Not everyone is lucky enough to have outdoor facilities for their horses like the one in the picture.
In 1986, we were fortunate to acquire our own property with stables and a small piece of land. We had been keeping the horses on rented yards that didn't quite meet our needs. We quickly learned the challenges of maintaining a paddock, especially since we only had just under 2 acres for two (and for a short period, four) horses. While the paddock was not really enough space, we were grateful to have it and made the most of it by building a sand school at one end. This not only provided a place for the horses to stretch their legs without damaging the field, but also served as a great location for schooling.
In this article, we will try and cover most aspects of maintaining outside space for horses.
Maintaining a field or paddock for horses requires consistent effort, but the rewards of having a healthy and safe space for your equine friends make it well worth it. Here are some tips for keeping your field or paddock in top condition: We will elaborate on some of these points later.
Remove the droppings: Regularly clean up manure: Horse manure can harbour harmful parasites and bacteria, so it's important to remove it from a small field or paddock on a regular basis. At a minimum, try to remove manure every other day.
Rotate grazing areas: To prevent overgrazing and maintain a healthy grass cover, if you are able, consider rotating your horses between different fields or paddocks. This allows the grass in each area time to recover and regrow. In our case, we used to restrict turnout to the sand school while the field recovered although it was never enough for grazing.
Maintain proper fencing: Fencing is crucial for keeping your horses safe and contained. Make sure your fences are in good repair, with no loose or broken boards or posts.
Provide a source of clean water: Horses need access to clean, fresh water at all times. Make sure your field or paddock has a reliable water source and that it is clean and in good working order or containers are always clean and topped up.
Control weeds: Weeds can take over a field or paddock if left unchecked, reducing the amount of grass available for your horses to graze on. Regularly removing weeds by hand or using a safe herbicide can help keep your field or paddock weed-free.
Manage mud: Wet, muddy conditions can be uncomfortable for horses and can lead to foot and leg problems. If your field or paddock is prone to getting muddy, consider installing drainage or providing a covered area for your horses to escape wet conditions if kept out.
Remove toxic plants: Some plants can be toxic to horses if ingested. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the plants in your area and remove any toxic species from your field or paddock.
By following these tips, you can help keep your field or paddock healthy and safe for your horses. A well-maintained field or paddock is an essential part of responsible horse care, and it will provide your equine friends with a comfortable and enjoyable place to spend their time.
Weeds and dangerous plants.
Ragwort: (Senecio jacobaea): This plant contains toxic compounds called pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can cause liver damage and potentially be lethal to horses if ingested in large enough quantities.
Symptoms of ragwort poisoning in horses may include loss of appetite, weight loss, jaundice, weakness, and lethargy. In severe cases, the toxins can cause liver failure, leading to death. It's important to remove ragwort from your paddock or pasture as soon as you spot it to prevent your horses from being exposed to it.
There are several methods for getting rid of ragwort:
Hand-pulling: Small infestations of ragwort can be removed by hand-pulling the plants. Be sure to wear gloves and remove as much of the root as possible to prevent regrowth.
Cutting: Cutting the tops off of ragwort plants can prevent them from producing seeds, but it won't kill the plants. This method is best used in combination with another control method.
Herbicides: There are several herbicides available that are effective at killing ragwort. Be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions when using any chemical control method.
Grazing: Some livestock, such as sheep, will graze on ragwort if it is the only available forage. However, this is not a recommended control method as it can be dangerous for the animals.
It's important to keep in mind that it can be challenging to completely eradicate ragwort once it has established itself. A combination of control methods is often necessary to effectively manage the plant. It's also important to monitor your paddock or pasture regularly for new ragwort growth and take steps to remove it as soon as it appears.
Other unwanted infestations include:
Bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum): This plant can cause anaemia, loss of appetite, and weight loss in horses.
Nightshades (Solanum spp.): These plants contain toxic alkaloids that can cause digestive upset, muscle tremors, and in severe cases, respiratory failure.
Yew (Taxus spp.): All parts of the yew plant, including the leaves and seeds, are toxic to horses and can cause tremors, difficulty breathing, and death.
Foxglove (Digitalis spp.): This plant contains toxic cardiac glycosides that can cause digestive upset, tremors, and in severe cases, heart failure.
This is just a small sample of the many plants that can be toxic to horses. It's important to familiarize yourself with the plants in your area and take steps to remove any toxic species from your paddock or pasture. If you are unsure about the safety of a particular plant, it's always a good idea to consult with a veterinarian or a local agency for advice.
Fertilizing your paddock or field.
However small the space, if your paddock is to be used for grazing, fertilizing is an important aspect of maintaining healthy grass for your horses. There are a few key things to consider when fertilizing a horse paddock:
Timing: It is best to fertilize a horse paddock in the spring or autumn when the grass is actively growing. Avoid fertilizing during hot, dry periods or when the grass is dormant.
Type of fertilizer: Choose a fertilizer that is specifically formulated for use on pastures and is suitable for horses. Avoid fertilizers with a high nitrogen content, as they can cause rapid grass growth and potentially lead to digestive issues in horses.
