I have a dilemma—I am not sure if I should get a stall for my horse for the winter. Right now my horse, Jubilee, a three-year-old sport horse appaloosa/warmblood, and two other horses are currently outside 24/7. There is another older horse that joins them outside from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. then goes back to his stall. If I want Jubilee to have a stall she needs to have his routine. She can’t just go into the barn when it is bad weather. The ideal situation.
I can easily argue that Jubliee is in one of the nicest facilities in Santa Barbara County. She has an irrigated pasture and a beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean. For California standards she is in horse (and people) heaven. Most of the horses here are in small 12 x 24 pipe corrals that I feel are prisons for horses. Horses may be domesticated animals but their bodies are designed to roam with a herd more than 20 miles a day. The solitary confinement that is so “normal” here in Southern California makes me gasp for air and squint my eyes every time I see it. For anyone with an empathic eye, those horses’ pain and depression are clearly evident. The horses at Jubilee facility are not in this much pain.
I am worried about the winter. Jubilee’s pasture does not have a manmade shelter nor does it have any trees or valleys for windbreak cover. The thought of my three-year-old athletic horse being inside a stall more than she will be outside hanging out bothers me. Both options are unnatural situations.
When I discuss my dilemma with my friends I hear two arguments. “They are wild animals she will be fine” is one.
“But in the wild,” I say, “She would be able to go into a grove of trees or down into a valley to get out of the weather. She would not be on the top of a hill overlooking the ocean with no wind break.”
“Don’t worry,” they reply. “Get her a good blanket and she will turn her butt to the wind.”
Then there is the other school of thought. “It is good for her to be inside for so many hours. Her training will come along faster. She will connect more to you than the herd.” For some reason this makes me sad. I feel like she is doing well already. She is not herd bound. She comes when it is time to go get her.
“This barn life is the way horses live. This is a good life for them.” The horses this person is talking about get four hours outside on pasture everyday. But alone. They do not have other horses to keep them company, play with, or snuggle with. These horses have a far better life than most, I agree. But I still think to myself, “No, maybe it is the good life for us. We have these horses that are bonded to us out of default because they do not have a herd of their own. We keep them looking pristine not knowing that we are taking away who they are. We trim the hair from their ears, the hair that tells them which way the wind is blowing. We cut their whiskers to make them look neat and orderly but these whiskers are connected to pathways in their brain. It is actually painful to cut them; they use their whiskers for sensory. Telling them what is desirable and what they should stay away from. The whiskers protect their muzzle and help them to eat.
I want Jubilee to be a horse and live as naturally as possible. I want to ride her and have fun with her but I don’t want to take away any of her enjoyment in order to do so. So what do I do?
I ask Jubilee, “What do you think I should do?”
Jubilee: “When I am in a stall I kind of like it cause I get to see everything that is happening. I get to talk to the other horses about being ridden and sometimes I roll and the bedding is really comfortable. When it is foggy out I don’t really like to get too wet. Some of the horses don’t mind but when I am lying on the hard ground and I am getting wet I miss the run in shed I used to have in Oregon. In Oregon, I was really lucky cause I could go and hang out with my friends and then I had this run in shed I could go in and get water and food. I slept in there, too. I used it a lot when it was windy. When it is windy and I was outside I got dirt in my eyes and I don’t like dirt in my eyes. I like being in a shed.”
Laura: “Jubilee, do you understand that if I get you a stall you will have to be in the stall more than you can be outside? So all night long every night you will be inside and also in the afternoon you will have be in a stall, too. It’s a lot more in the stall.”
Jubilee: “If I don’t like it can I change? Like maybe we could try it. I like moving around a lot cause I get anxious. I like the evenings outside but when it is sleeping time, sometimes I feel too vulnerable cause there is no shelter to feel like you are safe and to feel like a predator wont sneak up on you. When I had my run in shed I felt safe.”
Laura: “Jubilee, what kind of predators are you worried about?”
Jubilee: “I am worried about mountain lions, a pack of coyotes or dogs, or man horse stealers.”
Laura: “Jubilee, we may have those things in our area but I feel very confident that would not happen to you.”
Jubilee: “I have seen a mountain lion here. He was looking at us and he walked all the way to the donkey and she made so much noise he thought maybe he should keep walking. But I saw him.”
Laura: “Wow, I didn’t know that….Jubilee, the last time we spoke you were firm about staying outside every night unless it was bad weather. It sounds like you have changed your mind. What happened? Did you talk to the other horses about this?”
Jubilee: “Yeah, I did talk to the other horses and they said that we need shelter out here and if I had a chance to go inside I should.”
Laura: “But the gelding you are out with I know hates going inside. Did he say this to you?”
Jubilee: “Yeah, he said he had a bad experience inside getting hung up and he said that is why he doesn’t like it because every time he is inside he gets anxiety. I said I had that experience but I fixed myself. I don’t get anxiety. And the other horses say sometimes they are chilly and they would rather not wear a blanket and be inside than wear a blanket.”
Laura: “But Jubilee, the mare you are out with doesn’t wear a blanket and doesn’t go inside.”
Jubilee: “Mom, I am talking to all the horses not just the horses in my pasture. Mom, lets try it. If I hate it, say you wont do it anymore. Mom, I will still have my herd during the day. I want to learn how to be a stable horse so when we go to shows and I don’t have pasture I can know it well. Like sometimes I wonder if I am gong to be a famous horse.”
Laura: “Why do you think you will be a famous horse?”
Jubilee: “Because you tell me how special I am and that makes me feel like I am someone who is going to do something great. I love to work and I love to get better at what I am doing. So I bet a lot of people will like to watch me.”
Laura: “Well, Jubilee, I do hope that we are advocates for horses and we help make other horses lives better.”
Jubilee: “I am learning about what is fair and unfair to horses. I’ll talk to a lot of horses and then tell you about it so that you can help them, okay?”
Laura: “That sounds great, Jubilee.”
Well it seems now I know what I am going to do. Come November, Jubilee will have a stall. We will keep you all posted.