Make wildlife a part of your equestrian business
The current economic downturn resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic encourages horse owners and breeders to think strategically. The shows were canceled during the lockdown and it is likely that this will continue until most people have been vaccinated.
Showing is an integral part of marketing good horses. However, riding horses in small groups to see and interact with wildlife is a possible solution to the lack of shows as an advertising tool to show off your stock, and could generate income.
Game and horses
If you have game on your land, you should consider an integrated grazing strategy on the parts of your farm that have not been cultivated.
Horses are grazers and integrate ecologically in the same way as the zebra. Running horses with kudus, impalas, giraffes and other wildlife will be easy to manage. It also means that your horses will adapt to the wildlife and be less likely to scare or panic when mounted if a kudu jumps in front of them.
Horses that are particularly suited for this, due to their good temperament, include Namibian Warmbloods, Crossbreed or Purebred Arabs, and American Quarter Horses.
A few top-level show horses can be kept in well-maintained stables near the house to show visitors. You may charge additional fees for housing, breaking out, and schooling the three-year-olds you sell. The harness can be stored and the horses brought here to be saddled for outings.
In a breeding herd, full mares can be run with wildlife, but it is advisable to bring them for calving, as young foals can get injured more easily when running in the bush.
While the foals are in the pastures nearby, they can be handled and taught to scoop up their paws for the farrier, hold a halter, and easily get into a crush for vaccination and soaking. Once the foals are weaned, they can run with the mare.
Stallions should be kept in stallion pens to avoid indiscriminate breeding with one-year-old mares. Foals can be separated from the brood mare in winter when they are around 18 months old, and those that are not sold or kept for breeding can be gelding.
Geldings should be bred in a herd of singles, as they may try to mate with mares and fight with each other when the mares come into season. Sometimes young breeding stallions can also run with older geldings already in the saddle.
Parasites and food
Parasite control becomes difficult when horses are herded with game, as many ticks and horseflies that feed on game also feed on horses. Bringing in horses for regular tick checks decreases the parasite load in the ecosystem and can also decrease the number of parasites on game.
Horses and game may share game shots; However, like the zebra, horses tend to chew them, so they wear out faster. Large salt blocks can also be shared. Pulling out large round bales during a drought can be problematic, as horses can prevent game from accessing the grass. It is better in this case to separate them.
When taking horses on rides, those kept with game make more stable mounts as they are not so easily scared.
If the geldings graze together, they are also prone to behave like a herd. You can tie them in line to be saddled, and on exits, they will follow each other sensibly without kicking.
Dr Mac is an academic, practicing equine veterinarian and stud owner.