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Thoughts on turning out horses in debatable weather/footing

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  • Thoughts on turning out horses in debatable weather/footing

    A fellow rider at the barn had to euth her horse today after he sustained a terrible break to his leg while turned out. This morning's wind chill was in the single digits, if not 0. It had been warm enough the past few days that the previous snow had melted... so that moisture was frozen by today. It was snowing lightly yesterday and today. You cannot tell me that pasture wasn't slippery.

    So, my question. Is turn out worth the risk? Sometimes, especially after hearing of events like this, I think it isn't. While I presently do not own a horse I can see this causing some major inner turmoil for me when I do again.

  • #2
    There's no cut-and-dried answer, and both sides of the argument (turn out or no turn out) have merit when the footing and/or weather are bad.

    I would point out that the freezing point of water is 32 degrees and ice forms just as readily at 25 degrees as it does at zero degrees--I don't let simple temperatures dictate when horses go out or not.

    Ice is a reality where I live for 4-5 months out of the year. One simply cannot never turn horses out if there might be some ice. In some places, depending on the soil, mud is as much of a menace as ice--that accounts for ANOTHER 2-3 months out of the year.

    Colic, ulcers, respiratory problems and unhappy horses are all very real consequences of not turning them out. So one really has to weigh both sides of the issue, preferably not during a time when emotions have the upper hand. Very sorry for what your friend had to go through.
    Click here before you buy.


    • #3
      Horses break legs on dry, firm ground

      There ARE some precautions you can take to at least reduce risk as much as you can. I'd never turn out horses who'd been cooped up for 48 hours if the ground was slick like that. They'll just go hauling ass and increase the risk of injury. There really isn't much that's more slippery/slick than my red clay after 4 days of rain followed by 4" of snow that only froze on top. I had mine in for about 6 hours during the day simply to take a break from being constantly wet. I turned them out, while it was snowing a heavy, wet snow, they trotted/cantered a bit *up* the hill, and when they got to the top, they got smart and walked.

      Horses who are out all the time in bad footing tend to learn how to not break legs. The biggest risk is increased stall time and then turning out on "bad" footing, because you've got pent up mental energy taking over rational thinking and that's often when injuries occur.

      My husband actually wanted me to keep them in for that night, afraid for them and how slippery everything was. I said "then what - keep them in for 4 days while cold and wind hopefully dry things out? Or turn them out in the morning, after close to 24 hours in when that's not normal for them, and have them go rip-roaring out there and wreak havoc on the pasture and/or hurt themselves?" LOL

      DW is right - it's not black and white. And I too am so, so sorry for your friend
      The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET


      • #4
        I am sorry about your friends horse. Sometimes for such big strong creatures they sure are fragile.

        Honestly I have less issue with horses being stupid about things outside than inside. Anytime I have ice or snow packed to ice we salt and sand the turnout. One year after several inches of snow that the horses compacted it glazed with freezing rain and froze up the next day. It was was wicked slick and very thick. Too cold for salt to cut thru. To turnout we sanded a narrow path and 2 of us (one on each side) led horses all the way out to pasture one at a time. The snow had not packed down there and they crunched thru. Everybody was sensible about being lead out one by one even tho the herd raced and played in the pasture. I did not bring them back thru it for over a week and they stayed out with turnouts on. See really the danger was mine at that point. I had to haul hay, feed and water to them and not fall down doing it.

        My horses grow up and live with winter. Nasty or mild they have to learn from their 1st winter what this stuff is all about. I will not commit them to a life confined for months to a stall cuz the weather is doing its thing. That is just not healthy.

        Shoot a couple of them came out of North Dakota. Winter here is nothing to those 2 boys. They have seen much worse.


        • #5
          Like others have said, there is no right or wrong answer. I prefer to get horses out for at least a few hours every day on their normal schedule to try to prevent major-league antics - but of course there are no guarantees. Best to know your horse and his reactions to reduced turnout and/or cold temps and wind, and plan accordingly. You can always use a mild tranq like ace to get a wild horse back on turnout safely.

