Learn how to keep horses from being bored

SNOHOMISH — During wet weather, according to the Snohomish Conservation District, horses should be kept out of pastures to protect grass from overgrazing, reduce soil compaction and prevent pollution.

But confining equestrian companions for long periods in corrals or paddocks during months of wet weather means the animals don’t get exercise.

And the horses get bored.

That boredom can lead to bad habits like fence gnawing, wood chewing and cribbing, a compulsive biting habit. It involves the horse grabbing an object with its teeth, arching its neck and pulling while sucking in air. These behaviors are linked to stomach problems and colic.

“The problem is they can’t run around as much as is healthy,” said Sue Bell, who runs Liberty Bell Farms in the Lord’s Hill area. It is home to more than a dozen horses.

To combat horse boredom and lack of exercise, Bell is using a boarding technique known as track paddocks — long corridors that usually circle the perimeter of a pasture or property with fencing on each side.

“The horses can run and roar around without killing the grass,” Bell said. “It’s basically like a track.”

Bell is helping promote an emerging trend in the equine world. On Saturday, she and another horse expert are scheduled to teach a free workshop on track paddocks and other new ideas for keeping horses healthy. The Snohomish Conservation District is sponsoring the event, which is set to take place at Bell’s farm from 9 a.m. to noon.

Though Bell is more concerned with pasture preservation than horse boredom, some people do worry about apathetic animals.

Alayne Blickle, formerly of Maple Valley, runs the Nampa, Idaho-based conservation group Horses for Clean Water. She teaches green horsekeeping and land management and will be at the workshop.

Blickle has eight horses. She said confining them to a corral or a regular paddock is not stimulating or healthy.

“Horses are actually very smart creatures,” she said. “They’re very dog-like.”

Track paddocks, Blickle said, offer a more natural setting that is similar to the wild.

“It encourages movement and alleviates boredom,” she said. “It’s good for the environment and the horse.”

The tracks can be designed in a variety of ways. Some circle around a building or arena. Others weave through a trail course. Obstacles and toys can be placed on the track to keep the horses entertained.

“It’s supposed to be good for their whole health — both physically and mentally,” Blickle said.

Many people who have tried track paddocks have noticed it helps keep the horses’ hooves in shape and improves overall fitness, she said.

The track concept has been gaining popularity since Jaime Jackson published his 2006 book, “Paddock Paradise: A Guide to Natural Horse Boarding.” Jackson drew ideas from his research on how horses live in the wild and introduced a new way of looking at confinement.

“People have been intrigued by the concept,” Blickle said.

Bell also expects to show a forced-air system that turns manure into compost. The system blows air through the compost pile, eliminating the need to move it around with a tractor or manually. It also helps prevent contamination from runoff.

“It’s better than having a big pile of manure out in the field,” Bell said.

Online registration is required for the workshop at sno-farmtour.eventbrite.com. The event includes a tour of Bell’s farm, which has won several awards for horsekeeping and environmentally sound land management.

Bell said she doesn’t particularly like being in the spotlight but she wanted to share information about the techniques she has learned from conservation programs over the years.

“The programs are really good, even for people who don’t have a horse or know about having a farm,” she said.

Amy Nile: 425-339-3192; anile@heraldnet.com.

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