How can I get my horse safely adjusted to turnout?
For most show horses, we strive to find a balance between “being a horse” and also having a job, which often includes travel, shows, life in a stall, etc. While I wish every single horse in the world could “roam free and just be a horse” sometimes, it’s not feasible, safe, or practical in many cases. Lay ups, lack of space, and temperament play a role in how available turn out is for horses. That being said, there are many things that we can do to help our horses have some safe turnout. For the purposes of clarity, this article deals with turning out horses individually, and not introducing horses into a herd. You can read about safe herd introductions here.
Not all horses do well in turnout, and some do just fine. Some panic, some play too hard, some are destructive to the fencing, some only snooze, some only roll, you get the idea. Every horse is going to be different, so let’s go through some tips on turnout that can help your horse get adjusted.
First, your horse must know the following:
-How to be lead safely
-How to be let loose safely
-How to be caught safely
I know horses that jerk heads and yank away when you remove the halter in a stall. Imagine this in a paddock! (Hint: Unacceptable. Period.) If your horse is lacking any of these vital skills, get them nailed down before you tackle turnout. Whatever method you choose, stick to it and be consistent. This includes informing everyone that handles your horse a course of action, not to be deviated from. I’m a huge fan of clicker training.
Notice the log between the gate and the grass? Call it a "horse speed bump".
From a safety standpoint, turnout should balance the “be a horse” and the “don’t kill yourself”. You will have to decide at what point your horse is dangerous to himself, people, or other horses. This is why you must be able to catch him. I do my best to discourage the gallop, slam and spin. I much prefer the trot/canter around, prance a bit, you can roll and buck, too.
I have worked with a few horses that competed in the Olympics. Even during peak show seasons, they were allowed to have turnout. Some needed a round pen to get the bucks out, and then could go safely into a grass paddock. Others needed supervision, because there was only 0% or 239% running and panic while turned out. For less fit horses, we still saw those types, so each horse had a routine.
If you establish a daily consistent routine, your horse will learn quickly what is expected. And, you will likely find that once that routine is established (same time of day, with some munchies, etc.) the novelty of it all wears off.
Adding hay or slow feeders to turnout time can help a horse feel settled and comfortable.
Many times, after a lay up, bad weather, a show, etc. your horse will be more excited than usual to go to his turnout. Plan ahead! Here are some tips on making the turnout adjustment go smoothly:
- Turnout after exercise.
- Warmer typically = safer. (Cold weather friskies are common)
- Have munchies available, like grass, hay in a bin, etc. Horses without food know exactly what time it is. Feeding time can = bad behavior time unless they have some nibbles. Come to think of it, horses with food also know what time it is.
- Protect your horse and your fence with hot wire.
- Make sure your horse can see other horses.
- Protect his legs and use bell boots.
- Make sure the footing is safe before you turnout.
- If you must leave a halter on to catch him, it must be leather or nylon with a leather breakaway crownpiece. No 100% nylon halters.
What works for your horse at turnout time?