Winter Turnout Dilemmas
Ok, so first a little background on my horses, I have a 22 year old AQHA gelding and a 16 year old APHA mare, both are in decent shape and are generally healthy (gelding could stand to lose a couple pounds, but not bad and has been battling thrush and a contracted heel for the last year or so), and grow full, thick, and fuzzy winter coats - no blankets. I usually go to the barn three nights a week and turn them both out overnight on those nights, my dilemma is whether or not that turnout schedule should be altered during the winter.
The BO told me that my gelding has been coming in stiff in the morning on the colder nights (20's and 30's degrees F), that the water freezes (don't think it's actually been doing that yet as it hasn't been cold enough for long enough periods), and there's nothing for them to eat in the pasture right now. They are fed grain and hay twice a day and it's a wooded pasture so they have cover from any wind and I don't leave them out if its wet/rainy. So I'm trying to decide if it's actually bad to continue with this, they always are excited and want to go out and I want them to be out as much as possible as long as it's not too muddy especially with his thrush issue, or to stop.
In the past, I've always let the BO completely run their turnout schedules, but I quit relying on that system and started taking matters into my own hands on the nights I'm there because I feel they weren't getting out enough. So I feel kinda stuck between a rock and a hard place. If I let her just turn them out days again I know they won't get as much time or solid time out as they are this way (and probably not on a totally regular basis), but I don't want to cause them any harm/extreme discomfort either. Would be so much simpler if I could rely on the BO with turnout, but she's always been pretty bad at getting horses out enough. Especially in the winter since everyone at my barn seems to think if it's under 50 degrees all the horses need to be bundled up with winter blankets in their stalls and the barn closed up tight.
My thoughts on the cold has always been that horses are much tougher than what most people give them credit for, and everything I've read says being turned out to move and walk around is better for stiff, possibly arthritic horses in the cold than being cooped up in a stall. Also, I've always thought that them not having a pasture full of grass doesn't automatically mean not leaving them out either, doesn't that basically equate to a dry lot turnout? The only issue I completely understand would be the water freezing, which I'm trying to find some ways to solve that. I mean this is southern Ohio, not Canada, we don't typically have too extreme of a winter.
So any opinions on what you guys would do, guidelines you usually follow? Advice is much appreciated!
They are tough. They get stiff for the same reasons that people get stiff. Arthritis and/or lack of movement. I judge turnout on primarily, footing. Don't want my horses slipping on sloppy footing or ice, but they are outside all summer, even during heavy rains and mud. The next criteria is weather. An ice storm keeps my horses inside. A snowstorm that's piling up, does the same, but it's less of a worry. Movement helps older horses move better.
I would leave them out as long as it's dry, but certainly not without hay. They need hay to stay warm, digesting roughage creates body heat.
Water is equally important. Don't know your situation, but dumping a bucket of hot water in a trough of decent size to make it a bit tepid is an option. They will drink considerably more when the water is tepid and colic is prevented.
If you can spread the hay out in several smaller piles makes them move around a bit and could prevent the stiffness your BO saw.
Good luck in getting through to the BO;-)
Thanks for your quick replies!
As for the footing, if it's muddy or icy enough to be slippery they stay in as well as if it's cold and rainy or a rain/snow mixture/sleet.
I've thought about that with the hay, how much do you think would be needed though? If it's not too much I could get the BO to possibly hold back part of their hay from their breakfast and dinner and put it out with them at night, but if it's too much I would have to supply the extra.
As for the water, it would be difficult if not impossible to get hot enough water out there to make a difference. Since it's not my barn I'm limited in what I can do to the water trough, but inexpensive solutions not requiring electricity would be optimal. Looking into a cheap de-icer, but not sure if that's an option yet.
We've transported water to the barn in buckets. Plastic trashbag in bucket, hot water in, close bag with twist-tie, nothing spilled, and still warm enough to make a difference. Depends of course on how far you would have to go, but 1/2 hour the heat held quite well.
Don't know how many lbs of hay your BO is feeding. And how they're being fed, inside, then turned out, and when turned out. You can try on a weekend, let them out with their portions of hay and check next morning how much, if any is left.
