In every season, it is essential that horses not only have sufficient free exercise every day, but also always have the opportunity for social interaction. The principle here is: Think like a horse, not for a horse.

In its natural habitat, a horse travels many kilometres every day in a herd in search of sufficient food and drinking water. Our domesticated horses have a very different life: they do not have to worry about being hunted on by a hungry wolf, they usually have good shelter from inclement weather and easy access to food every day. The downside is that they are also dependent on us as horse owners for exercise and social contact. And so it is up to us to ensure that we meet their essential needs.

Physical and mental well-being
From a horse welfare point of view, too little exercise and too little social contact are relatively often a problem, which is of course undesirable. Dr. Machteld van Dierendonck knows just how essential social interaction is for a horse. For the last 15-20 years she has been working as a behavioral biologist/clinical animal behaviourist and animal welfare specialist at the Veterinary Faculties of Utrecht, Gent and Antwerpen. Since 1992, she has been treating horses with behavioral problems, working from scientific research based on fundamental knowledge about the interaction between brain, stress and behavior and the consequences for behavior and well-being. "A horse must be able to move freely on a daily basis and have 24/7, at least visual, contact with conspecifics, to ensure that he remains physically and mentally sound. Horses are 'made' to eat all day long - they don't have a gall bladder, so they need to be able to eat semi-permanently - to move around and feel safe through social presence of other horses."

Next week you'll read more about the biological necessity of exercise and what problems the lack of exercise and social contact can cause.

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The KWPN (Studbook of the Royal Dutch Sport Horse) is a Netherlands-based organization specializing in the breeding of jumpers, dressage horses, harness horses, and Gelder horses.

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