The Equicentral System Series

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Horse Ownership Responsible Sustainable Ethical

Healthy Land, Healthy Pasture, Healthy Horses

Horse Property Planning and Development

Other books by Equiculture

Buying a Horse Property

A Horse is a Horse - of Course

Horse Properties - A management guide

The Horse Riders Mechanic Series

Horse Rider’s Mechanic Workbook 1: Your Position

Horse Rider’s Mechanic Workbook 2: Your Balance

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Horse Ownership Responsible Sustainable Ethical

The Equicentral System Series Book 1


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Horse Ownership Responsible Sustainable Ethical

Chapter 1: Introduction

With horse ownership comes great responsibility, we have a responsibility to manage our horses to the best of our ability and to do this sustainably and ethically.

The development of horsekeeping practices has progressed in a very ad-hoc but human focused fashion ever since horse domestication began several thousand years ago. It is not surprising that horsekeeping practices developed in this way; throughout history, horses have been kept as a resource or as a tool, be it for war, agriculture, general transport and as a leisure activity for the wealthy.

Very little thought has been put into how this affects the way we manage the modern domestic horse. For example, the workload for the horse has reduced dramatically; horses are now being confined in increasingly smaller areas as pressure for space grows. They are often fed on feeds that are nutritionally unsuitable for their workload, and increasing awareness in issues such as equine health and welfare, combined with growing concern for ‘The Environment’ has led to questions being asked about how and why we keep equines the way we do.

Throughout history horses have been kept as a resource or as a tool, be it for war, agriculture or general transport.


It is only in the past few decades that rapid change has come about, not only in the role of the horse, but also in the socio-economic makeup of horse owners. Horses, certainly in the western world, are now used primarily for leisure activities and are owned by people from a huge variety of backgrounds. There are now many new challenges facing contemporary horse owners.

The modern domestic horse is much more likely to be kept for leisure purposes than for work. This can have huge implications on the health and well-being of our horses and create heavy demands on our time and resources. We need to rethink how we keep horses today, rather than carry on doing things traditionally simply because that is ‘how it has always been done’.

It is clear that something has to change, traditional management systems do not fit into the needs and expectations of modern horsekeeping. We need to ensure that the physiological and behavioural needs of horses are met without compromising the environment and our own lifestyle. This means looking at how and why we keep horses the way we do and acknowledging that there might be a better way; a way that takes care of their needs, takes care of the environment and saves us time, money and energy - all at the same time - a true win-win situation all round.

We need to ensure that their needs are met without compromising the environment and our own lifestyle.


Forward thinking horse owners are beginning to look for alternatives. This book looks at some of the issues facing contemporary horsekeepers and the equine community as a whole. It offers solutions, culminating in a total management system designed to address the issues of keeping horses in the 21st century. This is called The Equicentral System.

We have been educating horse owners around the world about this sustainable system of management for many years now, to great effect. This system integrates natural horse behaviour and good land/environmental management and also helps humans through reduced workloads and costs.

Chapter 2: How ‘traditional’ practices developed

In the last few thousand years of human civilization, horsekeeping has been an integral part of everyday life for many cultures around the world (opinions vary as to exactly how long, but it is thought to be around 5000 years). Indeed, many civilizations were said to have been built from the back of a horse.

Initially, horses were purely an animal to hunt and eat along with other grazing herbivores. At different times in history, many cultures on various continents transitioned to capturing and keeping horses (domesticating them). This was done initially for their meat, skins etc. but then over time, developed to using them as work animals.

Many cultures transitioned to using horses for work instead of or as well as for their meat, skins etc.


Many cultures that first domesticated horses were actually nomadic people, and so the horse became part of this nomadic lifestyle. As these people began to settle and develop agriculture, so too horses began to be more confined, so that humans had more control of them and could access them easily as and when needed. Initially this was done by keeping horses in large ‘corrals’.

In cultures that developed farming and remained static, this meant that horses then had to be fed and cared for. At the same time, the manure and urine that these confined horses produced was seen as a valuable fertiliser with which to grow crops. This mirrors the keeping of other farm animals which were also seen as valuable producers of fertiliser, as well as the more obvious producers of meat/wool etc.

As people began to settle and develop agriculture, so too horses began to be more confined.


Horses have been kept in captivity for many centuries now, but the greatest influence on how we keep them in the present day came about in the last few hundred years. Stables, although having existed for many centuries, did not become commonplace until around the 16th century with the advent of urbanisation. As urbanisation developed and huge numbers of people migrated to city living, huge numbers of horses were also moved to the cities

Stables were a means of keeping horses near to humans so that the horse could be put to work quickly and easily. Indeed, in the rapidly growing cities, areas to turn horses out to pasture were rare.

