I have changed the title of this page from 'Natural' to 'Holistic' Horse-Keeping. This is since I have been reading some articles by a NZ guy named Andy Beck. Although Andy does with his horse what most people would refer to as 'natural' he states that nothing we do with horses is natural purely because we have taken them out of the wild and domesticated them and we usually expect to ride them!
After analysing my own intentions with horses I came to the conclusion that what I am trying to do is actually keep my horses holistically ie. a whole horse approach. Since I keep my horses barefoot this is crucial to the well being of my horses as anything that is wrong will often be shown in the feet first eg. poor diet, stress etc.
I am currently on my way to the UK with 2 of my Spanish horses so I will keep you updated as to how they cope being on a livery yard and kept of grass. I suspect it will be very interesting and a steep learning curve!
The land that I own is just under 7000m2 and I currently keep 4 horses on it. This might sound like alot of horses for the plot size compared to the UK but in Spain this is horse luxury. My land does grow grass but seen as my horses are barefoot and I need to monitor their feeding the size of the land allows them to eat it but not overload on it.
I was actually very lucky that I bought such a suitable piece of land, it was definately more luck than judgement! My land is an olive grove and when I read about the ideal location for an olive grove it turns out that is also pretty much the ideal location for horses - well draining, sheltered from extreme weather, shade from the huge old trees etc.
One end of the land is fenced into a 20m x 30m area which will (one day!) become my arena and is an open area for the horses to run around and play on. Off the back of this is a long narrow strip all the way along the back off the field, across a terrace and down onto another small open area. The ground is naturally a mix of hard ground, sandy areas and stoney areas, mainly flat with the odd slope onto a terrace. Off the strip I am in the process of sectioning off three grass areas. These areas I will be able to use on a rotation system.
Over the past few years I have played around with many feeding methods for my horses all of which have seemed great for a while then not seemed so great after a while. I have also spent alot of time researching feeding and no sooner do I think I know what I´m doing I learn something new!
My current feeding system is mainly a simple diet of hay and grass, I don´t think you can go to far wrong this way. The horses also have free access to a mineral block in a bucket which I´m not entirely sure about because of all the minerals being mixed up in one, but at least they can make they´re own choice. They do use their lick on a regular basis and not excessively so I´m guessing that its because they need it rather than because its just something that tastes nice.
Morning and night I put small piles of hay under the olive trees along the strip (10kg am and pm) and they have the fence open onto a grass section, once they eat off this section I will rotate onto a new one. If I come to a time when the grass hasn´t grown back enough on any of the three grass sections they will all be shut off and they will get their full daily requirement of forage in hay on the strip (around 20kg am and pm).
The horses who are in work have a net of alfalfa fastened up to eat while I am getting them ready and have a small amount of mix after they have been ridden dependent on the work they have done. They also have salt and linseed added to the mix. I have tried feeding all the horses a mix with supplements but to be honest it is such a huge amount of guess work I have decided just to keep things as simple as possible.
All of my horses are kept and ridden barefoot and always will be. The only one who has any problem is my Thoroughbred who has old tendon issues which we are working through (he´s currently having time off). My two horses who are in work are happy to walk and trot (and even set off cantering of their own accord) on extremely stoney ground. I do admit that I can feel a slight difference when they have been on fresh grass so this is something I will be monitoring.
I trim my own horses feet and attend as many courses as I can to gain as much knowledge as possible. The reason I haven´t completed a full course yet is because I have yet to make my mind up completely about the slight variations in opinion out there. The reason I do my own trimming is because I beleive it needs to be done on a regular basis to make up for the lack of natural movement. My boyfriend will vouch for the fact that I am completely obsessed with feet so hopefully I will be able to take my obssession further one day!
Rugging and Clipping
I must admit that I am the same as everyone other mad horsey owner when I think my horses are a bit cold, I want to run straight out and put a rug on! I am very lucky where I live now because although it does get very cold it rarely rains so my horses don´t need rugs. I like to keep my horses as naturally as possible and I know all the factors behind not rugging horses but I do admit that when I horse is in hard work and will sweat up with a thick winter coat there is little option other than to clip and rug. My horses don´t work that hard and so I can be careful not to let them sweat up and to cool down properly towards the end of the ride. In the winter I also try to ride in the morning so if they do sweat up they can cool down before the it turns cold later in the day. Again I am very lucky with where I live which makes my whole horse-keeping life much easier!