Stables are for the convenience of people, not for horses. Some wild animals do live in caves or dens. These are animals such as bears, cats or dogs.
Wild horses live on the open grassy plains where they can see predators coming from a long way off. The horses also have the freedom of wide open space to run away from danger. They are also designed to graze most of their day (18 hours) and while they graze, they walk.
As producers of high performance barefoot horses, the main objections we have to stables are the confined space, soft bedding, damp and exposure of the hoof proteins to ammonia from urine and manure.
Confining the horse to a stable or even a small pen outdoors prevents the horse from walking around most of the day. While they walk along and graze, their hooves are dynamically flexing and circulating more blood. The blood flows through tiny capillaries in the living tissues of the hoof, which is sandwiched between the bones inside the hoof and the hard outer hoof capsule. There is a very complex hydraulic vacuum mechanism whereby the horse’s movement increases blood flow through the living tissues of the hoof. Traditional Euro-centric horse keeping practices recognise the need for the horse to have continual access to roughage for the health of their digestive system. Therefore it is a standard recommendation that a full hay net of grass hay be always available in the stable to compensate for the absence of grazing. However, no thought is given to the other aspect of the grazing animal which is continual slow movement. Confining a horse reduces hoof growth due to lower than optimal circulation and thus decreased nutrition of the inner hoof structures. It also delays repair of damage to thehooves from wire cuts etc.
Soft bedding that the horse must stand in does not produce the same amount of flexion of the hoof capsule that is needed for the hydraulic blood suction action through the inner hoof. Hard ground stimulates hoof growth through more circulation and more stimulus or conditioning.
Wet conditions can be counter-productive when they are continuous because the hoof proteins are softened and wear off more easily if the horse is subsequently asked to ride over abrasive surfaces. Softening from plain water, however, is reversed when the hoof dries out.
Ammonia that collects in bedding or on the floor of stables is harmful to the hoof proteins just as the ammonia gases are harmful to the lungswhen inhaled. Ammonia breaks down the proteins of which the hoof horn consists. Hooves exposed to ammonia regularly are always softer and wear more easily than hooves that are not.
There are many obvious advantages to stabling horses. Chief among these is not having to go out in the rain to find your horse covered in mud, or having a clean shiny coat on your horse throughout winter. There is also ease of management where the horse is under the absolute control of the stable manager. These advantages are undeniable, but all are for the benefit of people and not what the natural horse requires!
Laura Seegers, 2010