          Sorry about your friend's horse. Accidents will happen regardless of how many precautions we take. I don't know that I would be so quick to judge the barn management ... hindsight is 20/20.
          "You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed." - The Little Prince


          • #6
            Originally posted by JB View Post
            Horses who are out all the time in bad footing tend to learn how to not break legs. The biggest risk is increased stall time and then turning out on "bad" footing, because you've got pent up mental energy taking over rational thinking and that's often when injuries occur.
            I agree - in my opinion, the bigger danger is not turning them out enough. And, of course, taking rational precautions - salting the slippery spots of slick ice is obviously smart. If you have some of these in a pasture (I have one low spot that collects water and can freeze), maybe putting some traffic cones around to help the horses see it, if you are worried.

            My horses are turned out 24/7, on 4 acres in the winter, and I've never seen any of them slip and fall. They know what the footing is like better than I do.


            • #7
              My mare and her son fall a few times a year, but it's when the ground is perfect and they are farting around LOL
              The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET


              • #8
                Friend's horse broke her leg this fall in turnout in perfect footing. Accidents happen, they are AWFUL, but I still think they need to be out. Sheet ice is the only time I keep them in..


                • #9
                  Horses who are out all the time in bad footing tend to learn how to not break legs. The biggest risk is increased stall time and then turning out on "bad" footing, because you've got pent up mental energy taking over rational thinking and that's often when injuries occur.
                  are there any statistics on what kills horses- perhaps the insurance companies know?
                  I wouldn't be surprised to learn that colic etc. from being kept in killed many more horses than turnout injuries did.


                  • #10
                    For my horse, personally, unless it is incredibly cold with an unreasonable wind chill such that he doesn't actually want to be out - I want him out. He was just in for three days due to major extreme temps (-7 plus wind chill), and that was the longest I would ever want him to go.

                    At the barn where I boarded last winter, they really rarely turned out in winter. He went out twice in one month once. Guess what? He fell in his stall (at least once that I witnessed, but I suspect many more times), and was lucky not to break a leg or his neck! I'm still not convinced he didn't damage himself physically during that time. He would just rear and buck and paw in his stall, desperate to get out (even though I rode him daily, and sometimes twice a day during that time).

                    Then when the horses did go out at that barn, they were absolutely NUTS, ran around like freaks, and had no idea how to handle themselves on bad footing.

                    There are risks with either approach. While I do feel nauseous whenever my horse goes out on bad footing, I have to remind myself that I *know* he is at a higher risk inside.


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by islgrl View Post
                      Friend's horse broke her leg this fall in turnout in perfect footing. Accidents happen, they are AWFUL, but I still think they need to be out. Sheet ice is the only time I keep them in..
                      My horse broke his leg getting up from a nap, perfect spring weather. Stuff happens.


                      • #12
                        I lost my old guy a month ago after he broke his shoulder in the pasture. It was freaking awful and I am still haunted by it. My other two were back out the next day. Yes, I wanted to throw up as they played in the snow...but I can't keep them in forever. They go out everyday, at least for a few hours and I battle a lot of mental demons these days when I put them out, but there are risks leaving them in also.


                        • #13
                          So Sorry for your friend and for all those who have lost horses to these freak accidents.

                          That said:
                          I prefer to take chances and leave my horses out to do as they please.

                          Mine are not youngsters: 18yo WB and 12yo Hackney pony - but the pony is one of those "acts 2" activity levels.

                          They have free access to their stalls from pasture and generally prefer Out to In in all weather, including these past two days of subzero windchills.
                          The worst I have experienced so far is WB's sheath is showing some edema that I attribute to his moving so carefully over the rutted frozen ground.
                          If it warms up some I can longe him in my indoor to see if that helps.
                          He's a Big 'Un - 17h+ - so confining him to his 12X12 stall would probably lead to worse than some mild edema.

