Stalling/Caging Your Horse

Sometimes when we want to continue doing or believing something for whatever reason, (tradition, personal, peer pressure, etc.,) we tend to rationalize to justify the beliefs or actions of what we want to continue believing or doing.

If we didn’t, we might be forced to admit that what we are believing or doing, (in this case to an animal) might be viewed as at best unkind, and at worst, horrifically abusive.

This is partly due to the natural human tendency to resist any change in our lives. ‘Change,’ either in our thinking and beliefs or everyday lives makes us feel uncomfortable. And too, when something or someone offers facts that contradict our beliefs or actions we tend to become defensive, (sometimes even aggressively defensive). And to a point that is also human nature as it elicits ‘extinction induced fear and cognitive dissonance when those firmly held beliefs or actions are threatened as being false.

A cognitive bias is a mistake in reasoning, evaluating, remembering, or other cognitive process, often occurring as a result of holding onto one’s preferences and beliefs regardless of contrary information.

One possible way to avoid this pitfall is using something called ‘critical thinking,’ (critical analysis).

“Critical thinking is a type of critical analysis: a disciplined intellectual criticism that combines research, knowledge of historical context, and balanced judgment.”

“Critical thinking is self-guided, self-disciplined thinking which attempts to reason at the highest level of quality in a fair-minded way.”

“Critical thinking is disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence.”

To me, critical thinking means momentarily casting aside my present beliefs to ‘weigh and measure’ some different concept with an objective, open mind, (a difficult thing to do in itself).

Motivation to do so will often dictate the sources of information we use to evaluate any new concept.

Is the motivation to win the next debate or competition for purely financial gain and/or the prestige and acclamation of peer recognition?

Or is the motivation to give our horse the best possible overall well-being and way of life?

If it is the latter, than logically the sources of knowledge we use for objective evaluation of any new concept would be the credibility of empirical ethological and scientific documentation.

For ‘anyone who is an expert a hundred miles from home.’ And especially so on the Internet where the self-serving anecdotal nonsense of supposed ‘experts’ abound all too freely.

And too, we must consider the fact that anything that has been done traditionally for a long time, (and accepted by many) does not make it right or good for what is best for our horse.

So perhaps the question we must ask ourselves is ‘where do we stand’?

And what do we ask of our horse to endure while they please our needs?

Is riding/winning/being glorified and/or wealth the ‘end that justifies the means’?

Sometimes I ‘ride’ my horses, always bitless/barefoot and now and then tackless as well, (and even upon occasion backwards/bitless/tackless as I did in my youth). But if I never rode again, the fulfillment they give by allowing me to share my life with them in absolute harmony and complete acceptance more than justifies any sacrifice on my part to give them the best life I possibly can give them.

I believe it was Will Rogers who first said, “Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.”

What our Friendship Training program attempts to do is minimize that ‘bad judgment’ and thereby prevent horses from enduring the unintended consequences, innocent ‘mistakes and ‘bad judgment’ of their owners who, in all probability, love them very much. For once informed, anyone who truly loves their horse cannot help but strive to give them the best life possible.

A few empirical references:

*I have never heard of horses that are not stalled developing stereotypic behavior such as box walking, weaving, pawing/digging, cribbing, head bobbing, box/wall kicking, wind sucking and self-mutilation.

“The various common stereotypic and CD-related equine behavior problems are not
observed in feral horses or in horses that spend their entire lives living in social groups on
large pastures—this species’ natural living condition.”

“Without treatment or management, stereotypies in horses can lead to health problems, damage to the stable area and a great deal of distress for the horse’s guardian. Most equine stereotypies develop when horses are stabled.”

“The horse is a herd animal; he functions best when living with a group, with plenty of room to roam. Emotional stress of confinement and/or isolation from other horses can lead to behavioral problems like cribbing, weaving, head bobbing, stall walking, stall kicking, self-biting and other repetitive actions called stereotypies. These rhythmic actions by a confined or frustrated animal develop in response to stress (physical or psychological) with the physical stress leading to psychological stress.”

Then there is the need for social play behavior, (which is impossible in a stall). In Sue McDonnell’s book the Equid Ethogram, she writes that, “play is believed to serve a wide variety of adaptive functions, including enhancing general musculoskeletal and cardiovascular fitness, practicing and honing specific survival skills, gaining familiarity with the particular environment, or building social relationships and communication skills.”

Horses are designed to have a complex social structure in which a number of different levels of relationship are possible.

Horses are designed to undertake a number of roles in service of herd safety and management. Co-operative social function is supported and developed by such activity.

Horses are designed to spend a considerable portion of their day (up to 18 hours) in social grazing. Throughout this time period a process of social bonding and reinforcement of group cohesion is in play via continual social interaction.

Horses do not experience REM sleep except in the prone position. Social groups provide a sense of safety and one or more ‘guards’ to stand watch for predators. This facilitates REM sleep and its consequential brain maintenance/neurogenesis).

Inadequate social environments produce a number of psychological conditions which tend to disrupt ability to function in social settings and may also be detrimental in respect to social bonding and sexual partnership.

The anatomical design of the horse is million year adaptation to a free-ranging lifestyle.

‘Training’ is more often than not made more difficult when a horse is ‘stalled.’

“In recent years, new research has shown that wild/feral horses not only live longer and healthier than our domesticated horses, but also that they are not plagued by the deadly illnesses and diseases that destroy our domestic horses, especially lameness and colic (the top 2 reasons for death or euthanasia).”

*Imagine that! No ‘special feeds.’ No stalling. No blankets. No vaccinations. No ‘shoes.’
And yet they live LONGER, HEALTHIER, FUNCTIONAL LIVES than their domestic counterparts.


