If your horse is used to being in a stall, transitioning him to being outdoors all the time requires some time and planning.
For riders who stall their horses part of the day and night, deciding to transition them to pasture board can be a tough one. For the first few months, every rainfall or snowstorm will have you worrying about whether your horse is comfortable, dry and warm. Many horse-people often hurry outside in the dead of night to check on their horses – only to discover they are quite happy. Even more people comment on how, despite having access to a nice warm shelter, their horses seem to prefer standing out in the weather, using their friends as wind blocks.
Here are a few ways you can help make the transition more comfortable for yourself and your horse.
Work Out a Timeframe
If you are able to plan well enough in advance, choose one of the nicer months of the year to switch your horse over to 24/7 turnout. While some horses cope with being moved out in the dead of winter, it is not recommended for most, especially if you live in a colder region.
Develop a Schedule
It’s typical to begin the transition by not bringing the horse into his stall during the evening at regular turn-in time, or else to bring him in for his evening feed and then put him back outside.
This usually works, but sometimes a horse gets upset about his schedule being changed so quickly, and because he is not being brought to his stall at the usual time. We try to transition these horses during the warmer months. They are usually on night turnout during this time, and brought in during the day to escape the heat and bugs. That makes it easy to slowly increase the time they’re left outside. It’s harder to do this when the horse is in at night and out during the day, because it involves getting up at night to bring him in, and would mean no one was awake to keep an eye on him should he get upset.
One of the hardest things for a horse-person is not doing what she think her horse wants. It can be hard to resist your horse, when you see him waiting with his head hanging over the gate, nickering at you to bring him inside because he knows it’s turn-in time.
Know that your horse doesn’t necessarily want to go into his stall. This is just his schedule, and it’s what he knows. Once he gets used to a new schedule, it will no longer be an issue. You both just need to get through this transition period.
There is a balance between letting your horse tough it out, and needing to figure out a different solution for him. If he begins to get so upset about being left out that he has the potential to harm himself or other horses, try to figure out some way to occupy him, or opt for a more gradual transition solution. Continue to keep balance in mind, though – you don’t want your horse to think you’ll come fetch him each time he throws a tantrum.
Let Nature Take Its Course
If your horse is going to live more naturally, you need to let him “go back to nature”.
• Resist clipping those whiskers, fetlocks and fuzzy ears. They provide natural protection and help your horse navigate his environment.
• Allow him to grow a coat for the colder months. If you typically blanket your horse, hold off a little longer than you normally would, or blanket a bit lighter than usual to encourage him to develop his coat. A lot of horses can go un-blanketed, and are actually warmer that way as long as they have access to a shelter to get out of the weather, as well as good hay, heated water and good friends. That said, some horses require at least a waterproof sheet to cut the rain and wind, especially if they have spent most of their lives inside and being clipped during the colder months. As much as I like to encourage a natural lifestyle, I also want my horses to be comfortable, so if they need a blanket they get one – I’m not going to leave a horse shivering outside for the sake of a principle.
• Resist body clipping your horse, or at least clip minimally, as in a trace or Irish clip. Those of us who ride our horses almost daily, preparing them for the upcoming show season, can’t always get away with not doing a minimal clip. Where I live, winter temperatures often dip below 0ºF, so my mare grows quite the heavy coat. That means I either have to spend hours cooling her out and risking her health because she gets damp – or doing a minimal clip and blanketing her accordingly.
• If you do clip, you must blanket. Depending on the type of weather you usually get in your region, you may want a lightweight stable sheet, two rain sheets (so you can switch them should one get soaked or overly dirty), a stable blanket, and a heavy waterproof winter blanket. These will leave you with plenty of layering options, and ways to switch blankets for repairs and cleaning. If you have clipped any portion of your horse’s neck, purchase a neck cover to attach to the blanket.
Keep an eye on things With your horse outdoors, it will be more difficult to monitor hay, grass and water intake. Keep an eye on his basic vitals, weight and overall health. Depending on his weight, you may need to look at ways to control his access to pasture or hay. This can involve enclosing the horse in a “dry lot” for a portion of the day, feeding small squares rather than round bales, using “slow feeders” to give hay, or investing in a grazing muzzle that will slow down his intake.
You don’t see horses out in the field as much as horses in the barn – so make a point of bringing yours in daily to check him over for any lumps or bumps.
When managed with care and consideration, the transition from stall to pasture board usually isn’t that difficult. Most horses dig the pasture life, and riders are usually pleasantly surprised at the difference in their equine partners’ health, happiness and attitude.