Our horse management for fifteen years has always been basically “natural,” for reasons of our convenience and ease of upkeep mostly. Looking back, I’d say we’ve always been governed by observing what the horses enjoyed and what kept them healthy.
Since our first horse in 1992, we have always used run-in stalls, and our three horses now have a lot of room to roam– approx. 5 acres– mostly open fields with some wooded areas. They can access a shelter/windbreak and also can go into their stalls whenever they want. In prior years, we shut them in their stalls overnight during cold freezing rain, sleet/ice, or fierce snow storms. We didn’t bother keeping them out of warm rains.
Three stooges in light December snowstorm, just being horses. Mother mare in front, yearling Glendale center, black 3 yr.old Gilford sticking out his tongue.
Our most recent experiment in 24/7 turnout in frigid weather is ala Paddock Paradise, a book by Jaime Jackson, a natural hoof trimmer and horsekeeper. Jackson has an interesting concept patterned after wild horses, which basically gets domestic horses to become more active on their own. (Book Paddock Paradise is sold on Jaime’s website, also at The Horses Hoof and other locations online.)
I will put a more complete description of Jackson’s ideas on my blog soon and you can get the whole picture. Described here is our winter version of paddock paradise; we have not made a “track,” because in winter there is no need to limit their pasture, rather we have simply maximized the area available for them to range in, maximized the TIME they have to range, and given them more incentive to travel. Between our lower pasture and the barn is a long straight line distance. Our horses travel back and forth because they like the lower field the best, but they have to return to the barn to get their hay AND their water. The frozen ground helps their hooves maintain with very little trimming.
Our three horses [ages 21, 3 1/2 and 1 1/2 yrs.] move around and thus keep themselves warm and are free to go into any stalls or shelter whenever they want to, but they rarely do. It was below 0 degrees here in New Hampshire on Monday night (Jan. 15), today it’s 8 degrees in early morning. The horses show no signs of discomfort from the cold.
Horses can fluff up their own fur, did you know that? They contract their skin so the undercoat fur lifts away from their bodies to provide maximum insulation. Rain and sleet actually shed right off and don’t penetrate the fur. We know their insulation is good because the snow and ice stays on their backs without melting from their body heat. Of course they have grown their warm winter coats because we never blanket them.
Mom mare Willy (age 21)– note how snow on her back doesn’t melt, which is evidence that she is well insulated by her fur and normal body fat.
Our lower grass pasture is their favorite area, a nearly 3-acre field with neighbor horses across the fence. Most of the year we limit their grazing of this large pasture or else they would blow up like blimps or maybe even founder themselves (though we’ve never had a founder or even colic symptoms here, knock on wood…) This winter we’ve let them use this field. While there was dead grass easily available there they often wouldn’t leave this pasture to return to the barn for a nighttime grain feeding, so we figured their stomachs were plenty full and just left them out.
Early this week we got our first decent snow cover (4-6 inches), which turned into hard-packed ice due to freezing rain and bitter cold. Now that the dead grass is hard to dig down to, the horses do come back to the barn when we call them for feeding, and this morning they were at the barn already at daylight, milling around under their shed roof shelter in the pea gravel (looking for hay scraps.) The yearling Glendale is keeping good weight, he’s the only one we have to monitor (the other 2 are easy keepers, he’s still growing) and he gets the most and highest-caloric-content grain, but skipping a grain meal occasionally hasn’t bothered him at all. We give them plenty of grass hay which is what warms their gut from roughage digestion, NOT the grain. (Normal hay amount fed is 10 lbs./day per 1000-lb. horse roughly, a little extra on a really cold day,)
Gilford our 3 yr.old perch/arabian sampling bark on a tree.
I should mention that our horses also are part beaver… since there are trees around that they can reach, they gnaw the bark off until the tree is finally girdled bare and eventually joins our firewood pile. Any trees we don’t want to lose have to be protected from the horse beavers. Their order of taste preference is sugar maple, other maples, poplar, and lastly pine and oak. Horses in New England are helpful to thin out lower underbrush in a woodlot. They will eat poison ivy twigs in winter (that’s another story) and they don’t contract poison ivy, but if you kiss them on their noses you risk catching poison ivy, even in the dead of winter!
I expect many folks are going to freak out because we never blanket our horses. We used to use blankets when we had our first horses fifteen years ago (in southern New Hampshire.) Each winter we let it get a little colder before we’d blanket them, finally after 3-4 yrs. we just stopped blanketing and it hasn’t mattered, in fact we believe they are healthier and happier for not wearing blankets. Our lives are certainly easier.
Our horses’ bare hooves are holding up well too, the last time they went 8 weeks between trims and didn’t need much taken off, a little toe and heel shortening. They get decent traction with their bare feet on our hard crusty snow/ice, they are heavy enough to break thru the surface, they are smart enough to feel slick ice and go carefully. They are happy as clams.
I would caution, if you want to start trying this 24/7 turnout with your horse who has always been stalled at night and/or is not used to making their way on ice and snow, just start out gradually and observe what’s going on. If your horse has never been out overnight, start gradually and keep him close to the barn at first. Don’t want him to get spooked by night noises he’s not used to, but bear in mind they have very good night vision.
If you have been blanketing, DO NOT just take off the blanket now! Their fur coat may not be normal this winter due to blanketing… wait til next year and don’t use blankets from the beginning. I appreciate that those of you with indoor arenas or someplace to work your horses and ride all winter will want to control hair growth (due to excessive sweating during hard work and being very difficult for the fur to dry out), but next year consider a winter clip instead of continual full blanketing. Typical is to clip the chest, underbelly, legs and maybe underside of the neck to facilitate cooling and drying, leaving the barrel, back and rump with winter fur to help the horse keep warmer naturally.
See Jaime Jackson’s book that started it all, Paddock Paradise.
NOTE: See my Horse Links & Blogs at right for others’ articles on paddock paradise-style turnout and barefoot hoofcare.
Also see 24 hour turnout for horses article at NAG trader (UK.)
See Jaime Jackson’s book that started a natural barehoof movement, Paddock Paradise…
and Pete Ramey’s Natural Hoof Care trimming book also.
Connie Moses– Blog: petArtistWithPeaches
website: PortraitsWithHorses.com (horse and pet portraits)