Friday, 15 March 2013


This site was first put together in 2000 and I did so to try to help people find a natural way to go with their horses. When I started down a natural path with my horses there was little information on going bitless or barefoot, training using Natural Horsemanship methods, clicker training or general things like how horses feet work, how they survive without rugs and what feeds are more natural for them.

In my quest to find out more about the horses in my care I found it was hard to find things but what I did find was of great assistance to me. SO, I thought it would be good to put all this in a website so that others starting out on their own natural journey's could benefit from what I have learned .

I hope it helps all those that visit and that it inspires people to search for more natural horse care and that the horses in your care have happy, natural lives. If I help just one persons horse then this website has worked and I'm happy ;)

Wednesday, 6 March 2013


If you have an all year grass kept horse, well done. After all the grooming, the winters of keeping an eye out for mud fever, keeping the grass good all year and then to top it all to keep the horse fit and not overweight with no sign of laminitis, I bet your horse looks happy and contented. Ten out of ten for perseverance.

Those who pay for grazing have to rely on others for grass management. Most of us don't realise that the UK is covered with re-sown grass fields which are very different from the old type meadows of the past. The fields nowadays have grass that make cows and sheep grow fat quickly so that farmers can get their stock to market. Rough grazing is very hard to come by but it is infinitely richer in nutrients than the rich green short grass we're used to seeing.

In a meadow there are a multitude of different grasses that can grow up to three foot or more in height such as perennial rye grass, meadow grass, creeping red fescue, soft rushes, sheep's fescue, tall fescue, timothy, cocksfoot, early rye grass and  many more. Then there are the natural clovers and herbs such as yarrow, dandelion, chicory ,comfrey, burnet etc. In addition to these, thistles and nettles, which we are often told to remove, should be kept in check but in my opinion should never be completely removed. Meadows containing wild flowers and all the aforementioned grasses and herbs were abundant in the UK only a few decades ago and would be great if helped back to that state.

Let us think for a minute on some of the horse-related diseases which come from grazing. Laminitis, perhaps the most common disease where the thick green grass does damage to the sensitive hoof. Grass sickness, the cause of which has not been established, kills hundreds of horses every year. Maybe the thick, lush green grass, and/or the tons of non-organic fertilizers which are used every year and have been for decades has something to do with it.

We've changed the very nature of the soil itself with fertilizers, resowing and chemical feedstuffs for farm stock.

By bringing our fields back to meadows we can help the wild environment as much as our horses stomachs. I remember when there were hedgerows full of wild flora, before farmers got rid of  them to make bigger, more productive fields. I think we have to look to the past and the way things were done in a smaller more natural way.

The grass our horses are eating at the moment may be the very thing which is making them ill, overly fat and worst of all, killing them. Most horses will be naturally drawn to an unkempt hedgerow or verge, look at the types of wild flowers and grasses there, your horse is really telling you something.

Here are some things that maybe you could seed into your pasture which are great for your horse, or you could grow your own hedgerow. A lot of these plants are natural sources full of vitamins and minerals which your horse can feed itself on as and when it wants/needs them.

Rosehips, Hawthorn (make lovely hedges too), Brambles, Mint, Wild Garlic, Chammomile, Meadowsweet, Comfrey, Cow Parsley, Thistles, Burnet, Yarrow, Rosebay Willow Herb, Cleavers (must be kept in check), Nettles, Dandelions (one of the most nutrient-rich plants in the world! Containing more Vitamin A than carrots and vitamins B,C and D. Also provides potassium, sodium, phosphorus, zinc, magnesium and iron. Feeding the whole plant of roots, leaves and flower is a liver and kidney tonic, blood purifier and diuretic. They also like Birch, Hazel and Willow branches.
For treats try feeding them Chicory, Marrow or Corn on the cob for a change from the usual apples and carrots, always feed raw. Things like Parsnips, Cauliflour or Cauliflour leaves, Broccoli, Sprouts, Peas and Beans can be given in small amounts, see which ones your horse likes.

