Imagine if your horse could live (almost) as nature intended, with wide open spaces, sociable herd living and organic feeds. At Malath Paddock Paradise, this dream becomes a reality.
BORN TO BE WILD
This beautiful video shows exactly how the track system works, and how its careful design means horses receive the best mental and physical stimulation possible.
Over the past two decades, science has taught us more about our equine partners than we ever thought possible. But perhaps the most significant development has been the benefits of allowing horses to live a more natural life.
Research has shown that horses thrive when allowed to live together in a herd allowing their needs to be met socially, mentally, physically and emotionally. This in turn, creates happier, calmer and more successful horses.But, it’s not just about herd living, science has also shown that happy horses also need to move more, interact with each other and their environment and have interesting things to do to keep their bodies and their minds more active.
Developed in the US, the Paddock-Paradise or track-system takes a holistic approach to horse care and attempts to incorporate all these features, creating a more natural lifestyle for horses. The concept is catching on and currently gaining popularity around the globe. But what about the UAE?
We met up with Jamila Ibrahim, owner and manager at the Malath Paradise System in Umm Al Quwain, the UAE’s newest track system livery yard to find out more…
The social and mental wellbeing of the horses is a top priority.
First of all, let’s talk about track-life; what's it all about? Why is everyone in the horse world starting to talk about this system for keeping horses?
I’m glad you asked! So, the track system or ‘Paddock Paradise’ is a horse-keeping concept inspired by the lifestyle of wild horses. While tracks all differ and none can really mimic nature entirely, they do offer horse owners the opportunity to keep their horses as close to nature as is possible.
Track-systems are gaining more and more popularity around the world, and my aim is to highlight the positives and many benefits of track-life to those in our region.
What started you on this journey into track living?
I had been aware of, and interested in natural horse-keeping for some time, and my own horses had been barefoot for a while, yet their lifestyle concerned me. They were at a different Equestrian Club at the time, and the best I could negotiate for them was night time turnout, however they were all separated.
This was ‘kind of’ OK, but then the club announced they would be removing the paddocks to build more stables. “Once built, the horses were stabled all the time and every time I saw them, I just felt overwhelming guilt. I used to walk into the stables and notice all the problem behaviours; weaving, wind-sucking, cribbing, kicking doors, and even biting people who passed. I thought, I don’t want this for my horses anymore – I don’t want them developing any of these behaviours which are unheard of in wild horses.
One day I just had this thought, “that’s it, I’m going to build my own stables, where the horses come first.” And, not just mine, it will be for anyone who also feels the same way and wants something better and more natural for their horse too!
You’ve just established your own track in Umm Al Quwain, tell us about it?
Our track is 1,580 ft long with open areas that make it even more spacious inside. There are different types of terrain; gravel, logs, tires, hills, natural grass, a covered shelter and we’re currently constructing a pond. Our fences are made from durable plastic designed to withstand horses without them getting hurt. We have several arenas, ten air-conditioned stalls, ten open air stalls and plans to build an indoor arena, and two more barns.
What would you say to people who are worried about the diverse terrain you’ve added, such as gravel and logs?
Honestly? I’d say, embrace it because your horse will! Horses thrive on variety and interest. The gravel is designed to harden their soles and naturally wear down their hooves. The logs and poles are added to encourage them to lift their legs, choose routes, slow down and take corners and turns.
Ok, so this all sounds great, but what's it really like for a horse? Can you talk through ‘a day in the life’ of the track?
I can genuinely say, life on the track means our horses finally get to be real horses! They live out as a herd, with all the social and physical benefits that entails, such as friendships, mutual grooming, play and interaction. Movement too, is massively increased. It’s incredible to see just how much horses move when they have the opportunity.
Given the climate in the UAE, our routines differ based on the season. Currently they are spending almost all day out on the track, with only two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening inside for grooming, feeding and riding.
