Horses As They Ought To Be
Since I moved Dino to our wonderful new home back in April, I've found myself in a very unique horsekeeping situation. Namely, being able to both train like a competitor and allow my pony to live as he was designed to thrive. It's unfortunately rare to find this type of situation these days, but the pony-centric management style of my barn has had countless benefits for Dino and I as a team.
Our barn is the fanciest shedrow barn you've ever seen, with two large three-sided stalls and one traditional four-walled stall with dutch doors. Except for Mr. Windows-Princess-Pants the OTTB with horrible self-destructing hooves, the horses and donks live out, and are able to come in and out of the stalls, the dry lot, and the pasture at will. They have hay or grass in front of their faces at all times, and get a grain meal twice a day. There is no structured 'turnout' time, and we design our schedules and way of management around what's best for the horses, allowing them to make themselves comfortable however they wish.
|Fat, sleepy pony|
But, incredible as it is, they do it. With 24/7 access to pasture and/or quality hay, Dino does not act like he's starving all the time - a behavior I thought was just a part of his typically-pony personality. OF COURSE he's hungry all the time - he's a pony!
Not so, it seems, when he is allowed to live as a pony is designed to - eating a little bit at a time, and moving around, all day long. While he's still undoubtably the FASTEST eater in the barn, and loves to loiter right outside the feed room door, Dino now willingly walks away from food when he's done. He will walk in from pasture, and stand in the cool shade of his stall. He'll lay down and take a nap in the dirt instead of frantically stuffing his face with every last blade of grass he can find. We actually stopped feeding him alfalfa cubes once a day, because he was getting fat, he was getting forage 24 hours a day, and because he wasn't finishing them.
My pony. Not finishing his food. Who is this creature?!
Because he knows that food will always be there, Dino doesn't gobble up every last bit of hay in sight. He willingly walks away from a half-full manger, and brings himself in from grazing whenever he feels like it. Food is not a source of worry for our horses.
The natural lifestyle has also had major changes on the rate of growth of Dino's hooves. He used to be a solid 6-8 weeks sort of guy, but I find myself often pushing our farrier appointments up to 5 weeks because his feet are growing so darn fast. Between the all-important 24/7 forage and the fact that he is living out and constantly mobile, Dino's hooves are growing the fastest they ever have.
Over the past few months, there have also been marked changes in Dino's overall demeanor. Formerly rather aloof, my pony has become incredibly affectionate and snuggly. He LOVES our barn owner, and comes to her for cuddles at feeding time. He follows me around the barnyard like a puppy, always up for a snuggle or a hug, instead of standing and waiting for me to come pull him away from his food. It's so fun to call out, "HEY, BUDDY!" and have my pony eagerly come over to see me! We spend a lot of time snuggling and making googly eyes at each other these days.
And the most dramatic change of all is the fact that now, Dino PLAYS.
I thought I had a Grouchy Old Man on my hands - Dino would more often than not stand by himself in the middle of the field while his turnout buddies ran around like lunatics. Nowadays, he joins in the fun! I've never seen him run, buck, and play so much in my life! He and Sully groom each other like proper Best Friends, and Dino is incredibly protective of and loving towards his Girls, often watching over them while they sleep. He's still kind of a jerk to poor, sweet, innocent Windows the TB... but he's got to hang onto his street cred somehow.
|Googly eye and nose wrinkles FTW|
Whether it's the horse-centric management, or just something magical about this place, it's brought out a loving, affectionate side of my pony that I've only rarely seen. He's healthier and happier than he's ever been, and that's how horses ought to be.