Horses are designed to roam in open spaces, and when they are forced into a stall, it goes against their natural instinct. This often leads to negative behavior such as weaving and other stable vices.
If your mare is herd bound, work her close to her buddies and try to get her outside of the stall during training sessions. This will help her to calm down and not be as stressed.
1. They’re confined
Horses are designed for movement, and that includes social interaction with other horses. Stalls restrict that natural instinct to a great degree. Horses are also prone to colic, especially impaction colic, when confined for long periods of time without sufficient exercise and free choice food.
Stalls can also create other health and behavior problems. For example, cribbing and weaving are common stall behaviors that portable horse stalls in to relieve stress. These are signs of distress that are often downplayed and ignored, but they can be serious in terms of your horse’s comfort and safety.
Studies have shown that horses confined to small, individual box stalls for lengthy periods of time show elevated stress levels. This can manifest in a variety of ways, from increased eye temperatures to heightened adrenaline activity (reflected by high fecal corticosterone metabolite levels), all of which are detrimental to your horse’s physical and mental health.
To reduce stress, stalls should be large and open with plenty of windows that allow sunlight and air flow into each stall. The floor of the stall should be made of a material that is easy to clean and allows water to drain well. It should also be deep enough to keep your horse comfortable, and a layer of gravel four to five inches deep will allow excess moisture to evaporate.
2. They’re cold
Horses in the wild roam in large open areas, with plenty of room to run from predators. That’s how they’ve evolved to survive, and putting them in a small enclosure where they can’t move or escape is a big stressor.
In addition, horses in stalls go 22 hours a day without food. That’s a huge amount of time to go hungry and without anything to do with their energy other than standing in their stall. That’s a recipe for behavioral issues, colic and ulcers.
Stalls are often cold, especially in barns that aren’t well-insulated or equipped with good ventilation. This causes the horse to lick its hooves, which can lead to thrush, a painful infection in which bacteria collects under the soft sole of the hoof. Moreover, the constant contact with manure and urine creates ammonia fumes that irritate a horse’s respiratory system.
Ultimately, the human goal should be to enrich a horse’s life with plenty of exercise and outdoor space, so that it can live as healthily and naturally as possible. Sadly, for many horses in modern horse care, that isn’t possible. But if owners are aware of the problems that can occur due to stall confinement, they can begin to change that reality for their horses. Adding forage to the diet, riding regularly and providing pasture turnout are all important steps in that direction.
3. They’re lonely
Horses do not like stalls because they are not used to being separated from the herd. Unless a horse is injured or sick, there is no reason to keep him in a stall for an extended period of time. Horses need to have herd contact and movement on a daily basis. Stabling a horse is depriving him of this instinctive need, which can lead to stress, depression and even behavioral issues.
For instance, a horse that constantly paces back and forth in its stall is an indicator of loneliness. This is not only bad for a horse’s mental health but it can also cause physical problems, such as foot and joint injuries from the repetitive movements.
When a horse is feeling lonely in his stall, he will often call out. This call is not a typical neigh or whinnie; it is much more sharp, urgent and excessively repeated. It is a cry for help and a plea for friendship.
If you notice your horse calling out frequently, you can try to comfort him by giving him attention and treats inside his stall. You may also want to try moving him around the barn to encourage herd contact and movement. If he is a herd-bound horse, you can lunge him or ride him to get him away from the barn.
4. They’re dirty
A horse’s body is designed for movement and his cardiac health literally depends on contracting tendons to help move blood back to the heart. When a horse is confined to a stall for a significant part of his day, this can cause muscles to atrophy and joints to become stiff and painful. Movement also helps a horse’s respiratory system remain healthy.
Moreover, a dirty stall is a breeding ground for bacteria that can cause hoof problems like thrush. Breathing ammonia from urine-saturated bedding can be harmful to a horse’s lungs and overall health. It’s essential that a stall be cleaned consistently throughout the day – and this becomes even more important for horses that are stalled for long periods of time (e.g. racetrack horses).
Stalls do have their uses, though. They can be useful for training, travel, and when a horse is recovering from injury or surgery. However, if you are choosing to stall your horse, you should make sure that the stall is clean and has a drainage-friendly base that allows for moisture to escape.
This will prevent hock sores and foot ankle abrasions, as well as the buildup of urine-saturated bedding that can lead to other serious health issues. It will also keep your horse from developing “stall weaving” behaviors, which are indicative of boredom and anxiety.