Thursday, January 12, 2012

I guess the winter makes you laugh a little slower

This photo is of Pie last February in the mud.

And here is one of the boys in May.

I am posting these to help myself remember how frustrated I was last winter with the mud and my pastures. But, grass does come back over the summer. I need to remember this because I am very depressed right now about the state of our pastures.

I am usually very optimistic, but my return from Florida this year has left me with little hope within a sea of positives. My horses are fat and furry. They are in large pastures that wind around and encourage movement. They are outside 24/7 which seems to me to promote good digestion and good mental health. I am pleased with their weights, even Foggy. Their coats are fluffy and seem adequate for nighttime chilly temperatures.  That is all the good news. And it is very good news. I want to enjoy these nuggets of good and be grateful for them. My horses didn't colic or get injured when I was gone. They didn't need a farrier or vet visit the whole time. I devised a safe system for my farm helper to put them inside their stalls if necessary, but it wasn't necessary at all. I should be ecstatic. And, I have ridden each of them this week and they were perfect. In fact, I rode them all bareback!  I rode Pie the first day with a saddle, but now he is safe and I rode him yesterday bareback too. 

So where is the problem?

I don't think my horses look happy in the pastures like they once did. There I said it. This is where I lose my mind in a circle of worry and self doubt.

The entire fenced area looks like sacrifice pasture. It is all mud. All of it. I understand the concept of pasture rotation and pasture management. I also understand the opposite view, that of the Paddock Paradise paradigm which points to the rotation system as a recipe for lush green grass and colic/founder traps. Which is really correct? My horses aren't fat little Nordic ponies that founder on a blade of grass, but Thoroughbreds can colic and founder too and rotation from sparse pastures to rested ones would require 15 minute incremental increases of grazing time every pasture change. I don't live on the property and I do not want to toy with their healthy (so far) digestion.

My only electric source/water source that keeps a trough perfectly ice-free for the horses is in the muddiest of our pastures. And, Sovereign likes to swim daily in that bucket, splashing water in the already muddy area. We have other buckets around, but they are unheated and need constant attention. Sovey also swims in them. Pea gravel is in the future, but proper preparation would be necessary to ensure drainage and save the pea gravel from disappearing in the sucking mud.

The horses used to eat small piles of hay as their primary source of food and then wander around all day nibbling grass. They seemed mentally healthy in all that movement and entertainment. Now, there is no grass to nibble. They stand aimlessly for hours looking toward my mom's house or our farm helper's house waiting for the next feeding of hay or hand grazing session from me, just like the poor burros in Jaime Jackson's Paddock Paradise book.

They love the grazing and grooming and riding sessions, but I am only one person and it takes me 2 hours to do that well with each horse. I can give 6 hours some days, but everyday just isn't realistic. If they were happily moving in their pastures I would be able to spend 2 hours with one horse a day and then alternate the next day with another horse. That is how it is supposed to work. That is how it was working. Now, it seems to me like they are over anxious to get out of the pastures and very hesitant to go back in after a ride. This just wasn't the case before.

Our area received record rainfall this year. Is this what happened? Or did Foggy's arrival tip the balance of my pasture to horse ratio? Paddock Paradise owners scrape the top layer of grass off to get to the mud!  Should I applaud our mud? Am I just letting my former "horses need wide, green pastures" sensibilities over take me?

I seriously am losing my mind. When I arrive each day, I think my horses look like they are in zoo cages. I never thought that before because they were always so busy. I used to have trouble finding them because they were out somewhere having a good time. Now, they are standing in the mud waiting for me. 

Animal ownership is a tenuous balance to my brain anyway. I constantly live on the edge of questioning what is in it for them. That is how I am hardwired and this type of worry isn't new to me. For the first few years of re-entry into the horse world, though, I felt very pleased with what I was providing. Our last year of rain left me wondering about it all - even in summer our grass was a mirage from the road. It looked like it was green, but when you walked through the pastures, it was just tiny nubbins of baby thin grass in dirt. 

