All horses should be allowed to express their normal behaviours. A normal behaviour is the way an animal acts in their natural environment. Enough space, proper shelter and housing, as well as company of the animal’s own kind, allows and encourages the expression of normal behaviours.
Did you know that there is a special law protecting animals?
This law is called the Animal Welfare Act. The Animal Welfare Act says that your animal has five groups of welfare needs. These are five groups of things that animals need to be healthy and happy. These five welfare needs are called the Five Freedoms.
Under the Animal Welfare Act, all animal guardians (owners) need to provide these five groups of things for their animals. One of these Five Freedoms is: Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour. In this section you will learn about this freedom and how you can make sure your horses receive the exercise and enrichment they need to be free to express their normal behaviour.
One of the most important natural behaviours for a horse is being able to graze. Horses can spend up to 15 hours a day grazing, so it is obviously very important to them. If you decide to own horses, it is very important you allow them to graze. You will need to have enough space so that the horses are comfortable, do not feel confined and have enough pasture for them to graze on and keep busy. An adult will need to maintain the horse’s pasture to make sure it stays healthy and of good quality. You can read more about this in the resource on keeping horses free from hunger and thirst.
Your horse is a herbivore and has a special digestive system (discussed in the resource on keeping horses free from hunger and thirst). This means that your horse requires lots of pasture to graze on to stay healthy and fit. If your horse does not get the opportunity to graze, he/she can become depressed, ill and also develop problem behaviours. Remember, not being able to graze is not normal or natural for a horse.
Horses are naturally herded animals and are very social. This means it is normal for horses to want to be in herds (groups of horses). If you keep a horse alone, this means you are isolating your horse.
Isolation isn’t natural for horses and they should always be able to see and interact with at least one or two other horses. Horses can become panicked or depressed when they are on their own, so it is very important that they have other horses for company.
In order to make sure your horse has the freedom to express natural behaviour, you should keep your horse with at least one other compatible horse (this means that they will get on well). This will help your horse feel safe and happy.
When horses are together in groups or pairs, you will notice them interacting socially with the other horses.
Some natural social behaviours for horses in groups or pairs include:
These behaviours are all very important for your horse and they will want the company of other horses so they can participate in these natural activities.
Tethering means leaving a horse tied up to one spot for long hours at a time. Some people do this as a way to contain their horse. Horses should not be tethered as it doesn’t allow your horse to express a range of its natural behaviours and can lead to your horse being frightened, being bored and sad, getting injured or falling ill.
Horses should only ever be tethered if there is an emergency.
Instead of tethering, good quality fencing should be used. If you don’t think you can provide a horse with a paddock in which he/she can roam freely, then you should really not get a horse.
You might be a bit surprised the first time you watch your horse drop to the ground and roll over on his/her back, but this is completely normal behaviour for horses and something they love doing! You might notice beforehand that your horse is pawing at the ground, walking in circles or bending his/her knees. Then, he/she will drop to the ground, and roll on his/her back and from side to side all through the dirt! Then he/she will often get up and run around a bit. So why does your horse do this?
Horses roll for a number of reasons:
You might notice that when one of your horses starts to roll, the others will want to copy straight away. Often, horses will all use the same area to roll and the area chosen will stay the same.
Horses need lots of exercise and freedom of movement. In the wild, horses travel many kilometres a day. For this reason, you need to make sure your horse has lots of space available in his/her field or paddock to explore and to run about in if he/she feels like it.
A horse that doesn’t get much exercise is likely to become overweight, which will lead to him/her being unhealthy and unhappy! Lack of exercise can also lead to your horse developing behavioural problems. You can also give your horse extra exercise by riding him/her if your horse is OK with this and you choose to.
If you choose to ride your horse, you will need to start out very slowly to let your horse get used to the idea. You should also make sure you have all the right equipment and train your horse appropriately.
When training your horse, you should only use positive reward-based methods.
Horses have been shown to learn well using reward-based training. You should never punish your horse for not doing something or learning something fast enough. Remember this is all new to your horse and it will take some time for it to learn what you want him/her to do.