                          Do I worry when it is awful outside?
                          But I prefer that to worrying that the damage from leaving them in might be worse.
                          *friend of bar.ka*RIP all my lovely boys, gone too soon:
                          Steppin' Out 1988-2004
                          Hey Vern! 1982-2009, Cash's Bay Threat 1994-2009
                          Sam(Jaybee Altair) 1994-2015


                          • #14
                            We don't alter our horses' turnout schedule much at all throughout the year. We will bring individuals in early if they are running around like lunatics, or if they are at the gate telling us they WANT to come in.

                            You can always ask your farrier about putting snowshoes on your horse for the winter. All of ours have rim pads and borium studs on their shoes in the winter months. That bill is tough to swallow, but about two weeks after my guy got his on this year, I watched him go cantering up the hill with his buddy in 12" of snow, then rear and spin around when he got to the top, shaking his head because he was just so darn pleased with himself! He would be miserable and stir crazy if I kept him in.
                            "Sometimes the fear won't go away... so you just have to do it afraid."

                            Trolls be trollin'! -DH


                            • #15
                              I prefer that my horse is out as much as possible. We are lucky in that our paddocks
                              are on the small side and we have a few that are not in use at any given time, so
                              the BO will turn out in the paddocks with the better footing (ie, less mud, or in the sun
                              most of the day so the ice melts a bit).

                              But in the winter when there is the possiblity of ice and snow, my mare wears her
                              'winter' shoes. She has to wear shoes up front all the time or she is miserable, and
                              with the rock hard ground it's even more important that has shoes. So, she gets snow
                              pads and pins or caulks for about 3 months of the year.

                              Generally when the is ground as hard as concrete, they don't like to run around as it
                              stings their feet. Well most of them don't.

                              {{hugs}} to everyone who posted about losing a horse to an accident ... it still sucks to lose an animal no matter the cause


                              • #16
                                Horses raised in such conditions seem to adapt, but the vets will tell you there are more accidents, breaks - and colics when horses do not drink properly -
                                in very cold weather.

                                When the fields freeze after a lot of rain, there are skating rinks all over,
                                different from a dryer area with just hard ground.

                                Another risk is turning them out in the indoor where the same can and has happened.
                                Proud member of People Who Hate to Kill Wildlife clique


                                • #17
                                  I agree, the every situation is different. I turn mine out unless it is a sheet of ice and always have. They are happier in that situation and if it is too cold (windy) they hang out in run outs. In the last snow storm here- those unappreciative morons stood out in the blowing, freezing snow, even though they could have been nice and warm and dry.
                                  Sorry for you friend.
                                  Come to the dark side, we have cookies


                                  • #18
                                    -35 windchill yesterday and mine were all out,they were just fine.

                                    a little icy last weekend, they went out and ran and played and didnt fall. if i keep them in when its icy then i have to keep them in until its no long slippery, which is sometimes a week, by the time they go out again they would run like lunatics and most likely get hurt. if it is terribly slippery i will sand the path to the paddock and the gate areas. havent had any get hurt yet


                                    • #19
                                      Not on sheet ice with no way to get traction, no. Patches of ice, or snow with a hard crust, yes. Mine is older and drama-free and tends to have enough sense not to run on ice.

                                      If they don't go out, I hand-walk, hack bareback, or, footing permitting, either turn out or longe in the ring. I don't like them to be crazy in their stalls and doing stupid maneuvers. Getting a foot hung up in the stall gate is the same kind of freak accident that can happen out in the field.
                                      "I'm not always sarcastic. Sometimes I'm asleep." - Harry Dresden

                                      Amy's Stuff - Rustic chic and country linens and decor
                                      Support my mom! She's gotta finance her retirement horse somehow.


                                      • #20
                                        I know a Grand Prix stallion who broke his hock in his stall - and he didn't get cast, far as anyone knows. Just kicked out wrong and bam - his riding career was over.

                                        Horses can and will get hurt all over the place. There is no hard and fast answer.