A Normal Horse
Imagine, for a moment, you are a horse. You were born to move about freely with your herd members, your family. You nibble grass here and there throughout the day, drink cool water when you need to and keep your muscles toned with daily sessions of horseplay.
Now imagine one day a person comes along and takes you to a small dark stall. And leaves you there. Day and night...for years! You can’t move around much. You can only eat when the person remembers to bring you food. The water may or may not be clean. You can’t see any of your friends in the field.
You are completely alone.
Why? Why would you be imprisoned twenty-four hours a day for years?
Because you are a stallion.
A spirited stallion can be hard to handle. A stallion may act aggressively toward other horses. A stallion may damage fences in an effort to visit with nearby mares. A stallion may produce unplanned foals. Some stallions’ owners feel the solution to these potential problems is to permanently confine a stallion to a stall.
Unbelievable? Not to Bob. That was Bob’s life. The ten-year-old Percheron spent four years in a stall, day in, day out, seven days a week. To make his confinement even worse, an electrified wire stretched across the front of his enclosure, making it difficult to get a drink of water without receiving a shock.
His diet consisted solely of whole corn, hardly a balanced ration for a horse. From the appearance of his feet, it had probably also been years since Bob had been seen by a farrier. His hooves were so overgrown they would barely clear the ground when he walked, even though he laboriously lifted each foot as high as he could. His muscles and tendons had changed to accommodate this deformed gait. The length of Bob’s hooves also made it nearly impossible for him to lay down to rest since he could not pull his feet up under him. Lack of exercise and inadequate nutrition left him thin and weak as he tried to lift his dinnerplate-sized feet.
Bob was freed from his prison when a concerned person got involved. He arrived at ERL in November 1998, several hundred pounds underweight. The bottoms of his feet measured an outrageous nine inches across!
There are many factors of confinement that can lead to illness. Lack of ventilation and breathing dust and mold from old bedding often lead to respiratory disorders. Standing in wet or dirty bedding can cause thrush or other foot infections. A continuously confined horse may be prone to colic which, in some cases, can be fatal. No opportunity to exercise also causes muscle atrophy and joint stiffness.
In addition to physical consequences, long-term confinement can lead to emotional unsoundness. Horses, like people, can suffer boredom and depression, and many “stable vices” - such as cribbing or kicking walls are the result of a horse trying to find some amusement. Another emotional effect may be a plain bad temper, making an isolated horse generally hard to handle. Over all, continual confinement of a horse...a herd animal...is both unnatural and unhealthy.
But Bob was lucky. He seems to have no permanent side-effects of his four-year ordeal. He has shown no sign of bad temper or distrust toward people, and amazingly, has developed no stable vices.
Though it will be a while before his feet are “normal,” Bob’s hooves have been trimmed and he can finally trot (beautifully!) across the arena. He enjoys lying down to sleep in a well-bedded stall, though he doesn’t spend any more time indoors than necessary. Now that he is getting daily exercise and a balanced diet, the outlines of muscles are beginning to fill in the hollow areas of Bob’s chest, back and legs.
And...Bob has been gelded.
Once gelded, and given time for the hormones in his system to decrease, there
is no reason a horse cannot be turned out with companions. No unwanted
breedings. Less likelihood of aggressive behavior toward other horses.
No confinement-induced illnesses, lameness and vices. All of the problems Bob’s
misinformed owner tried to remedy with isolation could have been solved with
this quick and relatively inexpensive procedure.
Bob was introduced to Jean-Claude, a three year-old Belgian gelding, and for
the first time in at least four years, Bob was a herd member.
A normal horse at last.
(Bob has since been adopted and is living happy with his own family!)