Lots of young riders have horses and ponies that live in the pasture 24-7. Keeping a horse outside all of the time cuts down on time spent mucking out and filling water buckets, but it doesn’t mean you can toss him in a field and forget about him. Pasture-kept horses, just like their stabled pals need regular attention. Plan to visit your horse at least once a day to make sure he’s healthy and happy. Even if you’re not riding him, take five minutes to make sure your horse and his buddies are safe in their pasture.
Here are 10 things to think about if your horse lives outside all of the time.
Your horse must have some sort of shelter in the field. He needs protection from cold wind, driving rain or blizzards. A three-sided run-in shed is the best option if you can afford it. Your horse may not use it as much as you think they would in the winter, but he’ll go inside it in the summer to escape flies and the hot sun.
If you build a run-in shed, make it big enough to accommodate all of the horses in the pasture and face it south, so your horse is protected from chilly winds that come from the north.
Your horse may not need a shed if there’s some natural shelter in the field, for example a large hedge, brush or row of trees to act as a windbreak.
The field should have horse-safe fencing. There are many types of fencing available including wood plank, diamond-mesh wire, PVC tubing, tape, rubber and nylon strips and coated wire. No matter what kind of fence you have, check it on a regular basis.
If you have barbed wire fence, replace it as soon as you can. If a horse gets pushed into it by a pasture mate or tries to stick his head through it to reach grass, he could get cut or scraped. Many horses are injured by barbed wire fencing.
Take 10 minutes once a week to walk the fence line to make sure there are no loose boards or sharp nails sticking out to injure your horse and no stray wires that could wrap around your horse’s leg!
If your horse is kept in his pasture by electric fence, test the fence regularly to make sure it’s working.
Grass is a big part of horse’s diet so try to keep your pasture in good condition. Don’t allow a pasture to get overgrazed by having too many horses on it. A good rule to follow is one horse per acre.
If you have two pastures, alternate grazing your horse. Give a pasture a few months break so grass can grow without being eaten.
Mow the pasture on a regular basis to cut back tall weeds so they don’t spread. A good grass height is about three inches.
Remove manure piles from the pasture regularly. The piles kill the grass underneath them, and they’re also a breeding ground for worms.
If you drag the fields with a harrow to spread the manure, only do it when the sun is out and it’s hot so the worms and worm eggs are killed by the heat. If you do it when it’s not hot, you spread the parasites all around the field. Yuck.
Your horse needs a constant water source. If you use an automatic waterer, check it every day to make sure it’s working. If you use a trough, fill it regularly. In the winter you need to break the ice on the trough or use a floating trough heater so your horse has plenty of water to drink. In the summer, clean the trough every once in a while to remove algae, dirt and dead bugs.
Salt or mineral block
Place a salt or mineral block in your horse’s pasture to make sure he’s getting all the minerals he needs to stay healthy. You can buy them for about $5 at a feed store. Place the block in a block holder, a plastic container with holes in the bottom, so when it rains the water drains out instead of pooling around the block causing it to break down too quickly.
Always check the gates and their fasteners before you leave your horse. It’s so easy to forget to lock a gate and horses are quick to figure out a gate is open. Most horses think it’s very exciting to escape their pasture, and some can be difficult to catch once they’ve made their “prison break.” It’s scary to think about your horse running loose on the road or around your neighborhood, so double check that your gates are shut securely.
Walk around the pasture regularly to pick up debris or trash that has found its way into your horse’s home. This is especially important if the pasture is next to a road. People throw trash out of cars all of the time and something could end up in your pasture.
Aluminum can could get torn apart and cut your horse. A plastic bag flying around could spook him. Branches on the ground could trip him. Horses are accident-prone creatures, so keep your horse’s pasture free of hazardous objects.
Fill in holes that develop in the field with dirt or rocks. A horse may trip because of a hole and tear a tendon or ligament. He could even break a leg!
It’s safest to let your horse roam around his pasture without a halter. Why? A halter could get caught on something and your horse could injure himself. And keeping a halter on your horse 24-7 makes it a lot easier for a thief to catch and steal him.
If your horse is hard to catch and must wear a halter, use one that will break if it gets caught on something. This means a leather halter or a special breakaway halter with a leather strap behind the horse’s ears. It’s a bad idea to keep a nylon halter on your horse because it won’t break if it gets caught on a branch or fence post and your horse could get hurt struggling to get free.
Most horses grow woolly coats to keep them warm in the winter months, but some need to wear a turnout blanket if they live outside all of the time.
If you have a hard time keeping weight on your horse, he may need a blanket so he won’t waste energy trying to stay warm. Some breeds have thinner coats, so they may need a blanket. And if you’re going to clip your horse, he must wear a blanket.Check your horse every day to make sure his blanket hasn’t slipped or been damaged.
It’s a good idea to have two turnout blankets because if one gets wet, you can put the dry one on your horse. Wearing a blanket that is wet all the way through will result in a cold, and possibly sick, horse.
Check your horse daily
When you visit your horse, check that he’s physically OK. Pick out his feet and check his legs for swelling. Check that he doesn’t have any nasty cuts or injuries that need treating. Watch him walk to make sure he doesn’t look lame. If he wears a fly mask or sheet in the summer, take them off to get a good look at his head and body.