In those days, horses were the equivalent of the cars, trucks, trains and buses in use today. ‘Horse power’ was the main form of power before the combustion engine. Therefore in most cases, even though horses were often fully stabled with no access to pasture, they worked many hours a day (often 12 or more). Their stable was a necessary place to rest, recuperate and eat concentrate feed so that they were able and ready to work again the next day.

So, at this time in history, horses existed in various settings; as wild animals (which were still hunted by humans and other predators), as rural work animals (predominantly on farms), as city-living work animals (doing a huge variety of jobs that have now been largely superseded by machinery). A number of horses were kept for pleasure, mainly for riding in hunts by the wealthy (aristocracy), but most horses were simply work animals.

The aristocracy were able to employ teams of people (grooms) whose sole responsibility was to ensure that the horses were ready and available for the ‘master’ or ‘mistress’ to use at a moment’s notice.

Stables were ‘space efficient’, whether it be in overcrowded cities, on valuable agricultural land or in military camps.


Running parallel with horses being kept as work animals, horses were an integral part of warfare and the military, in fact horses, along with other equines, have always been important for warfare and the world would be a very different place today without them.

The intricate stable management practices that are often still taught today (mainly in Europe) have foundations based on a military system of horsekeeping; they are labour intensive and time consuming. This was not a problem for the army of yesteryear when each recruit usually had just one horse to take care of and the routine and hard work involved was a useful way of instilling discipline and simultaneously taking up the time of these young men.

Military horses were kept both in mobile management systems and permanent management systems, with the mobile management systems generally being used when the army was ‘in the field’ on campaign.

Running parallel with horses being kept as domestic work animals, horses were an integral part of warfare and the military.


Horses were at the forefront of the Agricultural Revolution (mid 1700’s). The Agricultural Revolution was the predecessor to the Industrial Revolution (1800’s) and was a time of major development in farm machinery (most of it horse drawn). By the end of these periods in history these horse management practices had become entrenched in western culture.

Horses that were used for agriculture were often kept in a more simplistic and efficient manner. A farm horse would be at pasture when pasture was available and would be brought into buildings such as barns and fed hay and grains only when necessary. As their time and resources were usually limited, a farmer had to keep their horses in the most efficient way possible; the horses were part of an integrated management system within the farm. However, as farming techniques progressed and the pressure to glean as much as possible from the land increased, there was usually increased pressure to house working farm horses in as small an area as possible in order to maximise the productive space on the land. This resulted in some working farm horses being stabled for at least part of each year. By-products of cereal production such as straw (for feed and bedding) were used to aid this process.

Stables also evolved to provide a relatively warm and sheltered environment for humans to work in while taking care of horses.

Certain styles of stable buildings allow people to handle and care for horses in relative comfort, whilst also protecting them from the elements. ‘Barn style’ stables are a good example of this, with a central aisle between two enclosed rows of stables and large doors at either end of the building. These large doors can then be opened in warmer weather and closed in colder weather. The horses can usually put their head directly outside for fresh air in better versions of this style of stable building. This style of stable building evolved in parts of the world where the winters are extremely cold (northern Europe i.e. Scandinavia).

Stables also evolved to provide a relatively warm and sheltered environment for humans to work in while taking care of horses.


Over time the ‘industry standard’ for stable size has become 12ft x 12ft (approximately 3.6m x 3.6m) and this tends to apply whatever the size of the horse. This is a very small area and would not be acceptable for animals that are more often on public display (such as zoo animals). Some horses spend many hours, or even all of their time, in this confined area, so it is not surprising that they can develop abnormal behaviours as a result.

The ‘industry standard’ for stable size tends to apply whatever the size of the horse.


It is only very recently, and mainly in the Western world, that horses have become predominantly a leisure ‘accoutrement’ rather than a work animal. This change has become even more pronounced during the last 30 to 40 years and the current situation is that horses now rarely ‘work for a living’.

As already mentioned, many of the traditional horsekeeping practices still in use today have developed from practices used hundreds of years ago, long before the first Cruelty to Animals Act of 1876 (in the UK). Traditional management systems were human focused by necessity and did not take the horses’ needs into consideration. They were developed in a time before animal welfare was a concept; unsurprising, as this is a relatively new ideology.

Since the legislation was first introduced, many of the animal welfare issues, (including those relating to horses) have been addressed, however there are many more which still need to be examined. As public awareness grows, so we as horse owners need to be proactive in addressing some of these issues.

Animal welfare is a relatively new ideology.