When it rains, like last night, it rains in inches. So, I put the horses inside the barn all night last night. I thought they probably needed a break from standing in muck. Their sheds are dry and bedded well, but they have to walk through a few feet of mud to get into them. 

Am I just a stupid human?  Did they hate their night inside due to boredom and stale air and the lack of proper walking movement? Would they have been just fine - no, better - in the mud?  These are the questions I have been wrestling with since the summer and all has come to a head since my return from Florida.

I dreaded posting about this because writing it down just makes me succumb to the worry all the more. I am hopeful you all can help with your solutions/ideas.


  1. I totally understand about the mud! This rain has been horrible. This was actually the first week our horses have been out due to rain/ice/mud. Ugh.

    Don't fret.I ask myself these questions all the time. Should I have left Shy pasture boarded, even though the pasture is a giant mud pit? Or is her daily turnout enough? What if she can't get turned out due to dangerous conditions, will she be happy in her stall all day?

    I don't think we can answer these questions. Each horse is probably different. As long as they are not displaying any negative behaviors, they are probably fine. :)

    I wish I had the answers, too.

  2. We have no grazing in the horses' paddocks. Two years of them stomping around in the sand has demolished what poor pathetic stands of grass I had when they arrived. (Plans to plant areas for hand grazing in the spring!) They too stand at their favorite corner for some part of the day, just staring...

    A couple of thoughts:

    My guys have 24/7 hay, expensive, but worth the piece of mind.

    How do horses in arid areas - the middle east, some parts of the western US - deal with it? Constant grazing on not too rich grass most of the time would be ideal, but not realistic without many, many acres, and dependent on the climate.

    My trainer's horses (mostly tbs) had access to adequate, well managed pastures with sacrifice areas year round. They also had access to their stalls and hay simultaneously.

    Guess what - sometimes they would spend hours just standing in the corner of the pasture, staring, not eating...

    I get caught up in the cycle of worry too. Right now Val is indulging in a hay strike, and I'm about to pull my hair out. There are plenty of manure piles, he's not losing weight... I suppose I'll have to get over it! ;)

  3. I know what you mean, Juliette--we love them so much, we worry ourselves into a frenzy.
    Our horses have hay in the pasture (thankfully only muddy in spots)to keep them busy during the day, but they're in at night in the winter. I like knowing they all get enough to eat at night (no one's pulling king of the pasture stunts), they can lie down without worry of "night critters" such as coyotes on the prowl, and they gain/keep weight better. Of course, I'll still fret on super cold nights--the water buckets will freeze, the hay will be far, they've done just fine. If you're worrying, it's because you're a caring, conscientious owner.

  4. I can understand your frustration with the rain and the mud. We have one paddock, actually we call it the catch pen, that is a throw away. We're going to get the gravel for around the edges of the fence where the hay nets are in the spring. Our horses like to wander all day but when there's no grass they seem to hang up in the catch pen. Here's what we did to ease the boredom. From my daughter's blog I'll give you a link: Our horses seem to really like this arrangement.

    Here's the other link from my blog:

    As I said they like the hay grazing and it keeps them busy. We usually bring them in at night but they used to live outside and sometimes they refuse to come in. It's their choice unless the weather's really bad, then it's our choice. Hope this helps a little. Even if you decide not to do something like this spring will be here soon and you can stop worrying.

  5. What a thoughtful post...and it made me think. My horses are TBs and also out 24/7. In our area, many would not turn out for months on end due to damaging pastures. I'm unusual because I do. To each their own, definitely, but I believe it's healthier (better for arthritis, lower risk of colic, etc.) They are in a large enough area that there is grass left- but it is inevitable as winter marches on, it becomes meager and areas of mud expand. As you said though, grass returns. Our pastures, interestingly enough, never become damaged enough not to return. About now, I do start to wonder if they wouldn't like it better in stalls. They come into stalls for riding/grooming/appointments. I'm sure 'what they are used to' factors in, but mine are not as content and would rather be OUT. So, it may not be the "prettiest" way to keep horses, and I guess I mostly feel some guilt for how people see it, than I do for the horses?

