The horse is an intelligent animal with exceptionally sensitive skin (watch its reaction to one small fly on its coat). It is an active animal, constantly grazing, playing, watching and listening and only dozing for short periods. Being shut up in a stable for 23 hours out of 24 is totally unnatural and very frustrating for a horse. Would you like it? Wouldn’t you become neurotic and tense and go a bit crazy when you were finally let out of ‘prison’? A day off out in the field is fine, but a day off in the stable is a whole day in prison, so at least lead your horse out for a walk and to graze.
To be out in the field as much as possible and in a big yard with free movement and interesting things to watch (people, traffic, other animals or birds) is a far better environment for a young horse. It is not kind to keep a young horse alone all the time.
Have you ever noticed how tense, neurotic, slightly hysterical people often have children, horses and dogs that are in much the same state? None of them has the safe feeling of knowing what is going to happen next and that it will happen in a calm, orderly manner, controlled by quiet voices and gentle movements.
You must have noticed how in some households you feel at peace with the world and in others you are soon tense and tired because there is perpetual noise and commotion and you never know what to expect?
Try to create a peaceful, safe life for your young horse. Be calm, consistent and logical. Attempt to put yourself in the horse’s place and ask yourself if you would like and understand the treatment and work you are giving your youngster. How would you react? Many problems and accidents with young horses are caused by one thing only lack of thought so think first!
Fields and Fencing
A young horse is better turned out in company. When bringing horses in, never leave a youngster in the field until last or it may panic when it finds itself alone. For the same reason, never turn a youngster out first.
Barbed wire is dangerous for all horses, but even if they do not gallop into it, young, unbalanced horses can cut themselves as they gallop past it and lean towards it in turning. They can also catch themselves on it as they stretch their necks out over it to talk to a horse in the next field, or may strike out at another horse getting a foreleg caught in it.
Guard rails made of barbed wire attached to another fence, or any loose barbed wire, are lethal. The oblong mesh of pig netting is dangerous, because horses will often strike out with a foreleg at horses in the next field, and, if a hoof goes through the mesh, the horse may be cut above the heel when it tries to pull its foot out. If the horse is shod, the wire can become caught in the heel of the shoe and be pulled tightly between the shoe and the foot. The horse will panic when it finds its foreleg is trapped and may come down or become completely tangled in the fence. Terrible cuts are caused by horses striking out over wire and also by them rolling too close to wire fences of any type, and getting their legs caught in them. Such accidents are very common indeed, so think ahead and avoid them.
A good strong hedge or a sound post and rail fence is ideal but often unavailable. A safe fence that you can put up yourself is an electrified fence. With this method, a dangerous existing fence can be made safe. The posts used to cany the fence can be made of either plastic or special insulated wood. The plastic posts are 90 cm l m (3-3 1/2 ft) high and the wooden ones are higher, at 1.2-1.4 m (4-4 1/2 ft).
Small insulators can also be fixed to the tops of the posts of an existing fence to carry a top line of electric fencing.
The ribbon type of electric fencing wire is best, because horses can see it clearly. Once the horses are used to it, two rows of this ribbon wire can be used to divide up paddocks between groups of horses; the horses will not go near it. If only the standard wire is to be used, strips of plastic bags, tied to the wire at frequent intervals, will ensure that the horses can see the fence.
To introduce horses to an electric fence, put it up 90 cm (3 ft) away from an ordinary fence of any sort. The horses will go up to the ordinary fence, stop and touch the electric fence, snort and gallop away. After two or three days it should be safe to divide up the field with an electric fence only. it is essential to lead the horses round the perimeter of their electrically fenced paddock so that they know where the new boundaries are.
If neighbouring horses have been squealing and striking out at an existing fence, one strand of electric ribbon (in this situation plain electric wire would also be safe) 15-30 cm (6-12 in) directly above the existing fence will stop this behaviour, as will an electric fence 90cm (3 ft) inside the original fence.
The electric current can either be supplied by a portable unit or from a mains unit run from a house or building. Insulated handles with hooks on them will allow you to open and close your entrance.
