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Making a Comfortable Stable: Our Top Tips

Keeping your horse happy involves far more than just caring for their basic needs, such as food and shelter. It's also important to enrich your horse's living environment. Just like people, animals need a home that's warm, comfortable and safe to make them feel content.

Improve the comfort of the stable and you will enhance the horse’s quality of life and mental well-being, as well as caring for his physical needs. While it's vital to ensure their physical health is in good shape, horses’ emotional health can have a direct effect on their behaviour.

Stable

© yaalan / Adobe Stock

Symptoms of an unhappy horse

Without happiness, a horse will suffer emotionally and physically. According to the experts, you can tell whether a horse is unhappy by looking for certain behavioural traits. If the horse's nostrils are relaxed, they will appear to be soft and round. This means the horse is relaxed too. When the horse is tense, the nostrils will appear more stretched and rigid, such as flaring his nose with a stressful snort.

The horse's lower lip will curl down slightly and look relaxed when he is happy. If the horse is feeling stressed and unhappy, the lip will look tense and tight. The jaw muscles will appear taut and tense too and you may notice the horse drooling a little.

Another giveaway is the horse's tail: a happy horse should have a relaxed tail that swishes gently back and forth. If the horse has a rigid tail or is flicking it backwards and forwards very quickly and choppily, this can signify he is stressed.

Prioritising horses' needs

Equine experts explain how horses' needs are like a "pyramid". The most basic needs are at the bottom of the pyramid - such as food and shelter - while the higher-level requirements are at the top. The basic needs must be met first and then the additional needs can be properly addressed.

Horses' behaviour is quite complex and is said to relate to their basic need to feel safe. Experts explain that as horses have developed in genetic terms over the centuries, they have always been a prey animal in the wild. This has led to their reactions to a threat, such as galloping away, rearing on their hind legs, or bolting, complete with their rider.

There's safety in numbers, as with a lot of herd animals, so it's recommended that you stable your horse in a social group, where the group members are constant, so they will feel settled. If this isn't possible, your horse will be happier if it lives as part of a pair for a feeling of mutual protection.

What is group housing?

Group housing is the ideal solution to enrich the horses' living environment. It involves keeping several horses loose inside a sheltered yard or communal barn. The space must be large enough for the number of horses it contains. Each animal needs at least twice as much floor space as it would require in a single stable.

There must be enough room for each horse to get away from the others if it needs some "breathing space". There should be enough room for the horses to eat, lie down and roll, with constant access to water and hay.

The main benefit of group housing is that it keeps the horses happy because they can fully interact with each other. It's also beneficial for the owners because it takes less time to muck out a group stable, rather than several individual stables and also saves on bedding.

It maintains the social structure of a group of horses and it often offers open access to the yard or field outside, so the horses can choose when to go out while being safely locked up at night.

Providing comfortable stables

Once you've established whether to have group housing, or individual stables, consider the products you're going to use for comfort. As well as hay, many horse-owners choose rubber stable matting for extra warmth and comfort.

Hard-wearing, waterproof and shock absorbent, it is easy to clean, while the grooved underside will help to dispel moisture and provide relief for the horses’ joints and muscles.

As well as stable mats, you can also install field or washdown mats to keep the living environment clean, comfortable and healthy.

These are great for use in stable washdown areas and heavy-duty environments, where water and dirt may create an unhygienic environment. They have drainage properties, an anti-slip finish and high-impact resistance, making them a "must" in terms of safety and comfort.

Improving an individual stable

If you're unable to introduce group housing, you can still make changes to enhance your horse's stable and encourage him to carry out the behaviour he would exhibit if living with other horses. An easy step is to scatter hay in several piles around the stable, so he can carry out natural behaviour such as "eating on the move".

You can also scatter hard feed on top of the roughage, as this takes longer to eat and will keep your horse busy. Hide treats such as apples, swedes and carrots in the hay to encourage foraging. Hang fresh vegetables and fruit at different levels from the stable's beams to make it more interesting.

Encourage self-grooming by also fixing textured mats on the stable walls that your horse will enjoy rubbing against.

If you need to keep your horse in the stable, but want him to have more fresh air, leave the door open and hook a rubber barrier across the doorway.

Making a few simple changes to your horse's living environment will make sure he is healthy and happy. For further details of purchasing high-quality rubber stable mats and partitions, contact Coruba on 01702 560194 or email info@coruba.co.uk.