In addition to the adlib hay which is available 24/7 (minimising ulcers and any negative behavioural issues), all our horses are fed Simple Systems Blue which is 100% pure and free from all binders and made from premium 6mm high fibre grass pellets with oats, salt and linseed.
It all sounds fabulous, but surely this lifestyle is only for Arabian horses? Warmbloods and polo-ponies etc. can't possibly live like this in the UAE?
You’re not the first person to assume track living isn’t for all breeds. Actually, of the 10 horses already on the track, several are non-Arabian (Warmblood to Quarter Horse to Thoroughbred), and they all love it! In fact, my jumper is a Selle Français and I’ve never seen him happier!
Obviously, life changes when summer arrives. The horses start living out at night and through the early mornings, with the help of additional shades and fans, then as the day heats up, they come in to the air-conditioned barn. We monitor and tailor our system for each horse. So, if one is finding it hot, we simply adapt his routine and ensure he is comfortable.
Wow! So, the Malath Paradise system could be a great option for my retired jumper/polo pony then?
Yes! The system is great in helping older horses improve mobility, fitness and health, as well as adding so many social aspects, which many horses have not experienced for years.
But, I’d also just like to say, Malath isn’t just about retired horses. We already have competition horses on the track. When you think about competitive riding here in the UAE, it really very strong. For a competition rider looking to make marginal gains, what better system is there than to significantly improve their horse’s physical and psychological wellbeing? We really believe life on the track helps them physically and mentally, become better competition horses.
Stabling and shelter is carefully managed to cope with extreme temperature.
Gravel and wooden obstacles help the horses keep fit, naturally.
You must have a great team if you plan to look after so many horses running free as well as various oldies?
I’m really proud of our team and think we offer really strong experience horse-care and natural horse keeping. For us all, horse welfare is paramount and everything we do, from the care to the training is tailored for both the physical and mental capabilities of each horse.
I personally use positive reinforcement and I’ve seen this method transform problematic horses’ attitude, and willingness to work. Our manager, Casey Hogan is known within the equine industry for her natural horsemanship skills in helping problematic/injured horses recover and start new careers. She has eighteen years of experience with horse care and handling, ten years of teaching and training experience and last year obtained her UKCC qualification. And, of course, last but not least, our caring and experienced grooms who keep the horses in the best shape and ensure everything is well.
For hoof-care we have Sebastian Demontella & Jan Brooksbank, neither of whom need much introduction for those who keep their horses barefoot in the UAE. Sebastian studied horse locomotion (joint, tendon and ligament function) in France and he’s worked on my horses for years now. He is phenomenal in silicone based corrective work and has vast experience in treating all manner of issues without the use of shoes.
Jan Brooksbank, has trained with AANHCP (Association for the Advancement of Natural Horse Care Practices) as a NHCP (Natural Horse Care Practitioner), and is now a Field Instructor with the ISNHCP (Institute for the Study of Natural Horse Care Practices) and a qualified barefoot trimmer.
We also have our own well-stocked in-house pharmacy for first aid, and when a vet is needed we are collaborating with both Equivet and have 24/7 callout from Sharjah Equine Hospital which is just twenty minutes away.
What's the question you are most frequently asked by people who have never heard of the track system?
That has to be, “is Malath a place for horses to retire?” And although you can always retire your horse with us and guarantee a more fulfilling and happy final years, we aren’t just for retired horses. We have several competitive horses currently on the track and the track systems benefits them just as much as an older horse, if not more.
Ok, this sound really great, what are the details I need to know?
We have two livery options, the first for the horses which are not comfortable with heat we offer air-conditioned stalls at AED 2,800 per month with an increment of AED 200 in summer. For the rest, we have the open-air stalls at AED 2,600 per month with a AED 200 increment in summer.
Both livery options include; unlimited hay, premium Simple System Blue bag feed, salt, linseed, balancer, sand clear, basic first aid, trimming, track-access, paddocks, arena and beautiful desert hacks.