Horse turnout 24/7 in NE winter

Posted in Horses for the horse crazy at 11:23 am by petArtist Cmoses

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.

For related stories, see:
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)


  1. Angela said,

    October 7, 2007 at 6:46 am

    Thank you so much for providing this info. I have been debating whether or not to give my mare with 24/7 winter turnout. We live in NY and experience the same harsh weather as you do in NH. My mare has repiratory issues, and my intuition was telling me, ‘Get her outside!” Most people at my current barn think I am making a huge mistake. I do not. Your two articles, along with great stuff by Lisa Ross Williams on “IF Your Horse Could Talk”, have confirmed my instinct to let horses be horses. My mare moving in a week to the 24/7 run in shelter. i will continure to return here and read what else you can help me with. thanks…

  2. petArtist said,

    October 8, 2007 at 9:07 am

    Angela, thanks so much for your kind comment. I’m so glad my experiences could help someone else, especially their horses. I have heard of many cases of respiratory problems being caused by confinement in a dusty environment (ie. a stall.) One other factor I believe can harm some horses is always eating their hay out of a wall hay rack/feeder. I have read that horses are designed to graze, with their noses down, so that their airways and nostrils can drain and clear themselves continually. That makes sense to me– look how long their necks are! When I feed hay in the winter I throw it on the ground, even in their stalls. I have watched them pick morsels out of shavings and rocks and dirt, their lips are virtually prehensile!

    Anyway, best of luck with your mare, let me know how she does. I assume a vet has seen her to rule out something worse, but if this is just chronic mild irritation, my guess is the cleaner fresh air will do her worlds of good! Be sure to let her grow in her winter coat, unless you plan to work her all winter and don’t want the long fur, in which case you could either give her a blanket clip or blanket her to keep the fur from growing. That’s a whole nuther subject!

  3. Heather said,

    December 14, 2007 at 12:46 pm

    Hello. I am so glad I came across your site. We are in western NY, and currently my 2 horses are boarded across the street from me but we are planning to build our own horse home this spring on our 22 acres. We have alot of overgrowth and trees, but are looking to clear some of this for a nice 2 acre pasture (to begin with at least). I was thinking about putting in a nice barn that is just the 3 stalls in a row (1 stall for feed storage) with dutch doors to use as a free run-in stall type of thing. My question is what about predators? We have coyotes (not in abundance, but we do hear them occasionally in the summer) and I’m not sure how to protect my horses at night if they are on 24 hour turn out, (using electric rope fencing). I really want to go this route since I have an off the track TB who HATES being stalled and walks in circles the whole time he is in. Any suggestions and advice would be greatly appreciated. This will be our first time having the horses on our own. Feel free to email me at the address listed. Thanks so much for your time!

    Heather Mortellaro

  4. connie moses said,

    December 14, 2007 at 8:25 pm

    HI Heather
    I don’t know much about coyotes though I have seen single ones around here at times. Have you heard of packs of coyotes bothering horses in your area? I would think unless they were starving or rabid that coyotes wouldn’t bother a healthy horse, and would have a hard time hurting a horse, especially if the horse has room to run. Believe me, they would kick if cornered too.

    Besides, I’m pretty sure coyotes are not nocturnal, so you are probably not increasing any risk potential just because your horses were out overnight. We had a TB off the track for 4 years– he loved 24-hour turnout, in fact he became sane on it! Just make sure the horses get well acquainted with where all your fencelines are for several days during daylight hours (only), especially any wire fence which is harder to see after dark. I put flagging tape on my electric fence lines to make it more noticeable. Your rope fencing is probably more visible than my electric wire though.

    Good luck, let me know how it goes!

  5. SuzAnn Warden said,

    October 11, 2008 at 8:59 pm

    My worries are over thanks to this info. I just moved my horse to my house we put up a run in verry nice it is maintained like a stall with a wide opening for going in and out. We have never taken care of a horse I have always boarded. She will be byherself I hope thats ok. Right now she is slobbering I guess it is from timothy and red clover It makes me sick to see her slobber I feel like throwing up . can you comment on the slobbering and the being by herself. thanks first time horse person

  6. petArtist Cmoses said,

    October 17, 2008 at 5:53 pm

    Many horses are kept solo and seem to adjust, they can become quite bonded to their people. You will know by her actions. If she seems depressed, lethargic, doesn’t eat, consider getting her a goat or other companion, but that doesn’t usually happen.
    I can’t speak to the slobbering… what part of the country are you in? I wonder what she might be eating. Our horses salivate some, only when they are eating…

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