Horses are just gorgeous! With their gentle manner and bowling ball eyes, horses are (for the most part) peaceful creatures who can teach us a lot about how to learn to live with others, without hierarchy. Most enjoy company (also with donkeys) and will get bored, if other horses are not nearby. But ‘keeping horses’ is an expensive hobby, so be sure you have the space, know-how and money, before doing so. This post looks at how you can help horses that you look after, and how to help horses elsewhere (from horses abroad to helping horses you find tethered on roundabouts).
So how much do you know about horses? They actually are very unique to other animals. They can only breathe through their hose and can sleep standing up, due to unique legs that can ‘relax’ without them topping over! They will lie down for a deeper snooze, but can quickly get up and run, if feeling threatened. If you’ve ever spoken to a horse (!), you’ll know their ears move all the time. This is because (compared to our three), they have 10 muscles in their ears. People who ‘speak to horses’ often use ear movements, to get an interesting reply! This is more effective than shoving a carrot or apple in front of their face (as firstly, they should not be given food if you don’t know them – it could give them colic. And secondly, they won’t see it, as ‘in front’ is one of their two blind spots (the other is just behind them). They can smell the carrot, that’s why they will eat it.
England has several herds of wild horses and ponies, notably in parks like the New Forest, Exmoor and Dartmoor. However, these (like all horses) are at risk of traffic accidents. One great idea would be supply them with Tail Lights. Designed by a woman whose own horse was injured in a traffic accident, these lights (used by mounted police in Canada) attach to a horse’s tail, and give off bright static or flashing lights, to be seen in traffic. Ideal for free-roaming horses in wild areas.
In some countries unfortunately, people eat horse meat, and recently there was a huge scandal, when it was found that Tesco and a few other supermarkets had accidentally let horse meat into its meat products. One reason to eat plants, or the very least, to eat certified organic food, so you know the source and welfare. However, many horses in England do end up in abattoirs, when they come to the end of their horseracing lives (others due to not being able to afford humane injections through vet insurance). Horseracing is old hat now, and offers a myriad of injuries in all the major races, and surely you don’t want to make money, from innocent animals being whipped to run? Find another hobby instead, for the sake of our equine friends.
Simple Ways to Help Our Horse Friends
Leave them alone, if you see horses in fields. They will be fed specialty treats, and if the public feeds them other foods (like apples en-masse) it can cause painful colic, and could even cause a horse to die. If you are concerned about the welfare of a horse or pony, contact World Horse Welfare or National Equine Welfare, both of which have experts to help. You can find good advice on welfare issues at World Horse Welfare (also by phone).
If you have land and suitable lifestyles/money, you can adopt and foster horses and ponies through Blue Cross & World Horse Welfare. Both these charities have good procedures, to ensure equines go to good homes, ideally with other horses or ponies. As they will live outside or in stables, read Blue Cross tips on toxic plants & fireworks. The main toxic plant to be aware of is ragfork. Although it supports the habitat of a native caterpillar, it’s lethal to horses & livestock, so has to be safely disposed of. World Horse Welfare has info on how to do this DEFRA guidelines.
If you take HRT (hormone replacement therapy), then find natural alternatives to menopause instead, which is better for animals (no vivisection testing), the planet and likely your health. One brand (Premarin) is made from the extract of horse urine (the horses are chained up with their hormone-rich urine extracted, and their foals killed). If you do take HRT medicine, ask your GP for an alternative brand that is not made with horse urine.
Switch to a good horse bedding, free from dust and mess, and suitable for allergies. One reputable brand is Eco Bale, used by many equestrians. Thise biodegradable bedding is made from recycled shredded cardboard.
Sorbeo Horse Bedding is made in Scotland from super-absorbent wood pellets, for a quality and cost-effective bed. Easy to use and clean and virtually dust-free, any moisture is absorbed, to make mucking out less of a chore. A real alternative to shavings, straw, paper or cardboard, it’s made from virgin timber and all the wood is replanted and there is a recycling scheme for used bags. Made from naturally antiseptic pine wood, vet Donald McClean says this is good for horses and ponies with laminitus as it’s supportive yet soft. Straw can harbour dangerous micro-sized dust particles that you can’t see, which can be inhaled into the lungs of a horse. Cheap imports can be made with compressed sawdust, old pallets and sawmill by-products or even MDF waste that can be carcinogenic. They are also made at very high temperatures which means they break down to nothing, with no natural lignin left, to bind the pellets together. So additives and glue are sometimes used.
Wood pellet horse bedding works best with moisture in the air, ground or from your horse. So in summer or dry periods, just spray the area with water or a watering can to bring the particles back together, do not turn the bed and gently rake the top layer away from the sides, and use less bedding. To make, just lay the bags out flat on the stable floor, cut along the dotted line and add water to each opened back, then find them double or triple in size. Just empty the bags and spread around the stable, and add a new bag each week to keep the bed up to scratch.
Bailey’s Horse Feeds (Essex) are used by vets and include versions for veterans, and donate to World Horse Welfare. Run by a family company and used by many, this brand has full lists of ingredients, nutrition experts on hand and a wide range of feeds and supplements for all types of horses.
School up on good food for horses. Thunderbrook sells organic hay, oats and equine feeds (from a biochemist with expertise in digestion issues). Top Stock is made with organic sea kelp. The products (headshaking, detox and maintenance) include full instructions.
Get good horse insurance, as the costs are enormous. This enables you to find good vet care. Champion Plus (insurance) covers vets, accidents, emergencies and liability. Blue Cross has tips on humane euthanasia.
