What things do I need to consider about my paddocks to turn my horse out safely?
I know that many of you out there are blessed to have turnout 24/7 for your horses. While this is ideal and desirable for horses in general, it’s not always practical, safe, or available. Lack of space is a big issue for many barns, and turnouts are often postage stamp size for a barn of 50+ horses. Other horses are international competitors, and have such an unbelievable level of fitness that turning them loose in a one acre field would be a disaster. Other horses are coming back from stall rest, either for a few days or even a few months. Other horses just go looney bins. Some horses have no idea what to do with turnout that they panic with a capital P. Other horses are so mellow you hardly see them move around! Bottom line - every horse has a story, a routine, and a living situation that may or may not have ideal amenities. It’s up to us to make sure out what we have is the best and safest it can be for our horses.
Being able to see buddies is great for horses.
An ideal turnout space for your typical show barn is just big enough that your horse can have a trot and canter about (if he’s allowed), but not so big that he can go full blast. The turnouts at the farm where I board my boys are about 100’ x 60’. Some farms also allow turnout in the round pens, which can be good for the horse that goes crazy in a larger space.
The footing in your turnouts should be good - not too hard, not too soft. You want footing that won’t bruise the horse hoof and won’t tear tendons if too deep. No rocks, and if it’s available in your area, some grass is ideal. Make sure the depth of the footing is uniform throughout! The footing is worked with the tractor and drag when necessary, and the paddock should drain well to prevent slippery mud. Please no rocks!
This turnout is ideal - good footing, water, nibbles, view to other horse, shade!
The corners of the turnouts can be designed to discourage horses from doing the gallop, slam, and spin. (This is also a great reason to have round or oval turnouts is possible.) Electric fencing is all around, so that horses don’t get tangled and your fence stays intact. Which, as you know, horses like to do if not discouraged by a zap. The gate is sturdy, with a horse proof latch. Or two. If you have a houdini, figure out a way to use a chain in addition to the latch and have the chain attach out of reach or be protected by some zappy fencing.
Please plan on regular fencing checks to look for loose wires, sharp pointy things, and other types of horse injuring opportunities. Many farms have fencing with wire mesh (a popular type is v-mesh), which I like ONLY if there is electric fencing on the horse side of the fence. Mesh is an invitation for horse shoes and teeth to get stuck, and any horse that rubs on this can be severely cut or punctured. If your farm is lucky enough to have a giant rolling magnet, zip this through the paddocks on a regular basis. It will pick up any metal things that turn up in the dirt and stop them from getting stuck in your horse. (You may not think that there is anything metal in your paddocks - I will bet you otherwise!)
Rolling magnets can clear your paddocks and property from weird, stray metal. Use frequently!
For stalls and paddocks - really any place there's a urine spot!
Here are some more tips for safe turnout!
- Each turnout should have a view to other horses.
- Help dry out urine spots and prevent harmful bacteria with stall freshener. These help to keep things dry and safe so that there's no slipping during shenanigans.
- Some form of eating entertainment is also a plus. Slow feeders, grass, or a bin with hay are all ideal ways to make turnout relaxing and enjoyable for your horse. And, providing some hay or grass alleviates any anxiety your horse has about missing a meal back in his house.
- All turnouts must have fresh water access, even if there is no eating entertainment.
- Provide shade of some sort, too. Either a shelter or trees, but make sure there is something for your horse to get out of the weather if need be.
How do you make your horse's turnout safe?