Friday, June 24, 2016

The Natural Life

Over the course of my life, I've come a very long way in terms of how I like to keep my horses. I've been through many phases. 

When I was a kid, most of the horses lived outside 24/7, barefoot and nekkid, with a shed and friends to live with. The fancy show horses were kept in stalls, were shod and clothed, and had solo turnout. As I "upgraded" to fancier horses, I transitioned too. I went from having them out nekkid and feral, to keeping them in the isolated lifestyle of the show horse. They lived in stalls nearly all the time, and they went outside alone. Metro of course wore all kinds of ridiculous remedial shoeing, which got more complicated the more lame he went. Gogo was barefoot, and was my first foray into that world, but I still kept her (and Metro too, of course) in that very isolated, totally unnatural lifestyle. 

It didn't work out so great. Two horses dead at young ages due to breakdown limb injuries? I couldn't do it again. I had to change something. It wasn't working.

And so, I did. I pulled my horses out of stalls. I put them on slow fed free choice hay 24/7. I put them in herds. I don't feed ANY processed hard feed or grain. Every one of them is barefoot and goes booted when need be. They wear clothes when they need to, and I still clip for shows, but for the most part, their lives have been naturalized to the greatest extent that I can provide for them. 

And I've had HUGE payoffs in terms of soundness, coat condition, gut health, hoof quality, tightness of legs, fitness, and most importantly, mental health. 

Shiny hineys. And they're all filthy in these pictures to boot

Even the grey horse is shiny

Naturalizing a horse that has been kept unnaturally for a long time is not an easy thing to do. I think the pinnacle of my achievements has most certainly been with Dylan, and I'm proud of how far he has come. 

Dylan's owner is definitely all in agreeance with me here, so I had the go-ahead to basically do whatever I saw fit with him. She had kept him pretty naturally when she was caring for him, but he had been with the trainer for a number of years when I got him. He was living in a stall all the time, because he was the absolute worst fencewalker I've ever seen. They couldn't keep weight on him because of this - he would walk the weight right off of himself. So, he got an hour of turnout here and there, sometimes, but mostly he was stalled all the time. He was being fed a large amount of Senior feed, but was thin. And he of course was shod all four. 

We started with the turnout. I booted him out as soon as he got here. He walked the fence literally nonstop for a week straight - he would grab the occasional bite of hay as he passed by his bags on his passes up and down the fence, but that was it. He was super grumpy, and didn't want to be handled or caught. He acted ulcery. He was not a happy guy.

When he went out into his 24/7 turnout, that went hand in hand with freechoice good quality hay 24/7. After a day or two of him still walking the fence, I started him on ulcer meds. Within the week, his fencewalking activity dropped off by about 80%. After a couple of weeks, when I was sure the walking was way down, I pulled all four shoes. 

During that time, I also started his transition from hard feed to my usual protocol of hay pellets, a vitamin/mineral supplement, and a bit of fat to the ones that need it, like the working horses. I feed a bit of Healthy Glo with the hay pellets, although I have been considering trying Renew Gold instead - very similar products but the Renew Gold has copra meal. The mules, the baby, and Pmare just get hay pellets and their vitamin/mineral supplement mixed in. In hot weather, they get sugar-free electrolytes. Sometimes they are on herbs or other supplements for a time if they need them, like for gastric support, or something simple like MSM. If I am feeding a joint supplement, it is nearly always Cosequin. 

On this program, he filled out and gained a ton of weight. He stopped being so flinchy. He stopped being hard to catch. He even got friendly, or as friendly as a super egotistical hypermasculine stallion can be with his human slave. 

I had completely changed his lifestyle. I had put him out 24/7. I had taken him barefoot with no issues. I had provided him with freechoice hay 24/7, and put tons of weight on him without the use of processed feed. But, there was one thing I wasn't able to provide for him until now: a friend. Dylan has been kept alone as a stallion for almost his entire life now, certainly at least for the last 12+ years if not longer. Solitary stallions can become pretty savage because they don't always know how to handle themselves properly in a herd. And fights and injuries can occur if they try to ravage their herdmates and they get the snot kicked out of them in return. It's a tricky business. 

But there is the flip side. A stallion wants to be a stallion. He wants the company of mares. He wants to protect them and snake them around. He wants to have their companionship. I'm pretty sure that 95% of Dylan's anxieties and fencewalking behaviors were just due to the fact that he was alone, and he craved companionship. 

