The HIT Active Stable is a fully automated system that allows horses to be kept in groups whilst at the same time allowing for individual feeding regimes.
We were invited to visit the headquarters of HIT in Germany and also to have a look round a working example of this system in Sweden. While we try not to endorse individual commercial companies, we felt that this one had sufficient merit and applicable concepts on many levels to warrant a closer look.
Horses living in automated active systems wear individual transponders which allow them access to feed stations or certain areas for measured feed allocations (the transponder – a small plastic disk- can be fastened to the mane).
Once the horse has eaten their allotted feed they then move out of the feed station back into the communal yard area.
The horse is encouraged by the layout of the yard and by placement of different feed stations around the yard to keep moving.
The transponders can also be programmed to allow or deny individual horses access to the paddocks which lead off the yard. Apparently horses learn the system in a couple of days and competition at feed times is low to non existent as the horses adapt to the new system.
This system means that horses can live together calmly as a herd and can be fed a controlled (and different) amounts throughout the day. Laminitic horses and ponies can live side by side with ‘poor doers’.
There is ad lib access to low energy hay/straw so that those receiving less ‘hard’ feed can still eat their fill of fibre.
As a horse approaches the feed station the transponder sends a signal to the gate and if the horse is due a feed the gate opens. Once the horse is inside, the gate closes behind it (it has electric tape on the outside to prevent another horse from crowding the first).
For hay, a door is lowered and the horse is allowed to eat for a certain amount of time before the door slowly raises denying further access.
For hard feed, a measure amount allocated to that particular horse is dispensed into a feeder. Once the horse has finished their allocated feed they walk out through another one-way gate back into the communal yard area and the next horse can enter the feed station.
The designers of this system have thought long and hard about the needs of the horse and have provided facilties such as ad-lib straw dispensers for low energy fibre intake (straw is more commonly fed in parts of Europe than Australia) and a large ‘lying shed/barn’ to allow horses to roll or relax in whilst still part of the herd.
Water troughs are separated from the feed stations, again to encourage the horses to move more. Obstacles and barriers are strategically placed again to encourage movement between areas.
The Equicentral System, which does not rely on automation, incorporates horse welfare factors and good land management factors where the horses (living as a herd) share a shelter/shade area in a large communal yard. Water and hay is fed in this area and horses have to walk themselves to paddocks to graze (either directly through a gate, or via laneways).
This central point system vastly reduces grazing pressure in the paddocks and helps you implement proper land management, such as paddock rotation. We prefer this system to a track system (such as Paddock Paradise) because, when properly implemented, the grass will not become stressed and the soil compacted (as it does when over grazed which it tends to do with a track system), therefore, it is more environmentally friendly.
The property we visited in Sweden that had the HIT Active Stable in operation was, interestingly, an ‘agistment’ yard.
I say interestingly because in Australia, agistment (livery) yards usually separate horses in individual paddocks which leads to many land management problems (not to mention ‘bored’ horses standing around for many hours a day).
The horses at this Swedish agistment yard were valuable horses, and the owners were paying for the same level of care equivalent horse owners here would do in an urban fringe agistment facility.
What really impressed us about the HIT Active Stable is how the designer Thorsten Hinrichs, has used science to improve the lifestyle of domestic horses with priority given to developing a system which is enriching for the horse.
You can find out more about this system on www.aktivstall.de.