If they need more, you could always suggest that you don't use bedding or work to clean the stalls, when they're out, so a little extra hay shouldn't be too much of a problem.
Your last paragraph says everything I was going to say, OP. Weather permitting, it's better for them to be out than in if stiffness is a concern. You are turning them out for their mental and physical well-being, not as an additional feed source. As long as they are getting proper nutrition while stalled, they should be fine outside overnight. You can try a roundbale in their pasture if overnight warmth is a concern (as you don't blanket). It will help them stay warmer to be munching hay on those windier nights, but it sounds like they don't go out when weather is less than favorable, so I wouldn't worry about that hassle.
As for water freezing, that's a big no-no. Get an electric tank heater, or don't turn out at all when below freezing. As deserthorsewoman said, hydration is a big concern. Some horses will not drink enough if water is too cold, and some are not savvy enough to break through ice. If your only choices are frozen water or stalling, I'd choose the latter. It's not worth the colic risk.
20s and 30s aren't cold enough for water to freeze? It's only been 30s and 40s at night in my area and we have at least half an inch of ice in the troughs every morning...
I'm still feeling pretty good about leaving them out, Monday night the low was only 53 and it was a bit muddy but I left them out in a pasture where they had access to the indoor arena. Would be perfect if I could do that all the time, but unfortunately I don't think that would be allowed.
The extra hay would definitely be something that I would have to provide regardless of shavings saved, etc... And I'm still looking into the electric tank heater, but I'm not positive there's good access for an extension cord yet and I'm concerned about the extra cost in the electric bill, again since I'm a boarder and don't own the barn. So we'll see on that if I can't figure out anything else.
The only reason I think the bucket of hot water wouldn't work is because I live almost 30 minutes away and I always clean stalls and exercise/ride/brush etc... before turning them out so it would turn into a couple hours before they're turned out. Not sure if it would last long enough to make a difference, though it may be worth a shot. The basketball option is definitely something I want to try. It seems like that would work on at least the less cold nights.
Not calling anyone a liar, but I'm still not quite buying that a 100-150 gallon water tank could freeze even a top layer when it's only getting down to below freezing for a few hours overnight. And if it is freezing a light layer, it can't be for more than a couple hours at most they're without water. I have rabbits whose small bowls haven't even frozen yet. But I definitely want to find a solution so there's no chance of them being without water regardless.
Thanks again for all the replies. I really wanted to get on here to get as many opinions as possible because I usually feel like the BO thinks I know nothing or am wrong about how to care for my own horses and like to get as much info as possible to combat that. When my gelding first got thrush last year and I asked her not to turn him out in mud, she tried to say that mud would help it and kept ignoring my requests, she upped his feed without discussing it with me when I started exercising him more which was to try to get him to lose weight in the first place, etc... She just has her way of doing things and doesn't like it when people go against that. So I really appreciate the reassurance that my logic is not completely off! lol
I so feel for you, lol.
For the water.....it's not only the freezing over which is the problem. Some horses just don't drink enough when the water is too cold and can end up with impaction colic. I had one! So I offered him tepid water in the morning and evening, and water of normal temperature was there anyway, and he happily drank almost the whole bucket all at once. Never colicked again. So even if your bucket cools down, offering them that, maybe split between them, gives them a headstart:-)
Thanks deserthorsewoman! lol
And that's a good point, even if I can just get them to drink a decent amount before they go out or even if they stay in and it's really cold to ensure they are drinking something would help my peace of mind.
But I am still wondering if I were to do that then I would know they're drinking fresh water in the morning, access to water all day long in their stall, fresh water again in the early evening, and then me giving them warmer water at night and access to water for at least most of the night if it's really that big of a concern just for those couple of hours that it would be super cold/lightly frozen?
I don't have heated buckets in their stalls and their buckets don't typically freeze at all in the barn due to all the doors being closed up, but it's still pretty cold all the time and there have never been any issues with them not drinking enough. Just thinking out loud here....
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