Differences in the husbandry and cooperative teaching of the horses at Druimghigha Stud, by comparison with conventional management, in order to provide them with a life of quality.
More details from:- Dr Marthe Kiley-Worthington, Centre for Eco Etho Research & Education,
Cranscombe Cleave, Brendon, Devon EX 35 6PU email@example.com tel: 01598 741111.
Management & Stabling. The horses are kept in mixed age and sex groups as far as possible, depending on the number of horses or liveries. They never live in a pasture of less than 1-2 acres and have had areas up to 100 to roam through.
They are rarely stabled in any season, even when in training for international events. In the winter they are given a choice to be outside in pastures and the weather, or in a straw bedded barn with forage (hay, silage and straw).
Horses may have a simple outdoor rug over the body (but not neck or ears) in winter, to help keep them warm and dry, reduce energy loss and prevent rain scour.
No bandages, hoof boots, leg protection etc. are used unless there is a serious veterinary need, and never when working, training or in competition, with the exception of leg protection when traveling.
The horse barn, to which they have free access, varies in size depending on numbers in the group, and allows at least 16 sq meters per horse. There is deep litter straw bedding to which straw is added daily, with forage feeders, and tie ups for individual feeding when necessary. It is mucked out mechanically in the spring.
Their feet are not cleaned except when exiting the barn to work. The hooves are thus always full of the earth brought in from outside. In 50 years, we have had no cases of foot rot /thrush or laminitis.
Although living in groups, every individual must learn to be relaxed about being alone in an individual stable or pasture, and consequently s/he is accustomed to this, so that “separation anxiety” does not occur.
Nutrition. They have grass and forage (hay or silage) ad libitum. When necessary for reasons of poor health, or if they have higher energy needs (running over 40k or working more than 2 hours a day), they may be given 2kg sugar beet pulp and rolled barley. Even when in training or performing in 160k races, they never have more than 3kg of hard food in 24 hours.
They are never fed any complex/manufactured foods. In the fields and barn, they have access to a self-help powdered mineral mix of 3/4 feeding lime, 1/4 sheep minerals and cod liver oil for vitamin D in winter.
Shoeing. They are shod to reduce suffering from sore feet when working hard on rough surfaces. They are only shod when they show signs of being foot sore after work and then usually only in front. Thus, they are rarely shod if not working long hours on rough surfaces or in training for less than 40k. On rides over 40k we may use pads under the shoes for competitions, depending on the going and the individual.
They are shod with natural balance shoes by our resident farrier.
Stallion management. The stallion lives with his natal group until he is pubertal, when he will live with a group of pregnant mares, youngsters or geldings. When covering mares, he always runs with them in a field; neither the mare nor the stallion is held in hand or restricted. Thus, both stallion and mare choose to have sex.
The stallion/s are rarely kept alone and must learn how and when to court mares, and to behave like any well-mannered mare or gelding when with humans. This they learn mostly by social /observational learning from the other horses and humans
In this way, the stallions (7 to date) even when 3 years old can be ridden out alone, with known or unknown mares in season or not, and can compete or dance with others without excitement and difficulty.
The raising of foals. The foals are not weaned by isolating them from their mothers or putting them in a group of the same age; instead, the mother weans them. If both are healthy when the foal is a couple of months old, and if she is not pregnant, she will be taken out of the group to work leaving the foal behind. In this way, both the foal and the mother become accustomed to being apart, with the foal always being left with the rest of his clan and aunts. Even at 3 months old, a foal can be left by his or her mother, and both mother and foal will remain relaxed for periods up to 1 hr.
The foals often accompany rides with their aunts, mothers, other relatives and dad and become accustomed to the world around them: forests, crossing rivers, negotiating steep banks, roads and some traffic, before they start being worked.
Cooperative teaching & educating equines. All the horses are quietly handled all over (including sensitive areas). This is so that if or when they need vet treatment or suckle foals, fear is reduced as it is not unfamiliar. To reduce fear and accustom them to the world, the foals and youngsters are taken out for walks, during which they are talked to and taught to do simple movements in response to words, as one does with a child (all the teaching is modeled on how gifted children are brought up). In this way, they learn to relate emotionally to the human on the ground, accept humans as part of their “social needs”, and stay with the human even when fearful.
Using positive and non-violent negative reinforcement, humans teach them to understand words and gestures, and to imitate their movements.
The youngsters’ early education is from the ground for short periods at 1-2 years old. When 2-3 years old, depending on their growth, they start working in harness or are backed for short periods. Every equine is encouraged to investigate and carefully observe every new object if s/he is fearful.
We have never used any restrictive tack or gadgets. We use a simple Phillis snaffle bridle with no noseband, no dropped nosebands, martingales, or anything else that restricts their movement. Most often we use a noseband bridle, a breast plate (to stop the saddle moving back), a numnah and any well fitted saddle, whether the horses are riding in the manege, or are out or in competition, in groups or alone. When doing draught work, we do not use blinkers.
Any physical restriction of the horse by the tack or equipment indicates their non-cooperation. Therefore, we teach them by “cooperative teaching” to enjoy their work with us… although like children, there are times when they don’t really want to do something, but have to, in order to profit themselves later. The odd thing is that every equine we have taught seems to really enjoy their lessons and want to do more with us!
The result is that, after 7 generations of establishing the “culture”, we hardly need to teach the youngsters. They learn how to behave by observing others and have strong emotional bonds with us humans, as they do with each other. We try to make being with us as much fun as being with their family.
Emotional needs of our equines are carefully considered. The challenge is to motivate them in some way, without fear or violence. Over the years, we have developed different strategies to ensure they want to do what we ask. One difficult motivational challenge occurs when on training rides for long competitions, or during the competitions themselves, or while doing dressage, where repeating the same movements is necessary and they easily bore. In this case, we change what s/he is doing, and where we do it.
Studies of communication in the group indicate that the majority of their messages are to facilitate the group to stick together, “to make love not war”, and to establish their personalities and roles. There are no “dominance hierarchies” unless equines are very restricted in terms of access to resources. Their tendency to cooperate spills over to our inter-species associations, and we learn from them.
All our equines when they come of age must work in one way or another so that we can all survive and live happily. For example, it is quicker, easier and cheaper to use horses for harrowing, garden work, collecting and overseeing the stock, and traveling around the farm. Farm work also helps get them fit and having different things to do helps their motivation… there is nothing like a 2 hour stretch of harrowing a hilly field to make them more enthusiastic about the next training ride! They all also teach humans to ride and to handle horses cooperatively.
No horse is ever asked to do more than one 160k ride a year, and if they are not motivated, they will not be asked to do more than occasionally 80k, even if they are physically fit enough.
We hope that in these ways, we can all have a life of quality together, with few behavioral or physical restraints; our horses are our family and employees, not slaves!
2023 Larikyn (Diaksik Persik line in France) x Lilka (winner of Florac 2015). 6 year old grey 15hh pure bred Arab stallion (Novice South West Endurance Champion 2022), will accept some visiting mares. (Email or phone to discuss.)
Shebang, 3 year old, (Part Bred Arab 75%) Larikyn x Druimghigha Shindi (winner of three 90k race rides in France), a chestnut 15hh gelding with beautiful movement, good conformation and delightful, companionable, talented attitude. He is backed and working gently at elementary dressage level and riding out for short rides. (Email or phone for more details.)