Why is movement so important?
Updated: Apr 3
It’s crucial for the health of our horses that each owner evaluates whether their equine is having their needs met in a manner that is appropriate to them as a species. Movement, along with the likes of a species appropriate diet and socialisation, falls under their most natural, basic requirements as a horse.
The type of movement I am describing is not short bursts of exercise achieved through riding or groundwork but movement achieved throughout the day, slow and consistent.
If we look at how wild horses behave and live, we know that they are herd animals that feel safety in numbers and due to the likes of forage being scarce and the threat of predators, they move upwards of 20 miles a day from resource to resource. Some owners tend to disagree with looking to wild horses for indications of how our horses should live, simply because the horses we’re learning from are wild and free-roaming and the horses standing around in our paddocks are domesticated. Regardless, there is no biological difference between the two and so we look to the behaviours, diet and environment of the wild horse because there is little to no human interference; they are simply left to behave, live and forage however their species requires it.
One way you can provide your horse with more movement is by using a track system which allows for 24/7 turnout, unrestricted movement, constant forage and herd living. At PB, our herds live on our non-grass Paddock Paradise track systems.
So, WHY is movement important?
️Horses rely on movement to keep their circulatory systems working properly, which includes both blood and lymphatic fluid circulation. Modern methods of keeping horses stabled, with limited time for free exercise and concentrated physical sessions such as riding, can lead to compromised lymphatics and any associated complications.
️To grow and maintain a healthy hoof, adequate stimulation is required daily to encourage blood flow and therefore new, healthy growth. When we deny our horses the stimulation of such a basic mechanism, we start to see hoofs getting ‘stuck’, which is where horses can go trim cycle after trim cycle with no new growth in between. This is when we start to see issues crop up with shrivelled frogs, thin soles, weak digital cushion and so on. If you’re in the position of rehabilitating a horse for a number of conditions or issues including Laminitis, then stimulation is required too.
️Just like hoof health, movement plays an essential role in joint health. When we subject our horse’s to long periods of standing still and little to no movement, we can expect to see signs of swelling, stiffness and of course, discomfort in our horses. Allowing sufficient movement builds strength, stimulates blood flow and helps with the lubrication of their joints with synovial fluid. Motion is lotion and has personally shown to drastically improve many horse’s living with varying severities of Arthritis in our care.
The mental wellbeing of our horses is an aspect of their health that often goes ignored but can be detrimental to their quality of life. Movement allows for natural enrichment through curiosity, socialising and problem-solving, allowing our horse’s to fulfil their own basic needs like grooming and playing. Horses who have had their turnout, movement and socialisation largely restricted can go ‘crazy’ in the field with buckets of pent-up energy, over-stressing compromised joints and soft tissues and causing horrific injuries, further reinforcing the idea they should be restricted for their ‘safety’. Furthermore, we see issues with aggression and anxiety related behavioural issues, all because we are restricting behaviours completely natural to their species.
Lack of movement is often responsible for sluggish digestion in our horses, which can go on to cause an array of issues such as Colic, ulcers, compactions and gas build-ups. The smooth muscle contractions of the gut are aided by movement and exercise and so when we restrict natural movement, there is a lack of stimulation for the tract.
️Maintaining a healthy weight without restricting forage (we provide netted adlib hay) can be achieved through encouraging unrestricted movement on a daily basis. Fitness levels, stamina and muscle gain are also elements that are greatly improved when frequent exercise is allowed.