It never ceases to amaze me how some horses are much less domesticated than others. Why? What is it that determines just how much fight or flight instinct gets tucked into a horse’s DNA?
Take Bullet for example. He’s generally a very laid-back gelding. Like any equine, he’s always watchful, but his inclination to bolt at the faintest rustle of a leaf is pretty limited to maybe taking a step or two in the opposite direction if need be. More often than not it’s likely he’ll raise his head, plant his feet, swivel his ears toward the sound in question and take a “Wait and see” attitude. He’s not much of an alarmist in his usual environment and I might even go so far as to call him brave.
Bullet will also always choose to withstand the harshest elements rather than be indoors. Our small barn has two comfy side-by-side stalls and two loafing sheds that are attached to opposite sides of the barn. One stall opens out into one of the loafing sheds and has a little paddock of it’s own while the other stall opens out directly into the larger paddock. The most protected loafing shed has a large central hay rack and metal corner hay racks in opposite ends of the shed. It’s also where our large (heated) water tank is housed in an insulated, semi- enclosed bin.
When we got our first two horses we would leave the stall doors open 24/7 and the two Arabs never had any issues over which stall belonged to whom. They came and went as they pleased and there was plenty of shelter to go around. We didn’t have to separate them when they ate because neither horse was ever a threat to the other. They lived in perfect harmony and balance. We decided early on that our horses didn’t need to be shut in at night and in fact, they showed us that they had a preference for that arrangement. It didn’t take long to realize that it was a waste of shavings and money to keep stalls made up for horses who would rather live outside and would only come inside to use the shavings to poop and pee. We eventually closed the stall doors and from that point on, the only time the horses came inside was to be tacked up to ride or if there was a medical problem. Basically, their care was easy and straightforward, just the way we liked it.
But because humans can never leave well enough alone, things changed when a third horse came into the picture. Now there was always an odd man out. A third wheel. A bridesmaid. The two Arabs had to come inside to eat grain or someone would inevitably end up shortchanged. Once grain was finished they’d be let out for hay, but both Arabians were quick to stake their claim at a corner rack in the loafing shed. Bullet would ultimately end up standing 3/4 outside the shed and eat from the rack in the center. We also have a large hay rack out in the middle of the pasture that we use on days when the weather is good, but on days when it was nasty out the two Arabs were always warm and dry while Bullet was (mostly) rain soaked or covered in frozen snow. This really bugged me.
No matter what I tried, Bullet was always the third wheel. I put piles of hay in the loafing shed on the opposite side of the barn, but Bullet would still insist on standing half in the elements, eating whatever scraps the two Arabs allowed him to eat. As I grew increasingly frustrated I’d end up putting hay everywhere, which to my dismay, Bullet would ignore in favor of groveling at the Arab’s feet for leftovers. Neither Arab was actually MEAN to Bullet, they just didn’t let him share very much of the bounty or shelter. No matter, Bullet was always just happy to bask in their shadow, stand mostly outside and eat whatever he could. Fortunately, he was an easy keeper and his condition never suffered.
When winter came the two Arabs huddled inside the shed, hogging the hay racks and sipping slightly warmed water while Bullet stood sentry in the snowfall, covered head to tail in ice. If he couldn’t get access to the water tank Bullet was more than happy to just eat snow. We blanketed him a few times, but he was miserable, rubbing woefully against any solid object he could reach. Bullet hates his winter blanket and so we rarely use it. Again, it pained me to go out on wet winter mornings and find both Arabs high and dry while Bullet was covered in snow, icicles dangling in his mane and clinging to his whiskers and eyelashes. But Bullet never seemed to care. He has other options available … he knows that, but he still chooses to stand out in the elements.
Bullet’s developed a very good sense of survival. When it gets cold, he likes to snooze in the manure pile. Gross as that seems, compost is very, very warm. Being no dummy, Bullet knows this is actually a good place to lay down. Soft and warm, and somewhat aromatic, Bullet prefers the manure pile over laying on rubber flooring and shavings. Which brings me to another Bullet oddity. Bullet hates peeing on hard surfaces. I guess the splash factor bugs him, so once again he’d rather climb into the manure pile to pee rather than risk splashing his legs by peeing on the ground.
Now that we only have two horses again it seems like a bit of overkill to have two stalls and two loafing sheds. But guess what? Bullet STILL stands (mostly) outside to eat and sleep. I’ve never once caught him laying inside the loafing shed no matter how horrible the weather or wet the ground is. And for the most part, Dharla hogs the corner hay racks now while Bullet is content to feed wherever he can. A couple of times this winter when the weather was really bad I put Dharla in the stall that opens up to the loafing shed and small pen. I closed the pen off and opened her stall door so she could come and go into the shed and paddock without bothering Bullet. I let Bullet go in the other stall, the one that opens up to the large paddock, and left his stall door open so he could come and go as he pleased too. Both horses were right next to each other, but separated. They both ate their gain and hay inside, but then Bullet went out and stood just outside his open stall door. By the looks of things the next morning it seems he stood outside his open stall door all night. In the freezing sleet and rain. Dharla was dry as a bone.
Some horses are just more of a throwback than others I guess.