This morning, though, one volunteer asked a question that I responded to with a very clear “non-answer,” and for that, I would like to apologize. As we stood in Nathan’s shed talking, I scooted a manure pile against a nearby wall and threw on some uneaten hay that had been tromped into the mud. One volunteer asked why I did that, and I began to explain about Nate’s battle with foot infections and our efforts to keep his foot as clean as possible. Yes, the volunteer nodded, but how did I know he wouldn’t eat that hay? I replied “Oh, he won’t eat it.” That was not an answer and I apologize for so glibly glossing over a valid question.
Before I tackle an explanation, I must admit that I don’t “know” what any given horse may or may not do under any given circumstances. I can make some educated predictions, based on what I know about that horse and its past actions, but that doesn’t mean those predictions will pan out.
Hence I will try to explain why I assumed Nate would not eat the soiled hay.
I assumed Nate would leave the dirty hay right where it was because horses are, by nature, very clean animals if given a choice.
Will horses stand in a shed with a floor layer of solid manure? Yes they will, if that is the only shelter they have.
Do horses spend time loafing where they urinate? Not often unless they are confined to stalls with urine-soaked bedding.
Will a horse drink water so murky that the bottom of the tank cannot be seen? Yes they will, if that’s the only available water source.
Will a horse eat moldy or dirty hay? You bet, if that’s the only thing they are offered.
However….most horses, if given a choice, choose to be clean. Our residents, for the most part, choose certain areas of their fields, paddocks and shed in which they deposit the majority of their manure. They also select specific area for urination. Interestingly, manure areas are always farther from eating areas than are urination areas. Natural means of parasite control, perhaps? On the other hand, if the manure areas are not cleaned on a frequent basis, the horses begin to avoid those areas and drop manure over other sections of the field until few clean areas remain. A good number of our residents even go outside their loafing sheds to answer Nature’s call, and then go back in the shed to resume napping.
Horses will also, obviously, choose clean water over filthy water. Who wouldn’t? Have you ever smelled a stagnant hundred-gallon water tank that hasn’t been scrubbed for a week in the summer? It’s nauseating to many humans. Imagine what it smells like to a horse! We dump and clean our tanks every 2-3 days and, even under those circumstances, have some horses come running to get that first drink of clean water as it flows into the tank. So, are horses forced to drink dirty water really consuming the amounts they need? Maybe not.
The same principles seem to apply to hay and pasture. Horses will not normally graze where there is manure. They will graze those areas if they have no alternative, but given a choice will search out clean grass to eat. Nor will they eat dirty hay if clean hay is available. Do horses with only dirty hay available consume adequate amounts of roughage? Maybe not.
It goes against a horse’s nature to eat, drink, or live in filth if they have other choices. It is my personal theory that people who believe horses are dirty animals feel that way only because they have never observed horses living with the choice to be clean.
And so…..again with apologies for my non-answer of this morning….. having a choice is why I assumed Nate would not eat the soiled hay over the pile of manure before we could pick everything up. He, like the other horses here, has learned that there are always several piles of hay available at all times. He simply sought another, cleaner, area in which to eat.