If you have horses that don’t get a lot of exercise and you worry about too much grazing, consider a dry, dirt paddock to keep them off grass for some periods of the day.
  • Supplements: Studies show horses need next-to-no supplements with the possible exception of Vitamin E and Selenium in regions where the grass and hay are deficient in those nutrients.
Read article on hay options.
Read about field considerations.
What works for you?

We’d love to have feedback on modifications and methods you’ve used over the years.

Click here if you'd like to buy the book.


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2/5/2013 Jim Nelson
An excellent synopsis of what I read in the book with some great suggestions. I guess we have to stop trying to make things "cushy" for our horses based on what people have always done. Often it ends up making things worse!

"Dog lovers hate to clean out kennels. Horse lovers like cleaning stables." - Monica Dickens