Then there's fruit which some horses adore but should really be fed as treats only, there's Cherries, Melon, Papaya, Mango and Pumpkin which are full of vitamins and also Dates, Prunes, Apricots and Grapes which should again only be fed as treats and can be given fresh or dried but make sure dried ones don't have added sugar. Lots of horses like bananas too but never feed to much of anything other than forage or the hindgut gets disrupted and can cause illness.

To encourage a meadow environment consider a few old time meadow flowers and herbs such as, Meadow crane's-bill and Hedgerow crane's-bill, Herb Robert, Bird's foot trefoil, Lucerne, Wild Raspberries, Lady's Mantle, Corn Flowers, Cowslips, Eyebright, Wild Thyme, Wild Marjoram, Wild Basil, Selfheal, Wood sage, Bellflowers, Colt's-foot, Daisy, Feverfew, Knapweed, Parsley, Wormwood, Evening Primrose to name but a few. With these, the full hedgerows and the long wild grasses mentioned earlier, your fields could resemble the wonderful meadows of old that will be full of nutrients, herbs and variety that your horses will love.

It is also a good idea to look into the 'Paddock Paradise' system where a 'track' is put up around a field (or fields) with different types of ground cover for help with barefoot horses and creates the movement a horse needs to ensure exercise, weight control and freedom of movement.

 We must also not forget to manage our pastures and make sure all toxic plants are pulled so that they don't take over the field. Ragwort should always be pulled, with gloves on, and burned. It is a very toxic plant and very invasive of pasture.

Blankets and Rugs

Rugs are a huge market for horses. The magazines and horse retailers have more types and makes of these than anything else, just look in some catalogues that do internet sales, rugs and blankets take up almost a quarter of the book. Such a vast array they surely can find what you need? There are light rugs, heavy rugs, 420 denier nylon outers, different ounces of polyester filling, stable rugs, paddock rugs, jute rugs, turnout rugs, high neck extensions, summer turnouts, winter turnouts, mac's, coolers, fleece coolers, light and heavy summer sheets, towling rugs, anti-sweat rugs, cotton sheets, exercise sheets, lycra hoods, lycra neck covers etc. Is your mind spinning when you just look at them?  Do you know what's good for your horse, what will be right for him?

There are so many people out there trying to sell you something and relying on your human nature of wanting to do the best for your horse that you end up buying things you probably don't need. I mean the catalogues sell them so surely we must need them, right?

The thing is that horses evolved to take care of themselves more efficiently and better than humans could ever realise. Their blood systems and coats change dramatically for Winter to be able to cope with the drop in temperature.

Firstly try to let your horse be outside all day, every day, if you can. His coat will start to thicken up and the oils of his coat will begin to work to keep his coat waterproof, for this reason do not over groom him. His mane and tail should be left naturally long to help keep his neck and quarters warm, feathers should be left to keep water off the heels and in general he should be left alone to be a horse.

What we can do is give him good quality forage (hay or haylage) to keep him in good condition, give him some sort of shelter in case he wants to use it (trees are usually better than a man made shelter), plenty of ice free water, succulents for treats now and then and not to be worked too hard so that we don't have to clip him and therefore have to rug him up in the first place. I know this isn't possible for everyone, some people compete, others keep their horses fit all year but generally, most horse owners could help their horses be more natural throughout the year.

Rugs can weaken our horses immune system and make them susceptible to colds and chills. Each individual hair is a muscle and they work by rising (starey) to capture heat between the skin and outside and lower when hot to let hot air escape. If your horse gets acclimatised to the cold gradually their systems adjust with the changing weather, they enjoy the wind in their hair and rain just runs off their coats. If you put a rug on them, when you take it off to go riding or to groom, they feel the cold twice as much, as they are now used to being warm. After a while the thick coats that would have grown to keep them cosy will start to fall out in an artificial moult and then you HAVE to rug them because you've ruined the coats natural climate control and they'll freeze.