This is from scientists at Lincoln University and the Royal Veterinary College They conducted experiments on horses who displayed the stereotypical ‘head bobbing and weaving’ of stabled horses.

The experimental procedure involved comparing the effects of a detailed, life sized photo of a horse’s head to a pixelated version of the same image, and a blank sheet of paper the same size. They found that it is not boredom that triggers stereotypical behaviors, but in fact it is acute frustration that is the cause. Having an image of another horse lessened the feeling of frustration experienced by stabled horses, as one of the major frustrations that they experience is relative visual isolation from other horses.

“Horses kept in stalls are deprived of opportunities for social interactions, and the performance of natural behaviors is limited. Inadequate environmental conditions may compromise behavioral development. Initial training is a complex process and it is likely that the responses of horses may be affected by housing conditions.”

*Physiological damage occurs when horses are stalled.

“Joints become stiff when a horse is kept in a stall for any length of time, and it is twice as painful to start moving again when turned out. Do not confine the horse to a stall unless absolutely necessary for medical reasons.”

*And other health problems as well.

“Stall confinement alone can lead to the development of gastric ulcers.”

“Stalling horses is also a contributing factor to ulcer formation. In one study, horses brought in from pasture and stalled developed lesions in the squamous mucosa within 7 days of being stalled (Murray and Eichorn, 1996). Potentially, isolation from other horses or the disruption of continuous feeding may trigger ulcer formation.”

*This is an article by Elaine Pascoe featuring Dr. McDonnell’s “How Horses Sleep.”

*The ‘key’ here, is not only sleep, it’s the need for REM sleep, (which is only active in the prone position).
“Even though they’re able to snooze standing, horses apparently need to lie down for rest and sleep at least some of the time. In fact, scientists think horses must lie down to go into deep stages of sleep. Like humans and many other animals, horses experience both slow-wave sleep (SWS) and rapid-eye-movement (REM) deep sleep. (SWS is characterized by slow, synchronized waves of electrical activity in the brain as recorded by electroencephalography. REM sleep is characterized by jerky eye movements and rapid, disorganized brain waves.) REM sleep seems to occur mostly when the horse is stretched out flat on his side, rather than resting on his chest.

You’re probably not surprised to hear that horses sleep best when they feel safe from danger. But the factors that help them feel safe may not be what you think. When you put your horse in his stall and close the door, you know he’s protected. But he likely feels isolated and confined-and for a horse, isolation and confinement can be dangerous.”

From: Society for Neuroscience

It’ll Move You: New Research Shows That Sensory Experience Alters The Development Of Brain Areas That Control Movement
WASHINGTON, D.C. December 3 — New animal research shows that sensory deprivation not only influences the sensory brain areas, but surprisingly also stifles the development and organization of areas involved in the control of voluntary movement.
“Both circulation and digestion are improved by exercise. Horses that are left in stalls tend to become constipated, also referred to as “impacted,” and may develop mild circulation problems. Boredom accompanies lack of exercise, and stable vices and other psychological problems may arise: weaving, cribbing, wind sucking, and stall walking may all occur following long periods of confinement.”

“Stalling horses is also a contributing factor to ulcer formation. In one study, horses brought in from pasture and stalled developed lesions in the squamous mucosa within 7 days of being stalled (Murray and Eichorn, 1996). Potentially, isolation from other horses or the disruption of continuous feeding may trigger ulcer formation.”

* Living Requirements for Horses by Cheryl Sutor


Appendix I. Violations seen in equestrian sports

See items 3,4 and 5.


*This from Dr. Evelyn B. Hanggi, Equine Research Foundation:
“Confining a thinking animal in a dark, dusty stable with little or no social interaction and no mental stimulation is as harmful as providing inadequate nutrition or using abusive training methods,” says Dr Hanggi. “It is in the interest of both horses and humans to understand more fully the scope of equine thinking.”

“If the cognitive abilities of horses are misunderstood, underrated, or overrated, their treatment may also be inappropriate. Equine welfare is dependent on not only physical comfort but mental comfort as well.
“Confining a thinking animal in a dark, dusty stable with little or no social interaction and no mental stimulation is as harmful as providing inadequate nutrition or using abusive training methods.”

*This from Dr. Tomas Teskey D.V.M.

“Here’s the sobering truth: confinement, shoeing and overfeeding/underfeeding understandably can and DO cause irreparable damage to horses, especially long term damage when the animal is young and subjected to such abuses.”


*The importance of social relationships in horses / Machteld Claude van Dierendonck – [S.l.] : [s.n.], 2006 – Tekst. – Proefschrift Universiteit Utrecht

“The implications of these findings for horse husbandry were assessed. It is argued that the execution of affiliative behaviors may be rewarding in itself, and therefore always will be a highly motivated behavior. It is shown that social positive physical interactions (allogrooming, play) with other horses is an ethological need and therefore indispensable in modern husbandry systems. Ethological needs are so important for the animal that husbandry systems that lack the possibilities to execute such behaviors will cause chronic stress.”

*It does not take a 10 year study with a committee of equine scientists and professors with a team of graduate students, (nor the world’s leading equine experts) to realize that a social, active lifestyle is physically, mentally, and emotionally healthier than an isolated, sedentary lifestyle of solitary confinement for both humans or horses.

Strange that it is not acceptable to keep dogs and cats in a tiny cage twenty-three hours a day all their lives. Why is it done to horses? Because ‘that’s the way it has always been done,’ (usually due to ignorance and/or for the convenience of the human).

But that does NOT make it right or best for the horses!

Please, please consider doing what is best for your horse.

You – will – never – regret – it.

Chuck Mintzlaff & Kids
Lady, Able, Sundance & Combustion
(And Nikki, Rebel & Boss)

Friendship Training