From being stabled to 24/7 turnout
From being stabled to 24/7 turnout, by Maaike Boshuis 21.12.2019
Okay, so, your horse is telling you it isn't okay with being stabled. Now what?
Simple. Find a new yard! Or start a conversation with your current yard owner about making changes.
You want to be looking for a yard with day and night turnout. If you can find a track system yard/paddock paradise/equicentral system yard, you pretty much don't have to arrange anything, just move your horse there. If you go for grazing livery or rent/buy your own land, then you might find the text underneath helpful.
Look for something with a shelter, preferably. This can be in the form of a field shelter, barn, open stable doors, an arch, ship container, something like that.
If there isn't any: are you allowed to put shelter in the field, or is there shelter nearby the field and can you make a path or opening between the field and this shelter? Your last option would be turnout without shelter, with an emergency stable that you could use for the most terrible weather, or use rugs.
A field shelter is ideal though, you can sleep worry free again, knowing that your horse will choose what suits him.
You also have to look for play mates. Horses are herd animals and it is not fair to turn them out alone. If they have to be on constant 'predator-watch' themselves, they might not be able to rest or sleep properly which leads to stress related problems, like spooky behavior and / or compromised gut health. Keeping horses alone can also create separation anxiety when they do see a horse. It can also make them sad, or nervous. All of this stress affects the gut health, and thus healthy hoof growth. So, find another horse, or a couple, to turn yours out with, or find a yard where they put horses in groups.
The next thing to think about is mud. VERY common in the UK, but also in other countries. We spend at least half the year walking around in mud, and the horses too, especially if they are out 24/7. To prevent mudfever, unhappy horses, too soft hooves, thrush and more, you might want to look for a way to deal with the mud at the high traffic areas. These would be at the gate, in and around the shelter and where hay will be fed. Mud Control slabs are perfect for all of this, but you could also look at wood chips, road pavings, heavy duty stable mats, gravel, sand, limestone, astroturf, etcetera. But do your research! Some surfaces need preperation, like digging, or a membrane or planning permission, or they need yearly top-ups. Anything is better then mud, when done right. Another idea would be to have an all weather turnout available, like a sand paddock with drainage, an arena, or a surfaced track around the perimeter of the field. Do watch out with feeding hay above a sandy surface.
Then there is food. Day and night turnout sounds like they can 'just' eat grass non stop. This also sounds cheap and easy. But, if you want to do it properly, you have to provide hay as well, because grass is not perfect nor super healthy.
A lot of horse owners know that grass is quite dangerous in the growing seasons (Spring, Summer, Autumn). Growing grass contains water and too much fructans (sugar type), which is especially true with lots of sunshine and rainfall (hello UK!), but also on frosty mornings, rain after drought, in short grass, etc. The wrong type of grass (like rye grass) and fertilizer can also create issues for horses. Farmers tend to treat their land for cattle, or they did so in the past before horses were put on it. But those grass types and soil treatments are meant to fatten cattle up, which is not what we want for our horses!
Too much consumption of the wrong grasses can cause laminitis, EMS, IR, Cushings, hoof wall seperations, headshaking syndrome, spooky behavior, muscle spasms and more.
Growing grass ('short, lush, fresh') also doesn’t contain a lot of fiber and the horse’s hindgut micro-organism population really does need enough fibre to survive and stay healthy. Protein, sugars and starch don’t reach the hind gut, they are processed in the small intestine. Starving the hindgut flora by feeding not enough fiber has serious consequences for your horses health and behaviour. Mature grass (standing hay or hay) does contain enough fiber to ensure a healthy hindgut flora. (www.calmhealthyhorses.co.uk)
The best thing to do in Spring, Summer and early Autumn is to get some electric fencing and make a track around your field. You can provide hay along the track, they will walk/eat away the grass, and they also get more movement to look for their hay. Click 'paddock paradise' or 'track system livery yard' and do your research. There are also several Facebook Groups which provide lots of information and advice.
So to sum up: provide hay year round, not only in winter when you've run out of grass! Fiber is important, all day every day.
Providing hay in the field can be done in piles, although some horses stand or pee on it, or just eat too much. You can also tie hay nets to fence posts (watch out for horse shoes!), or buy a round bale hay net. If you prefer waterproof hay feeding ideas, try converting a compost bin or wheelie bin into a hay feeder and attach this to the fence. You can also buy a ring feeder, a haybell or hayhutch, or build your own. On Pinterest you can find more hay feeding ideas for outside. And don't forget to put some hay inside the shelter if the weather is playing up. Personally, I always put around half of their daily hay amount at dry standing areas, to prevent hooves from getting soft and thrushy in winter.
Once you have everything in place, you have to decide if you want to slowly transition you horse into it, or just take the plunge. You know your horse best. But watch out with the sensitive ones.
I'll promise you, you will get a whole different horse once he's allowed to be one! And I'll tell you a little secret: their hooves will definitely improve!