Healthy horses left to their own devices often have no problems dealing with the cold, it's the wet and freezing cold that they have trouble with so this is when rugging to stop chills is good. What we need to do is take rugging on a daily basis, don't over rug and let the horse be a horse for as long as possible in the Winter and rug when necessary, sometimes maybe just at night. But don't put human thoughts onto the horse, cold for a horse that is healthy with a good Winter coat is not a problem.

I've so often seen horses rugged up when it's mild, supposedly to stop them getting muddy so they can be ridden, just human convenience. We clip them so we can ride them out heavily and then have to rug them. Can't we just let them have some Winter time off and maybe ride them at a slower pace so they don't sweat?

My theory is to allow the horse to be as natural as possible but don't allow it to suffer, either by being too cold or wet OR too hot, both are uncomfortable ;)

Stabling and Vices

The first thing I'm concerned about is the stable itself. It's a very unnatural place to put a horse and no wonder they get vices. They are basically boxes betwen 12' x 10' (3.7m x 3.1m) for a horse under 16hh and 14' x 12' (4.2m x 3.7m) for over 16hh, most however are just 12' x 12'.  Go and mark out these measurements and just see how small it is. I don't care how pretty it is, how smartly made or how much it is, in my view small stables are without a doubt a cage.

The American Barn system has rows of loose
boxes facing each other across an 8' - 12'
passage. No outside world to view, no watching
of the seasons or day and night.

And then there are stalls. These are individually partitioned stables in which the horse is
permanently tied up, facing a blank wall. Now I may be over sensitive but just go and try this yourself. With most horses not getting out very often they may be looking at this wall, or stuck in this cage for up to 24 hours. If a person was in a prison cell with these proportional dimensions, I'm pretty sure we'd go demented quite quickly.

I know that some folks put their horses into stables or stalls for only short periods, tie them up to clean them etc but what I'm talking about is the use of these facilities are permanent solutions to house horses in. I just don't like them or think they are appropriate for an animal that should be living out on pasture.

Another thing that a lot of folks do is 'cross-tie' their horses for grooming, washing or sometimes for the whole time they're inside a building. This I don't understand or really approve of and really should not be something the horse should have to endure for long periods of time as he cannot move his head down or left/right. Not fair at all.

I guess it's the place most people are used to seeing horses and take it as normal. IT IS NOT NORMAL! A horse should be running free with others of it's kind. A horse should be in as natural an environment as possible and this rules out the stable. The nicest way for horses to be out of really harsh weather is to have an open barn or sheltered area for them to go in/out of or for a field to have plenty of natural shelter such as trees and hedges. Yes I know it's difficult, your horse gets dirty, it takes longer to get him ready to go out hacking etc but that's just about convenient for us, the human. Let's think about what our horses would really like

We have to stop putting human concerns onto our horses. We don't like getting wet, horses on the other hand seem to have no problem with it and if kept outside all the time and not over-groomed, their coats are very well waterproofed. The only thing horses hate and is bad for them is to be thoroughly soaked and then to freeze.

We also don't care much for wind and cold although I know most horses get friskier when it is windy and very sluggish in the Summer. We mostly like to sunbathe, horses like to be cool and getting too hot is actually worse for a horse than getting cold. So, grass kept horses outside 12 months of the year keep themselves warm and dry if given the opportunity. They're very good at finding natural shelter, we just need to make it available. We also need to feed them good forage throughout the year.

In the wild a horse will travel many miles to get forage and water and only the fit survive. We want to help our horses as much as we can without taking over their natural abilities for survival. I've never seen a farmer worrying over his cows or sheep getting wet and unless the horse is very fragile then we should stop over cosseting our horses. Don't pamper them, just treat them like horses and let them be as natural as possible.

Now, onto the subject of 'vices'. Most vices, are in my opinion, the result of stress and human interference.

Horses weave, because we put them in cages called stables and they want to be out with their friends. Horses crib-bite because we restrict their feed intake, they're stabled alone and they get bored and stressed. Horses kick stables often through bordom, through learned behaviour around feed times as they're hungry or even through hatred of the horse they don't like next door or the cage they are in. Horses, like us, have favourite friends and others they don't care to be next to. Horses are very sensitive and once again most are well behaved and fine when left in fields with their friends and handled carefully and kindly with enough space for all. The horse that is labelled a problem has usually had a problem with a human handling them badly, the fault I'm afraid is usually the human.