We now have many practices that are both more convenient for humans and have been anthropomorphised (which is to ascribe human form or attributes to something), with owners often assuming that their horse’s needs are similar to their own.

For example, a horse owner commonly thinks that a ‘cosy’ stable, warm rugs, meals of high energy feed etc. constitute good horse welfare, because that is what they would want for themselves. They tend to not take the horse’s natural behaviour and needs into consideration.

Because humans sometimes find it difficult to see the needs of animals as being different from human needs, they readily fall into the trap of allowing themselves to believe that their horse chooses to live more like a human than a horse.

Horse owners commonly think that a cosy stable, warm rugs, meals of high energy feed etc. constitute good horse welfare.


This is why it is so important that horse owners have a good understanding of what natural/normal horse behaviour is and try to apply as much of that knowledge as possible to the way that they manage their horse/s.


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Horse Ownership Responsible Sustainable Ethical


With horse ownership come great responsibility; we have a responsibility to manage our horses to the best of our ability and to do this sustainably and ethically.

  Horse keeping has changed dramatically in the last 30 to 40 years and there are many new challenges facing contemporary horse owners. The modern domestic horse is now much more likely to be kept for leisure purposes than for work…

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Contents - HORSE

Chapter 1: Introduction

Chapter 2: How ‘traditional’ practices developed

Chapter 3: Issues for modern horse owners

Horse health and welfare concerns

Management regimes

Information accessibility

Exercise issues

Human factors

Time management

Money management

Powerful marketing pressure

Peer pressure

Safety concerns

Horse over population issues

High number of horses

Overstocking

Over breeding

Human hoarding behaviour

High turnover of horses

Land issues

Environmental issues

Lack of land availability

Lack of land management skills

Incorrect mind-set/beliefs

Public perception concerns

Manure management issues

The way forward

Sustainable horsekeeping

Chapter 4: Horse behaviour, welfare and lifestyle

Naturally-living v domestic-living horses

Herd/band life differences

Group decisions and choice differences

Companionship differences

Stereotypic behaviour differences

Reproduction differences

Weaning differences

Alert behaviour differences

Diet/nutrition differences

Weight gain and weight loss cycle differences

Movement differences

Hoof wear differences

Temperature/weather differences

Life span differences

Aggressive behaviour differences

Parasite management differences

The herd behaviour of horses

Using their senses

Communication

Safety in numbers

Daily ‘time-budgets’

The grazing behaviour of horses

Horses are not ruminants

The importance of fibre to horses

Food selection in horses

Selective grazing habits of horses

Chewing behaviour of horses

Head position while grazing

Walking while grazing

‘Overeating’ in horses

The pastured behaviour of domestic horses

The ‘standing around’ behaviour of domestic horses

The ‘gateway behaviour’ of domestic horses

The ‘tracking behaviour’ of domestic horses

The active behaviour of domestic horses

The ‘dunging behaviour’ of domestic horses

Recognising stress in domestic horses

Abnormal horse behaviour

Common physiological disorders in horses

Why horses need other horses

Reasons for separating horses

Enrichment for domestic horses

Anthropomorphising

The Five Freedoms

The Three F’s

Chapter 5: Pasture/grazing management

Pasture plants and grazing animals

Biodiversity and horses

Grazing systems

Set-stocking

Rotational grazing

Limited grazing

Strip grazing

Cross-grazing

Basic pasture maintenance

Putting it all together

Chapter 6: The Equicentral System

How The Equicentral System works

The Equicentral System benefits

Horse health/welfare benefits

Time saving benefits

Cost saving benefits

Safety benefits

Land/environmental management benefits

Public perception benefits

Manure and parasitic worm management benefits

Implementing The Equicentral System

On your own land

On small areas of land

On large areas of land

In different climates

Using existing facilities

On land that you lease

On a livery yard

With single horses in ‘private paddocks’

Starting from scratch

Minimising laneways

Temporary laneways

Constructing a holding area

Constructing a shade/shelter

Fencing considerations

Management solutions

Feeding confined horses

Changing a horse/s to ‘ad-lib’ feeding

Ideas for extra exercise

Introducing horses to herd living

The Equicentral System - in conclusion

Further reading - A full list of our books

Recommended websites and books

Bibliography of scientific papers

Final thoughts


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Hi there, we now have a brand new website - can you please go to www.equiculture.net - where you will receive - COMPLETELY FREE the 3 part  (¾ hour) video series called Horse Grazing Characteristics. Next we are working on some free stuff for Horse Rider’s Mechanic too - so don’t miss out! Join our new mailing on the new site to keep in touch - see you there.