The Horse at Leisure
Even with impeccable stable management, horses need periods of rest from their work. This may involve letting let them out into a field for an hour every afternoon, or turning them out for days or weeks. You should never adjust a horse’s routine so that it goes immediately from strenuous, consistent work to field rest. You must ease a horse into a new role, keeping in mind that a horse needs at least one week for its digestive system and other bodily functions to adjust. Rest can do wonders for a horse. Most horses thrive when they are turned out and perform their best when they return to work after a rest period. The improvement in output may be linked to mental relaxation or because the grazing provides good natural nutrition, but the exact reason is not completely known.
Turned-out horses lie down more often than stabled horses, especially in sunny weather. Although they are so peaceful in this position that you may think they are unconscious, a sudden noise will bring them to attention, alert and aware of possible dangers. Horses are very social animals and turning out a horse can be good for fulfilling that social need. Like young horses that learn their communication skills from play, turned out horses have mock fights and seek out plenty of physical contact. If you are keeping a solitary horse, it is important to remember that horses are social animals and it will be the owner’s responsibility to provide sufficient social contact.
Horses roll for pleasure. They also roll when they have colic, or abdominal pain. If you regularly watch a horse both before and after it rolls, you will have little trouble distinguishing which type of roll it is. Rolling involves almost all of the muscles in the body, and when horses do it for pleasure, it is comparable to a human stretching. Horses also roll to rub their backs, especially in dust or sand. A horse often uses one particular spot every time. In the same fashion as dogs, a horse may turn around on the spot once or twice. A horse usually goes down front first. It may do this because it leaves the powerful hind legs ready to operate in case of danger. Usually a horse rolls until its legs are vertical in the air, then back down on the same side, repeating this motion several times. A horse gets up using its front legs first because it has priority to get its head up high so that it can see its surroundings. Finally, a horse usually shakes its body well to remove any excess dust that was picked up from the rolling.
Horses are able to sleep standing up. They can lock one or both of their stifle joints to keep themselves upright. As a horse goes to sleep, its eyes will close about halfway and the head will sink slightly. When horses are in a group, one of them usually stays awake and grazes while the others doze off in this way. Many horses will rest a hind leg; the foot will be tilted with just the toe touching the ground. This is done not to take weight off the foot, but more so to relax the stifle joint that locks when dozing. If a horse often usually rests one leg, take note if it rests a different leg as this may be an indication of pain and a potential problem.
Horses that have little stimulation get bored and may develop detrimental behaviors as a result. These are repetitive behavior patterns or movements such as weaving (swinging the head from side to side) and wind sucking (gulping in air). Some horses fix their jaws on a solid object, such as a post, and arch their necks; this is called cribbing. Most vices start in the stable, but may also be shown in the field.