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A Horse, of Course

Don Blazer

In the world of horses, at least those that partner with man, “natural” is not relevant. Oh, natural horsemanship, natural hoof care, natural supplementation, natural substances injected into joints, all sound wonderful….it’s just that they are not natural; for the horse connected with man is not natural. The “natural horse” is not man’s partner.

The horse in nature is not the domesticated horse. The very definition of “domesticated” takes the horse from his natural world and removes “natural” from the relevant.

The “natural” perception being marketed so successfully to horse owners today is based on nature being beautiful, kind, gentle, loving, caring and nurturing. And nature is all of that----and nature is a lot more. Nature can be ugly, vicious, harsh and destructive. Nature gives and nature takes away. Nature starves horses to death and kills them with injury and disease.

When a horse owner recognizes both sides of the “natural story” and recognizes that “natural” is not relevant to his or her “domesticated” horse, the only kind of horsemanship, health care and nutrition which matters is “responsible.”

And “responsible” can in many ways be much better for the horse. The domesticated horse lives longer than the natural horse. It is possible for the domesticated horse to live a much more comfortable life than the natural horse, and to suffer less the extremes endured by the natural horse.

But, of course, for domestication to be better for the horse, man must accept the responsibilities which go along with horse ownership and partnership. And the first step of acceptance is to learn more about the horse and his requirements within domestication.

Let’s start with exercise. The natural horse traveled about 30 miles a day grazing, searching for food and water, finding a climate and environment in which he could survive. The domesticated horse—by far the majority today—lives in confinement; often very poorly designed confinement. Horses turned out in large—30 or 40 acres--pastures to graze all day are the lucky few. Those kept is stalls or pens need a responsible owner to assure they get sufficient daily exercise and the social contact a herd animal needs. Saying, “I practice natural horsemanship techniques” isn’t good enough—you have to practice “domesticated” horsemanship.

For exercise, domesticated horsemanship means seeing to it the horse does exert his muscles, stress his bones, stimulate his organs and move as he is designed to do. Sufficient exercise for the domesticated horse can mean longeing or riding at various gaits long enough and with enough effort to produce an improved gait. When you first start walking or trotting or cantering an insufficiently exercised horse, his way of going will be erratic. The longer he works the more improvement you will see in his gait. When he is working at his “potential” for his level of training, then he’s had enough exercise---that can be 20 minutes or 2 hours, depending on his age and conditioning.

Let’s look at hoof care. A domesticated horse can go barefoot, but a domesticated horse can’t go “natural.” If you want the horse to have a “natural trim,” don’t trim him……that’s natural. His feet will warp; his feet will break up, and depending on the ground surfaces he lives and plays upon his heels will under run. Unless he’s among the minority of natural horses, his feet will cause him problems.

A responsible horseman will trim the horse’s feet and do the best possible to keep the hoof balanced and healthy.

Call that what it is: “horsemanship,” not what it isn’t: “a natural trim.”

Natural isn’t relevant for today’s horse, so forget the “marketing” and start accepting the “realities” of owning a domesticated horse—that includes health care, training and behavior modification. Responsible horsemanship takes a lot more study, knowledge and effort than going “la natural.”

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