More often than we would like, horses develop injuries, illnesses or behavioral issues from their environment – their stall, the barn, or in the turnout or the pasture in which they graze.
They cut themselves on a tiny jagged bit of metal fencing, they eat toxic weeds in the pasture, they develop a skin condition due to dense summertime flies in the stable, they break into the feed room and overload on grain, they are bitten or kicked by another horse, they chew or kick the stall door, the list goes on and on.
Many conditions and accidents can be prevented if owners become more observant of the horse’s environment.
At a more fundamental level, horses develop health or behavioral problems when denied the basics: safe and secure stabling, exercise, access to shelter, well-drained footing, proper hoof care, a balanced diet, especially quality forage, fresh water, salt and trace mineral, or companionship.
It is important for you to be able to objectively evaluate your horse’s environment to determine what may be a healthcare hazard and to improve your horse’s quality of life.
Begin by evaluating the fundamentals. Does the horse eat an appropriate amount of roughage (hay or grass) daily? Do they have access to shelter (protecting them from extreme heat or cold, rain and wind? Do they have a consistent source of fresh water, and access to white salt and trace mineral? Might they have access to toxic plants, either in their stable or turnout areas?
Evaluate barn, pasture, stable, stall and/or turnouts and carefully look at them with fresh eyes. Are there hazards which could cause injury? Do you see debris that needs to be removed or structures in need of repair? Check all latches and locks regularly and ensure you have a plan when and if your horse gets loose on your property. Keeping two locks or latches between your horse's stall and the feed room is always a good idea.
Consider your manure management program and its impact on parasite control. Are insects, rodents or birds posing health problems? Are you prepared for fly season with an adequate fly control program? Do your horses have access to plants and trees within reach of their enclosure? If so, can you identify them? Could they be toxic?
Consider your horse’s personality and socialization. Are they high-strung, curious or "bullet proof"? Would they benefit from a calm quiet environment or would they enjoy more activity? Do they get along with the other horses they are boarded or turned out with? Are they in need of companionship, more turnout, or more exercise?
Tips for safety & Success
The perfect environment for a horse is probably open range, in a herd. Most of us cannot provide this, but we can strive to increase their quality of life by regularly evaluating their environment and making basic improvements.
Sometimes you can prevent catastrophe by simply eliminating or repairing a seemingly benign or small problem on your property.
Consider the specific equine health problems that are associated with your location and climate. If your horses are kept on sandy soils, ensure that your horse does not ingest sand while eating. If you live in a cold snowy climate, provide adequate shelter and prevent snow buildup on the soles of the feet.