Close Friendships and Moving Stables
When we own a horse, we are responsible for it. We make most of the decisions for how it should live its life. We choose where it is stabled, what feed it gets and which other living beings it can get in contact with. And sometimes we are thinking of changing some of these conditions by for example moving our horse.
In this blog I want to share some of my thoughts on horse stabling, management and moving horses around. I run a boarding stable and meet many horses who live here for shorter or longer time. And I have also, before I was so lucky as to have my own stable, moved my horses a few times.
One of the most important things we should find out when we're thinking of moving our horses is for whose benefit we are moving? Is it because I, as a rider and trainer, want to have a riding arena (maybe even an indoor one)? Is it too far from where I live? Is there something else, that I need? Or is it because of my horse’s welfare that I am moving? Does he need to live someplace with less grass? More time outdoors? With a different herd-composition?
There can be many reasons for wanting to move stables and it is often because we want to get away from something. But moving can be very hard on horses, so we have to think carefully about our choices.
One of the best times I moved my horses was when we bought our farm. It was only a little distance, no more than we could ride and walk in a matter of 2 hours tops. I had my two Icelandics and besides those an Irish Cob and a Welsh mix was boarded with me - and they all chose to move with us when we did. So, on the day of moving we all set out in a group and a few hours later we arrived at the new paddock. Of course, the horses were a bit higher in adrenaline, than they would have been at home, so they took a few rounds in their new field. But overall, they were very calm and continued their normal routines. We didn't really feel anything strange about them and everything went really smooth.
I know that the Irish Cob had a really hard time moving before this. When he moved in with me first he was so stressed and turned all this stress inwards. Looking at him from a distance you wouldn't see that he was stressed. He would be standing quietly, not moving. But close-up and in handling you could feel that he was. He didn't react to signals and pushed into you. During the first and second month he slowly settled and became the sweetest horse.
And I see this repeated all the time - a horse moves to a new stable with a new herd and is stressed the first few months before he goes back to being his "old" self (or maybe a better version of himself if he wasn't thriving where he lived before). But it isn't only the horse that is moving who is affected. It is also the herd he is moving into. Their daily lives are abruptly changed, and they have to accommodate a new horse. The hierarchy is upset, and the bonds between the horses can change - and they also have to find a bond with the new one. Mostly this all goes smoothly - especially if you take good precautions like giving them some time to get to know each other over a fence, enough space when they meet, introducing the herd slowly, enough food etc. But even when it goes smooth everybody here can feel that their horse is affected for the first weeks.
So, it is no “light” thing to be moving a horse to a new stable, and it is - in my experience - not so much the surrounding as the friendships the horse loses and gains. For when horses are moved to new surroundings together they don't seem to react so strongly.
Horses create close friendships and not only with just one other horse. They are herd animals and rely instinctively on other horses for their survival. And bonds between horses last for a long time. I often hear people telling stories about horses meeting again after years and years apart with joy and affection for each other. And when we move a horse we split up its bonds with ALL the horses that it lives with and depends on. To move in to a new herd, that might be hostile in the beginning. And everything happening without the horse choosing to.
So therefore, I beg of you to consider well if you are considering moving your horse. For the horse’s sake, who doesn't have a choice. I would advise making a list with need-to-have and nice-to-have for your needs or requirements as well as for your horse's needs and requirements.
Below I have made a little example of how you could construct your list.
Need to have
Nice to have
Please prioritize your horse as well as yourself. If you aren't happy with the facilities, then you won't enjoy your horse. But your horse needs to be happy for you to make the most of your time. Therefore, I would urge you to find a place for your horse, that offers the following:
- Lots of time in the field, preferably 24/7 turnout (and all breeds can live outside all year round), with good options to move. Movement is critical for horse health and wellbeing.
- Herd mates, so your horse can have his social needs fulfilled and create friendships.
- Enough food. Lack of food like grass, hay or haylage for more than 4-6 hours give a much higher risk of ulcers. Horses are also more tense and aggressive when hungry, which can lead to fights and injuries.
So, I hope I have given you something to think about and that you will consider and research well before you move your horse and turn his life upside down. So that you can hopefully find a lasting place for the two of you.