Horses and the great outdoors go together like strawberries and cream. The two were made for each other. A field is your four-legged friend’s natural habitat — provided he has 1-1.5 acres to himself, according to the British Horse Society.
Regular turnout in ample space will, in the majority of cases, keep him sane, calm and happy, but there are certain elements he will need in place to guarantee health and contentment. So what are the top 10 dos and don’ts of turnout?
Fences and gates should be sufficiently strong and secure. Wooden post and rail fencing is the ideal, while plastic is another alternative, but it may not be as long lasting as wood. Electric fencing will appeal to those on a tight budget who wish to use it to sub divide a field. It is versatile and can be moved around, but it shouldn’t be used as a boundary fence. Bear in mind that if your horse gets out and causes an accident, you may be found liable.
As your horse spends around 16 hours a day grazing, ensure that the pasture is well managed. Collect dung (which will help to control parasite burdens), control weedy areas, check for rabbit holes and badger setts and cross graze with other species of animals where possible to rejuvenate the grass.
3, Be vigilant and keep a look out for poisonous plants, notably ragwort, and toxic hedgerows, such as privet, leylandii, broom, box and laurel.
Your horse will need shelter to shield him from the wind, rain, sun and flies. High hedges or trees form natural barriers, while some horse owners prefer to erect field shelters.
If conditions dictate, use a turnout rug, but avoid the trendy temptation to over-rug as it can affect a horse’s ability to regulate his own temperature.
If you know your horse gets on with others, turn him out in a group. Livery yards concerned about injuries generally err on the side of caution and segregate these days. For horses this is an unnatural way of living. Like humans, our four-legged friends benefit from the close companionship they once enjoyed in the wild. If you feel strongly about this you may need to look specifically for a yard that allows group turnout.
Some yards prefer single-sex turnout. Experts are divided on whether aggression is a character rather than a gender trait, but if your yard owner or trainer feels that your horse would be safer turned out with a horse of the same sex follow their advice.
Grass generally loses its goodness during the winter, so a horse that is turned out may need supplementary feeding, such as a daily supply of hay or haylage, or even hard feed, depending on his breed and work levels. If you are unsure whether your horse is receiving the right level of nutrients, ask an expert or phone a feed helpline.
Don’t assume that abundant grass equals a happy horse. Rich spring grass can cause numerous problems, from laminitis, a debilitating foot disease, to colic, which in serious cases can be fatal. If you ate countless packets of chocolate biscuits you would pile on the pounds. If your horse has unlimited access to rich grass he, too, will become overweight, which is particularly true of native breeds. Buy a weigh tape to keep an eye on your horse’s waistline and restrict his grazing if necessary.
Ensure that your horse has access to fresh water. In winter you may need to break ice so that he can still drink. Also, be aware that troughs can become stagnant, so dip them out and scrub them clean regularly.