Advantages and disadvantages of open stabling
More and more owners are opting for the open stabling method for housing their horses, as they strive to find a more species-appropriate way to home these active animals that are happier in herds. There are a number of reasons for this.
Balance in open stabling
A lot of this decision is down to horses feeling more natural when living in a social situation with their fellow creatures, which is made possible with open stabling. Horses form herds in which solid bonds and sympathies are built, with there being one alpha animal as the “head” of the herd. All of the other animals have a clear place in the hierarchy and this can lead to diverse social behaviour that is fascinating to watch in an open stable environment. You can watch your horses happily cuddling, romping around, playing, snapping and even heartily biting one another!
Open stables are often more robust
Many stables have poor air conditioning systems that result in warm, moist air, particularly during winter, which can cause damage to a horse’s lungs in the long run. Thanks to its thick winter coat, your horse is well-equipped for cold, windy weather and does not necessarily need its home to be warm. Even rain can be combated with the natural coat, thanks to its growth direction and water-collecting swirls. It is only when there has been, for example, continuous days of rain, that your horse will be bothered by wet conditions. A shelter with dry soil is, therefore, a must for an effective open stable.
What should an open stable look like?
As with anything, there are both more and less professional-looking open stables. Horses may end up standing in deep mud, or lower-ranking horses in the herd may be driven away from feeding areas by those higher in the hierarchy – these situations are naturally ones you should try to avoid, as they can breed disease and injury. A good open stable should be carefully thought out and responsibly managed by someone with appropriate expertise, with a suitable drainage system and with sand or similar heaped around the yard. There should also be separate feeding and resting areas, particularly if you have a large herd, so that the lower-ranked horses can still eat and rest in peace without being bullied out. The larger the herd, the more attention needs to be paid to this aspect of open stabling, as you need to ensure your weaker animals can still enjoy a stress-free existence. It is also important to regularly check for hazards, including blind spots, narrow passages and protruding screws, nails, ropes or wires. Overlooking these things can quickly lead to unpleasant injuries.
Acclimatisation and determining rank
Horses that do not know one another should not simply be thrown into open stabling together without first getting used to each other. Normally this will result in fights starting! Sometimes it may appear as though everything is going well from the word go, but looks can be deceiving, as long-established high ranking horses will not have this place amongst a new herd. Therefore, it is important to allow a herd to get to know a new member gradually, by sniffing one another over a protective fence for the first few weeks. Separating a section of the pen or paddock can be ideal for achieving this.
Time helps when getting horses used to one another. Martin Winzer, who has run a four-star open stable for the past ten years, has developed his own successful method of settling new horses in, which has already saved both him and his horses a great deal of stress. After the initial familiarisation phase over a fence, he brings the new horse together with each individual herd member in an entirely separate paddock, protecting the delicate equine legs with gaiters and remaining there himself with a whip, if needed. If any two horses get into a fight he is able to intervene and get it under control, avoiding any severe injuries. Only when the ranking order between the new and the “old” horses has been established can the latest member join the herd.
The open stabling checklist
Before deciding on open stabling, it is important to work your way through the following points:
- Is there a dry, fixed yard?
- Are all of the fences suitable?
- Are there any “blind spots” or other potentially hazardous areas?
- Are feeding and resting areas separated?
- Are you able to gradually introduce a new horse to an existing herd?
If all of these points can be answered positively then you have found yourself the perfect open stable! An effective open stable can bring great joy to your horses, who will reward you with good moods and health.