Life is about continuous learning. This year we decided to fence in twenty-six acres. We learned a lot about herd dynamics, best practices, time saving (and depleting) practices, the effects of changing the equine routine and the wishes of horses. Whether your methods involve 24/7stall confinement (a tough life for a horse), a combination of turn-out and stall care or full-time pasture life, you can make it easier on both you and your horse by being smarter about how you decide to make this so.
Ten tips for good turnout strategies
- Give your horses shelter. Surprisingly, this is more critical in the summer months with the bugs and the sun then in the cold, windy and snowy season, but it’s a necessary component for comfort and health year-round. Run-in sheds can be purchased or built, but know that one horse will likely command the space, so ensure there is an overhang or L-shaped construction so that others can get some protection.
- Develop a rotation management plan. We had twelve horses on twenty-six acres this year (divided into three herds) and figured such small numbers would make it easy for the acreage to support the grazing demands. We were wrong. It’s important to restrict access and move the herds on a regular basis to ensure good pasture food and maintenance. It was amazing how much the quality of the pasture improved after we took the horses off a particular pasture, mowed the field, and gave it a month or so to regenerate.
- Provide an ample, clean water supply. We have water piped to some of the paddocks, but truck it into the rest (with a 325 gallop tank on a trailer that hitches to the back of the pickup). In our area, municipal water (3 miles down the road) is inexpensive and saves wear and tear on our pump and water purification system. Horses can drink a lot and you never want them to be without water.
- Ensure you provide dry, clean and maintained pastures and shelters. Run-in sheds should be cleaned at least daily, preferably more frequently. If you can get one that is mobile, that’s even better as some herds will urinate in the sheds and this creates a very unhealthy condition for the feet. If you can’t move it, fill it with absorbent bedding that is cleaned at least daily. If areas of the paddock tend to get muddy (this will always be the case by the gate and in front of the shelter) see if you can restrict horses access to these areas and reseed.
- Stick to a routine. Horses are more comfortable, and stay healthier, if they can plan on a schedule. Try to feed, water, train, bring in and out of the barn, rotate herds, do any doctoring, etc. at the same times each day.
- Keep an eye on every horse in your care. Check the feet and eyes daily (small issues here can turn into major problems quickly). Give each horse the once over daily to ensure there are no open sores that may lead to infection, swollen areas, leg concerns or other medical issues that may need attention.
- Watch the weight and the manure of each horse. Forage quality can change quickly and you don’t want to be dealing with founder on a horse that has been allowed to get obese or fighting to put pounds on a horse as winter sets in.
- Respect the herd dynamics hierarchy (and make sure you are seen as the leader when among the critters). If you want to move a herd, start with the alpha. Don’t get between horses that can get combative with one another. If you are supplementing with hay, make sure it is set up so that all horses are permitted to eat (multiple locations for placement or an adjustment to the herd groups usually works here).
- Set a schedule for the blacksmith, shots, worming, etc. and keep good records. Just because a horse is turned out, doesn’t mean he can go without basic care.
- Give your horses a job. While it may seem idyllic and beautiful for a horses to be grazing freely day and night, most horses aren’t happy being ignored. Even older retired horses can help teach the babies a thing or two and the youngsters love to be challenged with training. Frankly, we were a bit surprised at how much the horses at the farm happily anticipated being put to work. Those in training were the first to come running to be brought into the barn.