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Natural Horse Boarding: Living on the track

October 17, 2013

About 7 years ago, I found Jaime Jackson’s Paddock Paradise book about natural boarding. This was just a short time after I began to discover the magical wellness of barefoot horses. I immediately embraced the concept and decided to implement my own “track system”, where horses would never be kept in stalls or runs and would be free to move 24 hours a day. What a fabulous success it has been!

Horses coming in for the daily grain feeding.

Horses coming in for the daily grain feeding.

The key to healthy and happy horses is MOVEMENT!  The track sets up an environment where horses are virtually always on the move. To accomplish this, the track covers about 6500′ of hard, compacted dirt. There is little to no vegetation growing on the track itself. Water is kept only at the barn, in one corner of the system. Hay is fed all along the track in slow feeders and available 24 hours per day.Horses move from feeder to feeder, then meander all the way back for water several times per day. Additionally, grain is fed once per day. Horses are called in for their grain, some happily cantering in, some slowly making their way to the barn at “dinner time”. Once they are done with their grain, they make their way back to the hay feeder of their choosing.

Lots of hoof prints in the snow as horses make their way around the track.

Lots of hoof prints in the snow as horses make their way around the track.

Based on what I observe with their behavior, I imagine each horse covers 5-10 miles per day. The track has water to cross, rocks to step on, and rolling hills to climb up and down. They stay strong, fairly fit and their hooves are amazing. They are growing thicker hoof walls, stronger soles and bigger, healthier frogs. I am able to grab my endurance horse off the track with very little conditioning and race a strong 25 mile race.

Additionally, in the 7 years I’ve kept horses this way, I have not had one single colic. Horses are calmer as they are able to take a run whenever they need it. They tend to move in the natural way of low poll, at or even below the withers. Their backs are strong and healthy. I have fewer injuries, joint issues, no ulcers, no vices… the need for a vet to come onsite has decreased dramatically.

They interact with each other and play, they spur each other into sessions of cantering at times to keep things interesting for themselves. Their social needs are met and all the movement seems to enable a calm and peaceful existence.

A few times a week, I’ll give the horses access to the grass in the middle of the track system for a day. They enjoy the grazing and I get a small break in my hay costs. The track means I’ve always got grass for grazing, another benefit for property management.

Grain from mesh bags so that every horse gets their specific rations and no grain ends up wasted.

Grain from mesh bags so that every horse gets their specific rations and no grain ends up wasted.

The track system has allowed my horses to live in a way that more aligns with how they are designed to live. They cover lots of ground, eat as they need to and don’t have empty bellies. I provide lots of different types of forage and feed to help ensure all their nutritional needs are met. They are simply healthier and happier, and I am able to maintain pastures they can graze.

I truly hope this type of horse-keeping will become more mainstream. I always have a waiting list and the news of natural boarding seems to be slowly getting the attention it deserves. Movement is the key to happy horses.

Stay tuned for more posts about the track system in detail.

  1. Alice permalink

    Great post! Your horses are lucky critters. 🙂

  2. Tia, wonderfully written article and I’m just so grateful that you readily embraced this concept and implemented it so beautifully! You’re showing others the way so keep doing what you’re doing and getting the message out there!

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