Weighing Your Options–Stall or Pasture?
Many factors should be considered carefully before the decision to keep your horse in a stall or pasture is made. It is much simpler to keep a horse in pasture as long as possible. A suitable pasture must be equipped with land that can support adequate grazing, water, and shelter. If the horse is out in a suitable pasture, the owner will only need to visit the horse once a day to check the water, provide feed, bed down the shelter if necessary, and to do a brief health check. The weather conditions, as well as the breed of the horse or pony, are factors that are heavily dependent on deciding whether or not a horse should be kept permanently in pasture. Animals with a fair proportion of cold blood are much hardier than hotter-blooded horses and can usually live outside in most temperatures. Thin-skinned animals, especially Arabians, Thoroughbreds and crossbreeds, are not very hardy and must be stabled at night during the winter.
Keeping a horse in a stall requires considerable amounts of both time and money. Mucking out, feeding and grooming involve at least an hour’s work each day. The need for exercise also takes up an additional 20 minutes or so. It may be necessary to keep horses stabled or boarded out if the owner has no access to grazing. Horses should not be stabled indefinitely; time spent in the pasture improves the horse’s coat, hooves, and temperament. Stabling is often necessary during the winter, and is essential for horses if they are to be fit for competition or are clipped for regular work. In this situation, feed can be controlled carefully; a horse that is exercised hard needs a diet of grains in addition to hay and grass.
A horse in pasture should be inspected daily for signs of illness or injury. It is necessary to keep a regular check on its body condition. The quality and quantity of the grass can vary heavily throughout the year, and extra feed may be required to prevent a horse from losing condition. In colder weather, a shelter or blanket may be necessary to keep the horse warm. Extensive wet weather conditions can produce skin problems such as rain rot. Removing shoes, especially the hind ones, will reduce the risk of injury if kicking occurs. However, a pastured horse’s feet tend to break away without shoes, and may benefit from shoes or at least “tips” on the front feet. Pastured horses also need their feet trimmed and wormed regularly.
Digestive problems are more common in stall-kept horses than in ones in pasture. A particular danger is colic due to impaction; bran mashes and other forms of laxative can be used to help prevent this from occurring. Horses can be allergic to molds in hay and straw. If there is poor ventilation in a confined stall, these allergies can produce a lung reaction and coughing symptoms called heaves or broken wind. This may eventually disappear if the horse is turned out to pasture. Stall keeping may also bring about a higher propensity for circulation problems. The most common problem with a stall-kept horse is boredom. This can be responsible for behavioral problems such as chewing, cribbing, weaving, and stall walking. Depression and nervousness due to boredom and lack of interaction may cause changes in eating habits. Introducing a sheep, goat, or other companion may help to solve this problem.
An ideal situation would include a system that balances both the time spent stalled and the time in pasture. The horse is more exercised when in pasture, but is easier to keep clean when stabled for periods of time. Stabling also prevents having to catch the horse before riding. A combination of stall and field involves less work than keeping a horse stabled continually. The horse only needs to be visited at night and in the morning to be fed, watered, checked, and to be let in our out. One solution is to keep the animal in at night during the winter to keep it warm and give it extra feed. In the daytime, it should be left out to graze and exercise. In the summer, it can be better to stable the horse during the day and turn it out at night because horses seek shade and shelter from flies in hot weather. When the grass is lush it may be necessary to restrict access to grazing, especially if the horse suffers from chronic laminitis; daytime stabling may correct this condition. Stabling during late afternoon and evening can help prevent summer itch in those horses that are allergic to midge bites.