And now, I've been able to give that to him. 

These two are inseparable. They LOVE each other. They do everything together. They share a haybag. They drink together out of the trough. They graze side by side. O enjoys having a stallion to move her around a bit and tell her what to do, and Dylan is just so totally desperately happy to have a mare of his own to watch over. It is both interesting and super endearing to watch them interact. 

From being stalled 24/7 and unable to even be turned out because he was so neurotic, to living outside with his own pregnant girlfriend.... he's come a long way. And he is SO much happier and better off living the life he naturally craved. I'm so glad I've been able to provide that for him. 


  1. Good to see Dylan so happy :)

    Aside, thanks for weighing in on the rule change for small ponies and their navigators. All the comments seem very against the change. Hoping they listen

  2. Well done you! Where I right their stallion lives 24/7 with his 3 wives. He mounts naturally. He does not compete, he is mainly kept for stud duty. He is the kindest, most adjusted horse ever.
    Yes stallion are meant to live with wives.

    Well done for your horsemanship. I love the mini-mules too.
    what happened to the Zuul? Did he not get on with Dylan?

  3. A previous post said that Zuul went to a Zonkey man because he'd be happier there.

  4. Yes Zuul is with the zorseman now! I was fully maxed out with how far I could train him. He has sent me a few videos of him, it took being dragged from a team of full size mules to teach him to lead without bolting. They have even ridden him!

    1. Holy cow that is wonderful progress for Zuul! You should share those vids if Mr Z doesn't mind, it would be awesome to see him in his new life.

      Love this post by the way, gets me right in the feels to see how Dylan has changed and to see the beautiful relationship he and O now have.

  5. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this. First, I try to my horse as natural as I can. He lives out 24/7, and gets only a couple of handfuls of quality grain to mix in supplements (mostly joint or gastric health if needed). He does wear shoes all around at the moment, but I pull them in the winter. So I 100% agree with you here - I think horses who can handle the natural lifestyle are healthier, have less injuries and are in better mental health. Sure, Hampton gets the occational bump or scrape from herd dynamics or just generally screwing around, but overall he is much happier. Secondly, when done right stallions CAN live with mares or geldings. It's just so many people do not have the knowledge or common sense as to the timing and matching of the pairs. I love that Dylan is so happy!

  6. Great post! I totally agree that this is the way to go if you can. As soon as I can get my own property I'm going to make a very pony (fatty) friendly farm where my herd can live out nearly 24/7. Right now Katai's on stall board with overnight turnout because even a mask can't keep her safe from founder. However, she's totally barefoot, and gets not hard grain other than the handful she gets with her supplements and she gets turned out with a friend. For now it will have to do :)

  7. Question: For hay pellets, do you use straight alfalfa pellets, a timothy/alfalfa mix, or straight timothy?

  8. Since following your blog back in 2007 with Go-go, it's been a heck of a ride! So cool how you've evolved and changed.

  9. Awwww it's twu wuv!!!! Healthy happy well adjusted horses - what more can you ask?

  10. They are the cutest little horsey couple. How great for both of them!

  11. Thanks for sharing this wonderful life of Dylan with us. He is a very lucky stallion.

    I also do not feed processed grain. My hardkeeper no longer looks like one and he used to eat ridiculous amounts of grain just to keep him at a five. Of course, he works much less too now, but I think he just couldn't get the nutrition out of the (very expensive) grain the way he can from hay and hay pellets.

  12. Can't like this post enough. I'm currently following 2 blogs where the horse is stabled for most of the day and OMG the crap that comes along with that. Throwaway lines like "and he needs his hocks injected" and "of course, that suspensory will be an issue forever" have me wanting to scream "Have you ever thought about WHY"... Shoes, then shoes with pads, then shoes with egg bars and pads... The vet saying "he has thins soles put shoes with pads on him"... Or maybe you could try some decent turnout and see what his soles look like in 6 months?? Somany people are afraid to turn their horses out because "they'll get hurt" and can't see that they are getting hurt in their stable, just in different,more subtle ways. My mob run as a herd of 6 including one very annoying 2 year old and I can't remember that last time I had to deal with a kick injury, because they all know how to "speak horse".