Yes, U.S. Horse-Keeping Can Really Be Different

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My three blogs about horse keeping in the United States (Nov. 12, Nov. 26 and Nov. 30) have sparked a lot of comment, and I'm glad to say most of it's been very interesting and educational. I've enjoyed my lengthy exploration of this subject, very much. Angeline74 commented: ??I think the Western states (CO, WY, NM, NV etc.) have a different perspective than you do, depending on the equine activities you participate in. It seems that we have a different outlook on horse keeping. We have a hundred horses that run on 320 acres; they are out in the elements all the time, they have run-in sheds, but they are not stalled. They have a five-acre pond, and all know how to break water in the winter. I think horses do so much better and have fewer health problems when they have access to pasture and are treated like a horse!? Angeline74, I'm afraid you have misunderstood me. We also absolutely believe that horses should live like horses as much as possible. We currently keep 19 horses (plus three miniature donkeys) on 65 acres, and only five of them don't live out 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The five that don't are stabled during the day, either because they're in serious work or they need extra feed during the day. Humans invented stables centuries ago for their own convenience, not because it was better for horses (although many of today?s horse owners think that really is the case). I certainly agree with you that horses have fewer health problems if they live outside, like horses. But Here's what's been interesting (and very disappointing) to us as We've moved forward in our business. We bought this property specifically so the horses we own and train could live all or most of their lives outside, but? numerous times We've gotten shocked by one of two complaints from potential or actual clients as the result of our belief. We've had three or four potential clients who didn't send their horses to us because they didn't want their horses to be outside at night, in the dark or in the rain (!). And We've had two clients who brought their horses here because they were having trouble with them and thought (correctly) that it would be good for them to live outside, but after they?d been here a month or two they complained that their horses were dirty (muddy or dusty, depending on the season) or had cuts or worried they were cold. So they moved them elsewhere. Maybe, wherever you are, you don't have horse owners who put these human issues upon their horses, but we have them here in California and did also in Virginia. About a week before Christmas I got a phone message from reader Kathy Ashford, in Orange County, Calif., who wanted to talk to me after reading these blogs. I got a chance to call her back a few days after Christmas, and I had a lovely chat with Kathy and her husband, Walt. They do combined driving with their two 14.2-hand Shetland ponies. Kathy and Walt live in a horse-friendly development in the city of Orange, a bit southwest of Los Angeles. They live on two acres and have a three-stall barn. Walt calls it a ?California barn,? as it's really a shed with three large stalls made of pipe corrals and plywood underneath it. The ponies share the property with a retired Standardbred, and they have a half-acre paddock, ?which we keep in grass on at great expense,? Walt told me. They also get to use two paddocks on their neighbor?s property, which has a four-stall barn and two paddocks, but no horses. The Ashfords live one kilometer (.62 miles) from a county multi-use park, and that's where Walt does most of the driving with his two ponies. He said he can drive them through a six-mile loop, encountering hikers, bicyclers and other riders, depending on the time of day. it's a horse-friendly neighborhood in suburban Los Angeles. Their neighbor on the other side has a three-stall barn and four acres, and the owners are interested in keeping horses, so they let two women board four or five horses there. But across the street are tract houses without acreage to keep horses. Down the street, there are 44 condominiums on 22 acres, but an amenity for those condo owners is a 20-plus-stall barn, with a ring, where they can keep horses. No services come with that barn, though, just the space. it's up to the horses? owners to feed and care for them. In October I visited the Flintridge Equestrian Center, on the northwest side of Los Angeles, to give a speech for the Equine Land Conservation Resource. The center is about 50 acres, with more than 100 horses, and it hosts numerous hunter/jumper and dressage shows (and even several horse trials and combined tests) each year. it's just a short hack to the border of a state park of several thousand acres, but the people I talked with said few boarders take advantage of that. The town of La Canada-Flintridge has built up almost completely around the equestrian center over the last 40 years, with an interstate highway only about half a mile away. The compressed bustle of Flintridge was a foreign feeling to me, and it seemed a tad ironic that I was talking about equine land conservation there. But there are lots of lovely rings and jumps (cross-country jumps too) with an old and beautiful clubhouse, the stable management looked top-notch, and they horses looked happy and healthy. The horses and their riders certainly felt comfortable in that environment. Kathy and Walt have traveled a large part of the country to participate in and watch combined driving competitions, and we had a good time seeing if we had mutual friends. (We did have a few.) I restated to them how surprised I've been by the absolute and relative number or Americans who keep their horses at home, and we decided that it was sort of a ?red-state, blue-state thing,? in a non-political way. We decided that more people on the coasts keep their horses in a wide range of boarding/training facilities and more people in the central states (and central California too) keep their horses at home. it's almost entirely a matter of land prices. You can buy five acres in Iowa or Nebraska for far less than you can buy a condo or a suburban house in New Jersey, Dade County in Florida, outside Boston or Baltimore, or here in Sonoma County in California. Simply stated, there are places where average Americans can afford to keep horses at home and places where they simply can't. Yet, even in some of those places, people figure out a way to get around the usual rules of horse keeping. Kathy and Walt reminded me that in Burbank, Calif., near the huge Los Angeles Equestrian Center, you'll find dozens of houses (on less than an acre) with horses standing in covered pipe corrals literally in the backyard, a stone?s through from the thousands of acres where they can ride in Griffith Park. These people keep these horses to go trail riding there. As I said in one of my earlier blogs, what this little adventure has taught me is that there is no one way to keep a horse in these United States. We're very good at making use of the advantages and minimizing the disadvantages of just about any situation to turn it into a way we can keep our horses.