When setting up your electric fencing to divide a field, remember that some sort of shelter must be made available to horses. so do not fence this off. The horses should have access to a thick hedge, trees, walls or buildings.
Electric fencing is excellent if you have one horse that kicks others or one fat horse that needs to be kept in a small paddock. it is also ideal for separating mares and geldings. It is easily moved and can be used for strip grazing, moving the fence over a yard or so each day. It also makes it easy to graze off odd patches of grass and small areas that are not normally used.
Horses will rub on gates and also strike out at them. They dash through them and try to open them when they are closed! A big strong, wooden gate is safest but very expensive. Some metal gates have fairly narrow gaps between the bars in which a foot could get stuck. This often happens where the sloping bars form a V, imprisoning the foot.
Make sure there are no nails, hooks or sharp obtrusions on the gate or gatepost which could cut a horse as it tries to dash through.
A safe catch and a strong padlock and chain (on both ends) of the gate if it could otherwise be lifted off its hinges) are probably necessary wherever you live these days. (Even if your horses live in a field beside your house, they can still be stolen and it is a good idea to have them freeze-branded for their own protection.)
A water trough with a ball cock is a safe, clean watering system. Horses can bang their knees on the sharp edges of old baths, while, if turned out in a head collar, a horse can easily get this caught on a tap. In winter you will need to lag the pipe and also break the ice two or three times a day. The trough will need cleaning out regularly.
A clear, fast-flowing stream with a sound bottom and safe access is fine providing that nothing unpleasant is liable to be dumped in the water further upstream. Unlike a trough, a running stream may not freeze up in the winter.
Check a pond carefully there may be dangerous debris in it and it may become stagnant or dry up in the summer or become a breeding ground for biting insects. In frosty weather you will have to break the ice regularly.
Never turn one new horse out with a group of others that already know each other. They are almost certain to be jealous and chase, kick and bite it. They may corner the horse and really hurt it or drive it over or through a fence, terrifying it and causing serious injury. Introduce your new horse to one other steady animal over a stable door. Allow them to sniff at each other but stand well clear and out to one side so that you cannot get kicked or struck out at.
When they accept each other, lead them out into their field and take them both all round the perimeter and up to the water supply. Let them both go at the same time and do this near the gate so that they will not gallop back towards it. Turn them to face the gate and you before you release them so that you will not get kicked if they buck as they gallop off. If you have any doubts about being able to catch the young horse, leave it wearing a wellfitting head collar which allows it to chew in comfort. (It is safer, however, not to leave a head collar on in the field, so only do this if it is really necessary.)
If the young horse will have to go out in a large group eventually, try to introduce one extra horse at a time into its field. If possible, always keep mares and geldings in separate fields. If you cannot do this, never put two or more geldings in with just one mare or they are almost certain to fight over her, especially when she is in season which happens for three to four days every three weeks from spring through to autumn.
In time, a group of horses establish a natural ‘pecking order’. You must be aware of which horses are the strongest and weakest characters in the group and know your horse’s place in this order. If any feeding of hay is done in the field, is your horse getting its fair share? You must always put out several more piles of hay than there are horses in the field or the weaker characters and youngest horses will be chased off and get nothing.
Bucket feeding should never be done when there is a large group of horses in a field. This is just asking for injury from kicks, because fights over hard feed can be really violent. If there are only two or three horses in the field, it is possible to space the food bowls out well and stand there to keep order while the horses eat, but you do run the danger of being ‘mugged’ while you try to get the arrangement sorted out, or of being kicked if you intervene in a squabble. If you bring one horse only out of the field and bucket feed it away from the group, they may attack it when it returns to the field because they can often smell the food on its mouth, so keep it away for sometime before returning it to the field, and sponge off its muzzle before you turn it out again.
Never, ever let children enter a field containing loose horses. This is especially true with young horses which, merely in play, will often trot up to a small child who is wandering about and strike or kick out at it, causing serious injury.
A group of loose horses is even dangerous to adults because, again, in play or out of jealousy, they may kick or strike out at each other and injure a person by mistake.