Natural Horse Keeping


Horses are herd animals, they have lived in herds for more than six million years and social bonding is extremely important to them. Horses need companionship in order to be truly content, if you are unable to have another horse, a donkey, sheep, goat or even a chicken! Will all provide some measure of interest and companionship for your horse. Ideally though your horse needs the companionship of other horses. In the wild being solitary for a horse spells danger, loneliness and almost certainly death – they would not be on their own unless they had been banished from their herd. This would be the horses worst possible situation, they would then continually strive to seek out other horses for companionship, safety and for mating, either by raiding established herds and stealing fillies on the edges of the herd, or pairing up with other nomadic outcasts.

Some horses do appear to cope if they can see but not touch other horses, the point is though, that by denying your horse company with another equines, you deny your horses basic needs that are ritualistic and necessary to them, like mutual grooming, playing, companionship. It is this Clubs belief that all owners, Livery Yards, Competition Yards etc, should be encouraged to ensure that their horses do not live in solitary confinement, but like us have the ability to benefit from interaction with their friends.

The Club has seen many cases where owners have experienced, in some cases, extreme behaviour problems, with their horses, which has been the direct result of them being kept on their own. It is also important that your horses companion is a horse that they get on with, a horse can be just as unhappy, in the company of another horse, that bullies it, as it can being kept on its own. This is especially important for older horses and special consideration must be given to them.

We recognise that in exceptional circumstances, i.e. horses that have been hand reared may not be able to be kept with other horses, but that is few and far between. Indeed such is the reliance on a companion that there are many cases of blind horses living with companions that lead them to water and food. If you keep your horse on its own now – try to think of ways that you can try and change its life – it may take time and it may mean a longer distance to drive etc., but we guarantee your horse would thank you if he could!


Horses are trickle feeders, their digestive systems are designed to receive food little and often and if given the opportunity will graze for about 16 hours a day. If you have access to ordinary, not lush, grazing and approx 1½ acres per horse you will find they can live out quite happily 24/7 all year. (Contrary to many long held views, beautiful green meadows are GOOD FOR COWS! – NOT good for horses – it would be like leaving us in a chocolate factory! – Horses need scrubby paddocks, and they should be supplemented by hay, mineral licks, feed balancers etc). They should have access to water at all times and shelter e.g. thick trees or a man made shelter so they have a wind and rain break (and something to rub against!). Horses with man made shelters will rarely use them in the winter unless it is exceptionally wet or windy; they tend to use them more in the summer to escape the flies. It is also beneficial to your horse if you can provide an area of hard standing and also some areas of gravel, especially if he is kept barefoot. Paddocks must be regularly inspected to ensure fences are still in good repair and that the pasture does not contain any poisonous plants.

The cold does NOT worry horses if they have a good thick coat or a wind proof and rain resistant lightweight winter rug. They feel the cold much less than us (unless they are clipped) and feel the heat much more. Horses kept outside are healthier, happier and calmer. Many horses suffer all winter in a thick thermulated rug – especially when the sun shines! – they must be encouraged to move to keep warm, rather than, have to keep still, to stop getting over heated. Over heating in horses can cause serious health risks – if in doubt leave the rug off, or get a very light rug, just to keep out the elements. If you do rug your horse remember to check the rug daily for signs of rubbing.

If sweet itch is a problem then your horse will need a midge proof rug from March (at least) onwards. He might also like a fly fringe but probably would prefer his forelock to grow as nature intended and a forelock is cheaper than a fly fringe! If your horse is living out 24/7 and not in hard work you will probably find he needs very little extra feed, it is important to remember however, that he will most likely still need a broad spectrum supplement feed balancer to ensure he gets the required level of vitamins, minerals and micronutrients as he is unlikely to be able to get these from grazing alone.

You will probably need to provide your horse with extra hay in the winter, especially if the ground is frozen or covered in snow. You may also need to provide extra hay at other times of the year if you need to limit his grazing to keep his weight down and/or to avoid him getting laminitis.

Laminitics and Fatties

First rule – keep them moving! Don’t confine them to a box or tiny paddock their bodies need to move for their well-being.
You can limit your horses grazing either by putting a grazing muzzle on him (these need checking regularly to ensure they are still on and not rubbing, please also ensure there is nothing your horse can get caught up on and that your head collar would break if he did) or by restricting the area he has access to, for example strip grazing with electric fencing. DO NOT TAKE HIS FEED AWAY! – Find lower sugar level feed to give him (we can advise on this with your Veterinary Surgeon – do contact us if you need help).

If you do restrict the area he has, to ensure he keeps moving, put his water and hay in different spots so he has to walk to it, and/or give him daily exercise in hand or ridden.

Living outside, means that your horse will be getting gentle exercise most of the day, he can rest when he likes, sunbathe and play with his companions. Horses that live out 24/7 with companionship do not develop vices, get stressed or bored.

Finally, some people worry that they can’t catch their horse if he is out. If that is a problem it is one we can sort out for you at NHTEC!

Laminitis is serious – it kills horses, if you feel that your horse may have laminitis, you must immediately call out your veterinary surgeon and withdraw all short feed. Please see links to laminitis sites on our Links page.


If you have to stable your horse for part of the day, maybe because you keep him at livery and they do not allow 24/7 turnout all year, try to ensure that he can still see and/or touch his friends and that he has ad lib hay and access to fresh water.

Horses do not like being caged up any more than we would – less in fact, because they are flight animals and survive by running away. Being stabled is not something that they enjoy and often horses that appear happy in a stable are just habituated to it. After all what choice do we give them? Horses kept in stables for long periods of time often develop vices, ulcers and become stressed and frustrated by the forced lack of movement.

If you keep your horse at livery where 24/7 turnout is not available, ask if they would change their policy, if not, maybe you should consider moving him to another yard.

If you have a livery that promotes 24/7 turnout and companionship grazing tell us and we will promote them!