I've seen horses that windsuck and crib bite put into an anti-cribbing strap that is put around their throats. It is half metal and half leather and is strapped tightly up around the throat and prevents the horse arching his neck, thereby preventing him from doing the vice.

Most horses that start these vices do so from the stable. They're bored witless and being an intelligent animal they do these things to escape boredom. Wind sucking releases endorphins which help relieve pain caused by acid in the stomach and/or boredom. I have seen horses do these things in fields but usually it starts in the stable and becomes addictive to them especially when they have ulcers from the stomach acid. To then put on a device around the horses neck to STOP the horse trying to relieve this pain really does more harm than good. The vices are relieving him of the pain he is suffering, to take away that relief is like giving someone a severe headache and then not letting them have an asprin.

Recent studies have shown that one of the reasons for cribbing is acid in the stomach. Because horses are built to be trickle feeders, eating little and often, up to 20 hours a day, when we stable them or put them on bare paddocks and either starve them or feed them mostly concentrates the acid builds up to where ulcers start. As well as causing gastric acid to build up, our feeding regimes diminish the chances of the acid being neutralised.  There is a specially made antacid for horses made by Feedmark called Settelex which has been known to help but remember an antacid is not a full remedy, the only way to help acid is to help your horse have a more natural lifestyle with plenty of forage. Also acid build up in the stomach, which is the only place it's supposed to be, if not used for it's purpose, which is to break down it's foraged food stuffs, can sometimes get out of the stomach into places it's not supposed to be like the rest of the gut or even leaking into the horse and affecting things like sensitivity in the skin of the horse!

Try to think of more natural remedies for vices, find the real cause and a good, more natural solution ;)

Solo Horses

My heart goes out to all the horses and ponies that I constantly see on their own with no company at all. A friend of mine had her pony alone in a field once and I suggested she bring it over to be with my cob as her previous horse companion had been sold on by her owner. To my amazement my friend refused saying that it didn't get on with other horses and got picked on! I found out that it had been picked on once before as she had put it out with a herd of nine horses without even giving it a chance to make friends with one on it's own. All horses facing a herd and new yard must be given an adjustment period in an adjoining field and then with one other horse that it will bond with and only then into a herd situation with maybe a period with a smaller amount of horses and gradually into the bigger herd scene. The way she did it frightened the pony and made her too frightened to try it again thinking that her pony didn't get along with others of it's kind.

Every time I went by this pony in it's field it seemed lonely and when I rode my cob by the field it positively galloped across to say hello, afraid of it's own kind, nonsense!

Horses and ponies are by nature social animals. If you only own one horse it is far better to keep it at grass livery with others or even near others if it really does have a problem being integrated with a herd. If they do not have their own kind with them they can become depressed and inactive. Some of them become so human bound that if you're late they stress out. It's not good for their nature to become so bound up with humans that they forget they're a horse. They like both but definitely need their own kind first. Maybe think of adopting a companion horse or pony from one of the many charities that are overrun with equines needing new homes or get a friend to put their horse in with yours, it makes for more fun riding too.

I know some people don't want to put their horses in with a herd because they're afraid of getting their horses out to ride. This is our problem and should not influence our decision to do what's right for our equines. Get some help from an expert to get you over your fears but let your horse be a horse.

The main thing we should try not to forget are the basic needs of every horse, every day:

a) Freedom of movement in fields (large enough for natural movement).
b) Companions for herd life (one or more other equines to live and play with).
c) Free choice of grazing at ground level (the more wild plants the better).
d) Daily exposure to water for hooves (natural streams or even man made watering holes).
e) Barefoot, if possible (get those shoes off).
f) No clothing, as nature intended (let them feel the elements).

I know that sometimes stables are needed, rugs are necessary and barefoot can't always be done BUT doing things more naturally for the horse as much as we can will help keep them from illness, vices and unwanted behaviours.

