Tack n' Talk

Online Equestrian Resource

Home on the Range.

  I was recently asked to write something on keeping horses turned out to pasture. I don’t currently have any horses that are out all the time but have in the past and so will give you my thoughts on the subject.    At first glance it would seem this is an easy and economical alternative to stable kept equines.horses

     There are however a great many things to take into account in creating a safe and healthy, completely outdoor environment to keep horses in. The first and most important factor is the question of enough suitable pasture to support basic nutritional needs. If the horses boarded out are also in work , in most cases , other than perhaps very easy keeping ponies, supplements will be needed. This may be additional hay , grain , minerals and vitamins.

    It will take roughly one acre of good quality pasture to support one average sized horse.If this is not available a good option is the use of “graveyard feeders” so named for the gravestone shaped feeding holes in the large plastic  holders that contain a large round bale each. These feeders are excellent because they protect the bales from rain rot and in addition are not overly heavy. This means they can be easily moved about thereby preventing the mud patches that tend to form around round bales , often causing chapped and cracked heels and various other problems from caked mud on feet.

    Adequate fresh water is crucial. If a pond is available it will suffice, especially if there is a fresh water inlet so the water is not merely standing. Again, this tends to get very muddy around the base and also usually has a lot of algea and other bacteria that can cause gut problems. Several large troughs are preferable but must be checked often for droppings, dead rodents and slime build up.Ideally the water source should be only what is needed in a few days by the number of horses drinking from it so it can be cleaned and checked often.It is extremely important that water troughs have no rough or sharp edges.

Creep feeders can be used for grain but if  it is possible to bring horses in  for grain  this is ideal as somehow the pecking order usually leaves the dominant horses very well fed and those more timid left out and scarred from kicks and bites.

      Horses do not graze efficiently. They grab a few bites of grass , then walk a bit , then grab a mouthful and so on. Usually they will not eat grass that they or others have walked on. They avoid very long grass most likely because of mosquitos. It is a good idea to mow the whole area about once a month . This keeps fresh , new grass starting and also stops weeds from gaining the upper hand in a pasture. Several common weeds are quite toxic to horses. Milk weed, Queen Anne’s lace, Burdock and buttercups to name a few. Horses usually won’t eat weeds that are toxic to them but some will and some weeds ie:Buttercups can cause blistering of the skin  and severe reactions even from contact.

  Fencing must be rugged and safe. I tend toward post and rail but this requires a lot of checking and maintenance. In pastures where food is abundant they work best since the horses don’t tend to be seeking to go further afield in search of grass.No climb wire fence is a good way to go but there must not be any holes large enough to trap a horse’s foot or leg.A top line of electric wire is probably wise and tends to keep horses  in further from the fence rather than trying to forage through or under it.

  If feasible horses turned out should have company as this way they can share tails to swat flies and share body heat in damp, cold conditions.

    Shade and shelter from wind are both absolutely necessary for horses.Trees can provide this but run in sheds are more acceptable in more extreme climates. Large salt/mineral blocks should be easily accessible to all.The entire area should be checked on a regular basis for snake or groundhog holes that could trap and break a horse’s leg.

      Every couple of weeks, depending on the number of horses the area should be picked for manure. This cuts down on the amount of cross infectation of parasites from one horse to another in addition to a good worming schedule.

  The biggest problem I think needs to be considered is that horses living out may actually not have contact with handlers for several days. Cuts, infections, respiratory issues can all go unnoticed until they become seriously damaging to a horse’s health. I personally believe that horses turned out should be individually checked on at least once a day for any problems in the making.Feet need special attention as they tend to chip and split much more easily and shoes are lost more often with pasture kept horses.

   Horses who are not holding their own in a group should be removed as serious injuries can result from fights. Once a clear pecking order is established most horses respect it and get along fine but some make trouble or are constantly picked on.

    All weather rugs should be on horses in rougher climates. These should be checked often for holes and tears that could catch on fencing and trees.While haltered horses would seem easier to catch , a little time teaching your horse to be haltered in the field is a much safer way to go. Halters can snag on natural obstacles very easily causing  injury and panic .

 While keeping horses out certainly saves on labour and bedding costs it is not as carefree as it would first appear.If you decide to use this method of horsekeeping please do some research and make sure you will be meeting your horse’s feed , safety, shelter and companionship needs.I think , in the end you will find some horses ideally suited to the outdoor life and others much happier in a stable environment. story by Libby Keenan



  Wanda wrote @

I love how you made the article very easy to understand and not a lot of big fancy words. My horse is stalled most days. Then some days I turn her out in a small catch pen so she can eat grass. I did get some pointers and will thinking about how I’m going to put them in my ritual when I turn the horse out. I thank you for the advise.


  libby keenan wrote @

Hi Wanda , thx for your comments. I’m glad you found some things helpful.I keep my horses stabled with turnout as you do. Many of the same things Re: safety apply to paddocks as well as pastures. I’ve added a new paragraph on toxic weeds and maintaining fresh grass. Cheers.Libby

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