World Horse Welfare has its own ChampionPlus insurance, which means profits are going to help their charity that has a phoneline and site to help horses the world over. It costs around £60 a year and incudes accident and liability, with a £250 excess for each claim for third party property damage. The Veterinary Care option is for any horse or pony over 30 days old that you own or have on full loan, with maximum payments and excesses apply.
Stable Lights offers lights that don’t have mains electricity. Just knock in the wall, position the solar panel on the roof or high up on a south-facing wall and hang the light unit from the nail, and turn on and off via a small remote control. The internal batteries give 4 hours of light and has a USB lead charger.
Gulltop Equestrian provides vegan riding boots. Waterproof and elegant, these can also be custom-made. Just a towel and water is all you need, no soap required. Choose from dressage, jumping boots or laced boots, plus you can buy accompanying spur straps.
If you ride horses, Tail Lights are a Canadian invention that are attached to tails, to enable horses to be seen in traffic or poor light conditons, to help prevent road accidents. EDIX® Vika Vegan Saddle is made from quality synthetic leather, with matching stirrups and treeless saddle pad (synthetic wool underside). In black, brown and child size. You can also buy vegan riding boots.
Prevent & Find Lost & Stolen Horses
Horses are ‘high value’, so alas are at risk from being stolen. Many horses escape during fireworks, so ensure you keep equines safe during these scary times. To prevent theft:
- Blue Cross has info on horse safety (theft, passports, fire)
- Stolen Horse Register is an online database
- Equine Register can manage your equine passport
Support Local Horse Sanctuaries
The Horse Trust offers a Home of Rest for Horses. Many racehorses are killed at the end of their lives (a good reason to give up gambling). Also don’t accept rides from horses abroad (even in New York, many get injured or spooked by traffic). Charities that rescue ex-racehorses are:
- The Racehorse Sanctuary
- Racehorse Rehoming Centre
- HEROS Charity
- Moorcroft Equine Rehabilitation Centre
Shetland Rescue (Merseyside) started by rescuing a Shetland pony from a horse market. Focused on elderly, abandoned and unwanted animals, Diane had to live in a caravan at first, after selling her house to buy a plot of land. Today many volunteers offer local land!
Books Your Horse Wants You To Read
- Storey’s Guide to Raising Horses covers health, welfare, insulin resistance, skin conditions, foals & vaccination.
- The Ultimate Guide for Horses in Need is for anyone fostering abused horses with mild behavioural issues. Dr Stacie shows how to handle common medical problems, hoof care & rescue.
- The Horse Nutrition Handbook covers colic, cribbing, Cushing disease, ulcers, muscle breakdown and more.
- Horses in Translation teaches the four Gs of Horse Speak: Greeting, Going Somewhere, Grooming and Gone!
- Osteopathy and the Treatment of Horses is written by three experts in their field, with clinical information.
- The Ultimate Guide to Caring For Horses for Kids covers anatomy, housing, bathing, feeding, grooming, safety and how to speak horse!
- The Horse Owner’s Guide to Toxic Plants is a reference book. A little chopped apple is usually okay for horses, but never feed strange horses as too much from different people can give them colic. Pick up windfalls to avoid animals over-feasting.
- Life Lessons from the Heart of Horses is a book on how much we can learn from our equine friends. Horses are sensitive creatures with hearts ten times larger than humans, and more to share with us, than meets the eye.
How to Help a Tethered Horse
Have you ever been upset seeing a horse tethered on a roundabout, often alone and eating grass, and sometimes being spooked by traffic? At present, horse tethering is legal (as long as there are no other welfare issues), so although often unkind, you usually can’t do much about it. The problem is also that by complaining of ‘legal practices’, you could send tethered horses underground, and then horses could be tethered out of sight, which could be even worse. Horses are also social animals, but tethering animals nearby each other, could lead to accidents or entanglement.
The best place to come from this, is from a place of empathy. Often people who love their horses but have no land or money, are finding places so their horse has some grass. So having a go often is not the best idea. A much better solution would be to club together to find some nice land that is not being used, and offer this to the horse guardians.
Having said that, many horses do suffer when tethered, and as most councils won’t fund animal welfare inspectors, often horses are not found until the RSPCA get involved. Break the Chain is the national campaign to change the law. At present, authorities can’t act. And even if they do, if there is no field for horses to go to, horses could end up at the abattoir. We have a real rich-poor divide with horse guardians. Looking after horses is costly and expensive, and finding land is very hard, if people have no money and already have horses in their care.
The British Horse Society has info on whether the tethering you see is legal or not, and you can phone up for advice, if concerned. As mentioned above, there is little legally that you can do, and ‘sending tethering underground’ is not good. But they have useful info. For instance, horses are sometimes grazed for a few days before moving on, and often drinking water is provided by someone visiting, as buckets can get knocked over (but obviously horses do need access to fresh drinking water, especially in warm weather when the grass is not wet). They suggest using tyres to secure water buckets.
Horses should also never be tethered near trees, as they could get caught up and near well-drained areas, so there is no risk of danger in heavy rain. You can also find more useful info at RSPCA and Redwings Horse Sanctuary (they again raise concerns that not helping those in marginalised communities that often tether – like gypsy/traveller communities) could send the practice underground.
The Solid Bar Company Horse Fly Repellent is zero waste, made with lemongrass oil. An alternative to sprays, this can protect against flies, gnats, midges, mosquitoes, noseeums and black fly. Natural and organic, it’s deet-free and has no hiss or distress for horses in a concentrated waterless lotion formula, to keep insects away.