Horses are herd animals....let them be horses ;)

Bits and Bridles

There are so many different types of bridles and bits it can be confusing  to the novice horse owner/rider. So many bridles come complete with nosebands of many different types I think most people think you have to use them.

Nosebands such as the cavesson without a standing martingale are actually redundant. Do any of us take the noseband off? Why leave it there, doesn't the horse have enough on his head?

Also the other types of nosebands such as the flash, grackle and drop which are to stop the horse having any movement of the jaw...why? Movement of the jaw is not desired but if the horse is moving it's jaw or putting it's tongue over the bit and opening it's mouth then the horse is trying to tell us something. Maybe he is sore, in pain or just unhappy with the bridle, tying him down more is masking the problem and not solving it, in fact it often causes more problems that just get worse and worse.
Maybe instead we could spend more time gently training our horses to do as we ask without reverting to restricting his head movements? I remember when bearing reins were 'fashionable' with carriage horses and how cruel that was, it took ages for that to be seen on as a bad thing but eventually people saw how cruel it was and now in the UK they are banned. There are also martingales which stop movement of the height of the head, curb chains which work on the movement from the bit, noseband and top of the headpiece in a leverage action. In the wrong hands all these things are cruel to horses.
We all need to look at our riding skills, our trainers and teachers. Even the most highly acclaimed teachers with years of 'experience' can be cruel. The way thousands of people have learned is instilled in their teaching of others, bad habits become the normal thing and nobody questions methods or have ideas for alternatives.
If you don't feel it's correct then question it. It may make you unpopular, people may laugh at you but it may also help the person you're questioning to question themselves. Most people know what's wrong but are too afraid to open their mouths about things and put up with abuse to the horses and themselves.

So, what do you do if you feel you don't need that noseband? Try in an arena, corral or controlled area without it. You may find your horse is fine without it. If you feel your horse does need it then try retraining your horse. Yes, it may take time. Yes, it may be frustrating. But in the end you'll have a happier horse and you yourself will be happier with your riding. No more fighting over the bit, no more shouting or whipping. There are lots of 'alternative' methods of training and riding nowadays one of which is Natural Horsemanship through kind training and natural methods (refer to our links page). Teaching you to be a better horseman (horsewoman) and riding your horse as a natural rider.

How many of you dream of riding your horse bareback with just a halter like the Native Americans do? How many of you are just dreaming? It's not unheard of, most of the 'alternative' styles of training develop your riding skills on the ground first, then to halter and saddle, then halter and bareback and only then, when you've developed your independent seat and have learnt to control your horse without a bridle do you finally have the privillege of riding with a bridle and bit. Most people abuse the bit in the horses mouth too much. It's not a breaking device and anyone who's had a bolting horse knows it doesn't work as brakes. It's a refined tool for sensitive signals for the horse and rider to communicate with. Better still is to learn to ride bitless and as I have found personally that once bitless I never returned to riding any of my own horses with a bit and they are all perfectly happy and rideable ;)

The bits themselves seem to get bigger, thicker, rougher and more like torture devices every year. How many times have I heard at a show 'that horse doesn't turn properly, that horse won't stop, that pony just won't jump cleanly...get it a bigger bit, put it in a flash noseband, stop it moving it's head about'. Lots of opinions but the horse tells us the truth, you can see how most are silently unhappy with their tack.

It would be wonderful for trainers to teach their pupils not only riding but horse care in a humane, natural way. For people not to be wary of questioning their teacher or employer. For judges at shows to be totally impartial and to judge on the performance. To speak out on anything they see at shows that is cruel or unjust and not be blinded by a perfect turnout such as a well-groomed horse and expensive jackets and boots. To judge the person who is riding on their skills and ability. For large organisations to support all those that wish to ride, train and compete with happy horses in alternative ways such as bitless.
 In my humble opinion it would be better for all of us to question whether we actually NEED a bit at all, most happy hackers don't need them and people doing competitions should be encouraged to be bitless by competitions only allowing for bitless bridles and good horsemanship in the lower levels so that when you get to the higher levels we don't use the bit for the wrong things.

