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October 5, 2011

Horse Care and Stabling

by Melissa
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There are a lot of considerations in your goal of safe surroundings and room to roam in the company and security of other horses. By its nature a horse is most relaxed while grazing leisurely. So a fenced in paddock without grass is not ideal in the horse’s terms, although he may tend to move about more playing with a mate in the paddock. A pasture suited to a horse will fend off many injuries and health problems.

Stabling Your Horse
Whether a horse can be stabled depends on the work he will be doing and his breed. Certain breeds that have thinner skin and ancestry from very warm climates are not hardy and must be stabled during the coldest of winter. Such breeds would be Thoroughbreds, Arabs and Andalusians. A stable blanket fitted to them may be needed too. Whenever a horse is required to do hard work or endurance it should be stabled and fed accordingly.

A stall-kept horse is protected from inclement weather, especially cold and rain. The added security of knowing where your horse is and having convenient access to her is better than having her out of sight and difficult or impossible to catch. She will be cleaner as she will not be running or rolling in mud and water. You don’t have to sustain a pasture of edible grasses and depend on rainfall, or live on acreage. The possibility of your horse eating poisonous plants or trees is erased. Also, she won’t suffer from high level contamination of worms from a field overgrazed over many years.

She would never suffer from laminitus by eating too much newly sown grass. You will be able to carefully control what food she ingests. This is especially useful for an active horse needing grains. Cold weather may cause agitation in the form of “the need to move” to get circulation going. Ample bedding encourages lying down to provide warmth and completely rest her. See why it’s called bedding! Covering the floor also removes the harsh long-term effect of standing on a hard floor.

Various types of stall flooring to choose from follow. Studies have shown that horses differ in their own preference.

Straw: It is economical and can be spread over fields to dispose of. The best comes from stems of oats, wheat, rye or barley. It drains easily and is usually pretty widely available but is highly inflammable.

Wood Shavings and Sawdust: They provide a hygienic bed and don’t contain spores like straw, as long as it is the dust free kind. If your horse develops respiratory problems it is an alternative to straw. They are commonly stored in bags, so they can be outside. Drawbacks to shavings are that they are slow drying and heavy when wet.

Wood Pellets: Their cost is initially more expensive than wood shavings but they result in less waste because they last a long time. The pellets are hard and appear uncomfortable, but a sprinkle with the water hose expands them into fluffy bedding. Hemp: The core of the stalk of this plant is exceptionally absorbent. It benefits horses with dust allergies. After 6 weeks it will rot down to a favorable compost. It is legally grown in Canada. Your horse will not smoke it though.

Shredded Paper: This is the most dust free and is often used for performance horses. It should be laid down as a deep bed as it saturates quickly. Peat Moss: This, where available, can be comfortable and easily disposed of. It doesn’t burn, but is expensive and its dark color makes wet areas hard to find.

Rubber Matting: It does not provide protection from cold. When wet it does not absorb but is low cost. If cleaned frequently with a hose mucking is quick.

Keeping A Pasture: A field allows your horse to roam at will; but even in a large field a horse is accident-prone. Fencing is a factor in keeping horses safe. The best is wooden post and rail.

It must be sturdy since horses may rub against it. A tall, thick hedge works well, protecting against wind, rain and snow and providing some shade. Wire fencing may be used, but the lowest wire must not be close to the ground as a hoof will get caught in it. Never use barb wire as a horse could run into it. Gates should not open to busy roads, and a horse-proof catch is needed; as is a chain and padlock to deter horse thieves. The width of a gate should be 6 feet so your horse doesn’t bang itself passing through.

A shelter, such as a multiangled screen 6 feet high, needs to be built with its back to the prevailing wind away from fencing. A wooded area is some protection but tends to attract more horseflies in the summer. A turnout blanket can be used to keep your horse dry and warm and a facemask in summer for flies.

All paddocks should be checked for poisonous plants, trees and shrubs. The most dangerous is ragwort. Clean water must always be accessible. The ideal would be an unpolluted stream or river. Stagnant ponds should be fenced off. A galvanized water trough is ok and must be completely refilled every week, even if horses won’t be there as it is a mosquito breeding area. Check on it every day and be prepared to break ice 2 to 3 times a day if cold. Never place it in a corner where horses could trap each other. The ground around it will be subject to much wear as horses drink a lot. Get a sturdy container that won’t get knocked over.

Ideally, a field has grasses from seeds selected and mixed with horses in mind. Rye, creeping red fescue, crested dog’s tail, meadow grass, wild white clover and timothy are all good. Well-drained soil is best. Horses bite close to the ground and overgrazing results in barren areas alternating with patches of weeds. This will turn to mud in wet weather, so management is important. The quality of of grazing will depend on soil type, rain, wind and altitude. Get the soil tested.

Remove or harrow droppings to control worm infestation. Rest the pasture periodically. If large enough divide it into sections: one for the horses and the other allow to be renewed or fertilized. Harrowing in the spring encourages new growth by removing dead plants. The best home for any horse is to have a stall along with a field to allow him to get exercise and eat natural grasses at least part of each day. Good luck to you and your horse!

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