Application rate: Follow the instructions on the fertilizer package for the appropriate application rate. Over-fertilizing can lead to excess grass growth, which can be harmful to your horses.
Watering: Water the paddock after fertilizing to help the nutrients reach the roots of the grass.
By following these guidelines, you can effectively fertilize your horse paddock and ensure that your horses have access to healthy grass.
Do I need a professional to fertilize my paddock?
It is generally not necessary to hire a professional to fertilize a horse paddock. If you are comfortable following the instructions on a fertilizer package and have the necessary equipment (such as a spreader), you should be able to fertilize your paddock on your own.
However, there are a few situations in which it might be beneficial to hire a professional:
If you are unsure about how to properly fertilize a horse paddock or have never done it before, a professional can provide guidance and ensure that the job is done correctly.
If you have a large paddock or multiple paddocks, it may be more efficient to hire a professional with the necessary equipment to get the job done quickly.
If you are dealing with specific issues (such as bare spots or weeds) in your paddock, a professional may have the expertise to address these problems and recommend the appropriate course of action.
Overall, whether or not to hire a professional to fertilize your horse paddock is a personal decision that should be based on your own knowledge and resources.
Paddock and field fencing.
Fencing to be avoided.
There are certain types of fencing that are not suitable for use in a paddock or pasture where horses are kept. These include:
Barbed wire: Barbed wire fencing can be dangerous for horses as it can cause injury if the animal becomes entangled in it.
Wire mesh: Wire mesh fencing, such as chicken wire, is not strong enough to contain horses and can be easily damaged by their hooves.
Electric netting: While electric fencing is an effective option for containing horses, electric netting is not recommended. It is not strong enough to contain horses and can be easily damaged by their hooves, potentially exposing them to the electric current.
Metal pipe: Metal pipe fencing may look strong, but it is not a suitable option for a paddock or pasture. Horses can easily damage the pipes with their hooves, and the sharp edges can cause injury if the animal becomes entangled in it.
Choose strong and durable.
It's important to choose a fencing material that is strong, durable, and safe for your horses. Wood, vinyl, chain link, woven wire, and electric fencing are all options that can be used in a paddock or pasture. Be sure to regularly inspect your fencing to ensure that it is in good repair and safe for your horses.
Electric Fencing is a popular option for horse paddocks because it is an effective way to contain horses while still allowing them to graze and move around freely. It is also relatively easy to install and maintain, and it is less expensive than traditional fencing options. Here are a few things to consider when setting up an electric fence for your horse paddock:
Choose a fence charger that is appropriate for the size of your paddock and the type of fence you are using.
Use heavy-duty poly tape, poly wire, or steel wire for the fence line.
Install at least one grounding rod at the fence charger to help dissipate the electrical current.
Use fence insulators to prevent the fence wire from touching the ground or any other conductive materials.
Use warning signs to alert people to the presence of the electric fence.
Train your horses to respect the fence by introducing them to it gradually and using a training aid such as a fence flag.
It is important to follow the manufacturer's instructions and local regulations when installing an electric fence. If you have any doubts or concerns, it is a good idea to consult a fencing professional.
Field shelters for horses are structures that provide protection from the elements for horses that are kept outside. These shelters can range in size and complexity, from simple three-sided structures to more elaborate barn-like buildings.
One of the main benefits of field shelters for horses is that they can provide a place for horses to escape from extreme weather conditions, such as heavy rain, snow, or extreme heat. This can help to keep horses comfortable and healthy, as well as prevent issues such as colic or respiratory problems that can arise when horses are exposed to extreme weather for prolonged periods of time.
Field shelters can also be used as a place for horses to rest and relax, particularly if they do not have access to a stable or barn. This can be especially important for horses that are kept in a pasture and do not have a dedicated place to go to get out of the sun or wind.
When choosing a field shelter for your horse, there are a few things to consider. First, it is important to select a shelter that is appropriately sized for your horse. The shelter should be large enough for your horse to comfortably stand in and turn around, but not so large that it is difficult to keep warm in colder weather. It is also a good idea to consider the type of climate in which the shelter will be used, as this can impact the materials and design of the shelter.
For example, in areas with heavy snowfall, a shelter with a steeply pitched roof may be more effective at shedding snow than one with a flatter roof.
Another important consideration when selecting a field shelter is the location where it will be placed. The shelter should be located in an area that is protected from the wind, but still receives enough sunlight to keep the interior of the shelter warm and dry. It is also a good idea to place the shelter on a well-draining surface, such as gravel or sand, to prevent the build-up of water and mud inside the shelter.
Overall, field shelters can be a valuable addition to any horse property, providing a place for horses to escape from extreme weather and rest and relax. By considering factors such as size, materials, and location, you can find a field shelter that meets the needs of your horse and your property. Be sure to keep your field shelter clean and fresh at all times so that your horse is happy to spend time in there.
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Sharon Shinwell a co-author of the popular book "Ride With Confidence," which was forwarded by Kelly Marks, the well-known Horse Whisperer.
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"This article represents the personal views and opinions of the author and should not be taken as representative of the official policy or position of any organization, professional, expert, or individual."