I believe that in 2012 bitless bridles have been accepted in show jumping and cross country, we are allowed to use them in endurance and Trec, we would LOVE to see them allowed in dressage now too.
Wouldn't it be lovely to see competitions with horse not being 'pulled' into an 'outline', for the horse to want to give a correct outline because the human and trainers have taken the time for the horse to find it's own balance and self-carriage with it's rider and to enjoy his time with us doing dressage, show jumping, x country and all the other sporting pursuits we do with our horses.

Hooves and Shoes

The more natural the hooves are kept the happier the horse. In today's world sometimes it can be difficult to achieve this but I think it is definitely worthy of attention.

There are basically two different types of lives we map out for our horses;

1) The amateur/professional sporthorse
2) The family hack, maybe with local shows

Number 1 tries to have the horse in tip top condition all year, plenty of exercise and probably high quantities of concentrated feed. He will be ridden probably every day, will be clipped in Winter and rugged up so that he can be ridden without too much fuss. This horse is usually always shod although there are professional sport horses going barefoot now and you will find that their owners use horse boots of some kind or another to protect their hooves in place of shoes.

Number 2 is a horse in good condition, goes out on regular hacks throughout the year but probably lives out all year, probably without a rug. This horse doesn't really need shoes.

The average horse who is hacked out during the week with maybe a few shows during the year could get away with no shoes. If left to their own devices the hooves harden up very well on most horses. There will be the initial soreness after the shoes have been taken off but after that if the horse is walked out on hard surfaces (he may be short-stepped for a while) and has all kinds of natural terrain to walk on then the sole calluses into a hard surface. It's a bit like if you walked barefoot yourself now, most people have been in shoes for most of their lives and it would be painful to step over stones etc. But, after a couple of weeks, your heels, sole and bottoms of your toes would be very tough, all except the instep where there is no ground contact. This is callusing and because of this you'd soon be walking without pain. It's exactly the same with horses hooves. There are also a vast array of hoof boots to choose from nowadays that can help either transition your horse to barefoot or to be used if doing a sport or excessive amounts of riding out.

The way to be barefoot and natural is not just about de-shoeing your horse though. The whole keeping of the horse has to be as natural as possible for the barefoot horse to work.

They must be out in good sized fields, with other horses. They need to have lots of different terrain to walk on including; rocks, grass and mud, water with sandy or stony bottoms, woodland with it's soft ground etc. The more choice they have to walk on things other than grassy fields the better. Some people can change their fields to accommodate these conditions putting rocks in fields and making water features. Most of us don't have the luxury of choice but we could probably think of certain rides we could do regularly which involve rocky countryside or pathways.

The other things that need to be done is a more natural type of grazing and all the other things that go with it. Check out the separate grazing section on the blog.

The main thing to think about here is whether or not we really need to shoe our horse. Maybe we could let the horse be barefoot during the Winter when it's not doing so much. Farrier books even advises shoes off during winter to give the hooves a rest and to regrow length away from the shoeing holes during winter but competition seems to have taken over even the horses having a winter break nowadays.

There have been studies that say that the concussion caused by riding on tarmac roads with shoes is far greater than the horse being barefoot. Consider the way the hoof works. When the weight goes down onto the hoof, the hoof spreads out to reduce concussion and the frog passively contacts the ground surface. The contact of the frog is like a second heart and causes blood to pump back up the legs and to the rest of the body. Without this working (ie when you have shoes on) the frog doesn't do it's job efficiently. It's no wonder there are so many diseases of the hoof? It also makes you think of the concussion caused by the shoes themselves when the hoof hasn't got the ability to naturally spread out, it must in itself cause lots of problems with tendons and bones. Just think about it.

The book 'Horse Owners Guide to Nature Hoof Care' by Jaime Jackson opened my eyes to a whole host of problems caused by shoeing and now all my horses go barefoot. I keep a regular eye on their hooves and sometimes I even exercise them by walking out with them and not riding all the time which keeps my weight off their feet. It's these sorts of ideas that make a difference between a happy or unhappy horse.