Many years ago Sharon and I decided to drive to Glen Rose, TX to visit the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center. As it states on their website, The Fossil Rim Wildlife Center exists to aid in the conservation of animal species under the threat of extinction in the wild. The experience was fascinating and if you’re ever in Texas it’s a great place to visit. It’s also a place you can put on your list for donations each year.
White Rhinoceros and The Manure Pile
We took a tour of the grounds in our car. Along the way we saw giraffes and other wonderful animals. The giraffes liked to stick their whole head through our car window to say hi. All I could think of was that their cute little noses and mouths reminded me of my horses.
As we came to the end of the tour, we stopped to watch a white rhinoceros with a baby rhinoceros at her side.
Our attention was more on the baby than the mother because she was so cute – I’d never seen a real live rhinoceros baby before. We stayed parked watching and observing them.
I noticed that in the middle of the area they lived was a huge dung / manure pile. The pile was probably about 8-10 feet wide and maybe at least 5 feet tall. All of the sudden the mother rhinoceros walked right over to the pile of manure, turned around, backed up to the edge of it and pooped!
I couldn’t believe my eyes. I thought how cool is that! The thought immediately entered my mind – if only I could teach my horses to do the same thing that would be wonderful. Manure management would be a breeze.
Stud Piles and Equine Behavior
Witnessing the rhinoceros and her large poop pile caused me to open my eyes to the importance of learning more about equine behavior patterns. Before that day I didn’t think much about “teaching” my equine partners to manage their own manure. Little did I realize, they do it naturally if I would just pay attention. Maybe I could even add a little guidance and direct the poop placement.
Since 2006, I’ve kept my horses on a track boarding system that encourages them to constantly move similar to how they would in the wild. It’s a powerful natural boarding concept. This concept is discussed more in a book by Jaime Jackson called Paddock Paradise: A Guide to Natural Horse Boarding.
Without going into the details of equine behavior, I’m going to keep it simple for you. There’s a significant amount of wild horse research that addresses a form of territorial marking known as “stud piles” – also known as “dung piles.”
Don’t allow the term “stud piles” to confuse you and cause you to think that it only applies to stallions because it doesn’t. It mostly has to do with relative dominance or the “pecking order” in a herd of horses, be it wild or domesticated.
Those who search for bands of wild horses know that stud piles are the first sign of activity. These large piles of manure are simply territorial markings. This form of scent marking causes repeated dunging in the same place.
Hmm – now how can we use a horse’s natural behavior – the concept of stud piles and repeated dunging – to our advantage and to our equine partner’s advantage in domestication?
Equine Territorial Markings
In Jaime Jackson’s book about the paddock paradise, he discusses stud piles and suggests that in order to keep more in line with a wild horse model, we should deliberately leave a certain amount of manure within the track. He says there are two reasons for this, dominance and copraphagous behaviors.
After witnessing the rhinoceros many years prior, along with observation and researching wild horse models, this made total sense to me. It was logical and I wanted to do everything I could to not deprive my domesticated partners of any opportunity of using their natural instinctive behaviors.
On the track, I started to form stud piles. At first, I allowed my equine partners to choose where they wanted to create the piles. I then came along each day and created a pile along the side of the track where they had marked. Over the first week or two, I helped my equine partners form about four or five stud piles.
Stud piles can be several feet wide and as high as 2 or 3 feet. The piles I formed on the track usually were not more than 1 or 2 feet high.
What I noticed over time is that it caused my horses to poop in the same places on a consistent basis by simply creating the stud piles.
So the simple concept is that your horses will actually start to create the stud piles for you and then you take it from there.
Important lessons I learned when managing stud piles on the track:
- It’s important to manage the piles daily if possible or the radius of the poop relative to the stud pile will gradually increase which is what we are trying to avoid. I have three horses and I walk the track once per day to scoop poop and put out hay. It usually takes me about 15 minutes total on a 1/4 mile track.
- Remove manure piles weekly or every other week. One way to manage the amount of manure on the track is to remove the piles, but only after your horses have established their stud pile locations. I have found that once established they will continue to return to those same places and poop.
- Do not mess it up by getting lazy. As long as you continue to manage the piles your horses will use them. I have witnessed countless times my own horses deliberately walking to a stud pile and pooping directly on top of it – this stuff works!
- Do not simply throw manure over the fence when you find a place where you want to discourage stud pile creation. The horse will sense that the manure is still there and continue to poop in the same place.
Equine Manure Management Strategies
If you find that your equine companion attempts to create a stud pile in a place you would like to discourage, get on top of the situation and remove the manure as soon as you can. It is best to not allow build up or they will continue to poop in that location. I will usually remove the manure and place it on the nearest stud pile.
Do not feed your horses next to or near the stud piles. Keep hay away from the piles for health reasons but also to discourage your equine partner from pooping in their hay. I personally feed on the ground and provide various mixes of hay around the track to encourage movement.
I have three versions of the track system. The track system I set up loops around about 5 or 6 acres. I have a smaller track system with footing that helps with keeping that area somewhat dried up during the more wet times of the year. The stud pile concept works in this smaller area as well.
Below is a picture of an area next to my mega stud pile that is outside the horse pen. Even though the pile is on the other side of the fence the they choose to poop right next to the large pile. I pick up this poop every morning but as you can see in the pictures, my horses choose to poop in that area. It makes it much easier to manage manure.
The concept of stud piles and horses pooping in one location is nothing new. However, if we understand more about horses’ natural behavior and their tendencies, we can work with them rather than against them. This can also result in possibly less work for us as well! 🙂
I would love to hear your feedback and know what your experiences or challenges have been with managing your equine partner’s manure.
Keep it soulful,
Photo Credit – original photo modified in size and to include the Soulful Equine name and URL
For learning more about a healthy naturally kept horse, I highly recommend the books below. You can view my other book recommendations by going to our Amazon Store where I’ve hand selected books for continued education: Soulful Equine’s Recommended Books
I came across this fantastic site using beautiful pictures and videos of wild horses. These horses live in Sand Wash Basin Colorado. They are some of the many beautiful wild horses that are being managed toward extinction in our country.
If you haven’t already, you may want to read my article Protecting The Wild Horse – A Symbol Of Our American Heritage and then go to http://www.thecloudfoundation.org to help save the last of our wild herds.
Stud/Dung Piles And Wild Horse Behavior
Notice in the video below titled “VooDoo” the stud piles around the watering hole and the horses’ behavior.
- http://sandwashwildhorses.blogspot.com – See more great videos and beautiful pictures of wild horses.
- http://www.youtube.com/user/micahflash – This is probably one of the best YouTube channels you will find on documenting wild horses. Please subscribe to this channel, stay informed, and support the cause to save our wild horses.
Where to find other educational information on wild horses:
- Feral Horses of the Barrier Islands – Eastern United States
- Wild Burros of the Mojave Desert Southwestern United States
- Feral Horses of the Prairie – Western United States
- Feral Dartmoor Ponies – England
- Wild Horse’s from Hoof Rehab
- Wild Horse Pictures from Hoof Rehab
- Scent-marking behaviour by stallions: an assessment of function in a reintroduced population of Przewalski horses (Equus ferus przewalskii)