Keeping a Horse at Grass
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Keeping a Horse at Grass

Looking after your horse if it is stabled can be very demanding of your time and quite boring or even stressful for your horse. For some lucky people (and horses) access to grazing is available throughout the year, but even so, some horse owners may feel that it isn’t right to leave their horse outside year round. Whilst this may be true in certain circumstances, such as illness or with certain breeds, most horses can live quite naturally and comfortably in the great outdoors all year.If you own a thoroughbred, or part bred, it is probably wise not to winter him outside although turning him out for a couple of hours during the daytime may be beneficial. Competition and other working horses may also need to be stabled in order to maintain their fitness. However, if your horse or pony is of a more traditional type, spending the winter outside may be best for him contrary to your belief that he should be snug and warm in his stable. Ideally having access to outdoor grazing as well as a stable is the best situation but occasionally a horse may not feel comfortable inside at all and needs to be kept at grass all year round. If this is the case with your horse then you need to choose where you keep him with care. An ideal field would consist of grass, trees and running water as well as having undulating ground, easy access and a good, strong fence. In addition there must be sufficient grazing – one horse per half hectare (one and a quarter acres) is about right. This ideal field is going to be very hard to find but alterations to less desirable fields are possible. For example, if there is no running water then a trough can be installed, preferably with a mains supply to prevent your back from giving way whilst carrying endless buckets of fresh water to and fro! A derelict fence or barbed wire can be replaced and a field shelter can be built if there are no suitable trees. It is also possible to improve the pasture if the grass is unsuitable and maybe drainage could be installed if necessary. The grazing must be of good quality as horses are selective and pick and choose where and what they eat if there is a variety on offer. The ideal pasture would have a mixture of grasses and weeds such as perennial rye grass, timothy, cocksfoot, sainfoin, dandelion and ribgrass.However with non stop grazing, paddocks can become horse sick which means there will be patches with no grass at all and other areas with the type of coarse, rough grass that your horse will not eat. The latter can be addressed by allowing sheep or cattle into those areas occasionally whilst the former can be prevented by sectioning off parts of the field. Restricting your horse and his companions to grazing on a recovered area whilst another is being rested is very beneficial for the management of the pasture. The parts of the field that are resting can then be harrowed, which aerates the soil and encourages fresh grass to grow, and treated with fertiliser to aid recovery. Remember though to keep your horse away from any treated areas for about three weeks. Another benefit of restricting grazing is an ability to confine the laminitis prone horse to an area with very little grass; a method that many prefer to stabling or muzzling. There are of course other factors you need to consider before keeping your horse at grass year round. Horses kept outside suffer more accidents than those stabled; they can be kicked, get tangled in fencing, or lose condition through illness or bad weather. Also, just because your horse is roaming free with natural food available and plenty of water doesn’t mean that you can miss a couple of days between visits. It is essential that he is visited at least once a day which, although still time consuming, is less work than mucking out twice a day. Also your visit will mean he is still getting your affection regularly which is necessary for your bonding, whilst any signs of illness, infection or injury will be noticed right away before it turns into something nasty. In addition remember that horses should never be kept alone so ensure there will be other horses spending time outside with yours. Another problem associated with living outside is a bot infestation so keep a look out for the tiny white eggs amongst your horse’s coat – particularly his forelegs, shoulders and face. Regular grooming will soon alert you to any problem of this nature. The positive benefits to keeping your horse at grass – and yes there are some – are access to the natural vitamins in the vegetation of the pasture (make sure there is no ragwort of course), prevention of boredom and the fact that he will get plenty of exercise which can mean the difference between having a horse who is too lively to ride and one that is a pleasure. Overall keeping a horse at grass is the most natural way for him to live and will be beneficial in most cases. Just remember if you decide on this option that horses kept outside will need supplementary feeding under certain circumstances and you must remember to remove manure regularly to prevent a build up of parasites leading to a worm infestation - and to blanket or not to blanket – well that is a whole new topic! Picture this – you are approaching your happy and contented horse in his field and he runs excitedly to the fence to greet you; or, you are returning from a ride, your horse’s field mates whinny a greeting and as you turn him out he has a good old roll on the fresh green grass. Nothing is more pleasurable than this natural way for him to live and it does him a world of good to!

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