  6. Here in New Mexico, our two horses live on 2/3 acre that is all sand. I added gravel in a few spots so their hooves would get some wear. We don't have as much rain as you do, but when we do the sand is a help. The water drains fairly quickly and the wet sand on our horses basically falls off when it dries. We feed our horses grass hay and put it in three different places so they walk from place to place to eat which I think is helpful for their digestion. When the wind picks up they like to run around our place which is nice to watch.

    So that's how we do it here in central New Mexico.


  7. I too was going to suggest putting hay in two or three different locations to encourage them to move about.

  8. I have kept horses in large paddocks with no grazing (and I feed grass hay three times a day for good health and to alleviate boredom) and I have also kept horses (for many years) in a big pasture where there was always grazing available and no need to stand around in the bare corners. As someone said above, the horses did a fair bit of standing around looking bored (to the human eye) in both situations. My thinking is that its natural for horses whose needs are bet to do this aimless appearing standing around. It may help to remember that horses only actually sleep for two hours in twenty-four, so some of this resting they are doing is probably helpful to them. I do agree that horses are not as happy when its muddy. Neither am I. I guess the bottom line is that life isn't perfect for any of us, and you are obviously providing your horses with a very good life indeed.

  9. Thank you all for your insight. I am going to study these comments and get back to you probably with more questions about your specific setups. Even after 40+ years of horses and 3 years with these guys, this is still a work in progress. My husband and I spent about 3 hours this afternoon in brainstorming mode. Now that I read your comments, I want to enter all your thoughtful advice into our think tank.

    One thing I do know about horses is that I don't know very much at all.

  10. Juliette, I'm glad you got home safely and your three horses were waiting for you safe and sound. So good also that they didn't have any health issues when you were gone. I sympathize with your concerns. Other commenters have said, encouragingly, that they have horses that stand around even when there is something to nibble on. It does sound like some of the standing around is perfectly normal for horses. And horses are so resilient also. They can probably handle changes in weather and environment better than we think.

    Also, sometimes horses just perhaps may have different moods, from the season. They may have become a little "quieter" from not having their main No.1 human around for a while. So what may look to you like horse unhappiness, may be partially just a quieter mood in their lives developed during your absence. Just a thought.

  11. Thanks Jan - you are right - they surely are acting a tad bit unusual because of my absence.

    Also, I think Buckshot is out all the time and you are in Virginia. Did you have record rains? Is Buckshot in mud?

  12. I just wanted to add that I, too, have spent a certain amount of time agonizing over whether my horses look happy in their situation, particularly my retired horses, that I don't ride any more (though I do get them out to groom and graze). I moved my oldest horse from turned out on green pasture to a large paddock with run in shed in my barn because we had to euthanise his long time pasture companion. I thought my old horse might seem bored/unhappy in the smaller enviroment with no pasture, but the reverse was true. He perked up and seemed more content. My guess is that the greater activity of the barnyard with more horses about kept him interested and more engaged. So I really think there are a lot of variables involved in what makes horses seem happier--grazing is certainly one element, but its not the only one. I have absolutely stood there worrying about the fact that my horses looked (to me) bored and not happy in a large pasture with plenty of green grass--I think Jan may be right. They go through mood swings--and I bet your horses missed your presence while you were gone. That could be part of what you are seeing now.

  13. Juliette,
    Yes, Buckshot lives in a pasture 24/7, with a run in barn. His corral area is very muddy , due to regular rain (we haven't had record rains in recent weeks). At times, the hay is distributed to spots in the corral that means he has to stand in deep mud to eat it. I don't like it, and when I am there to feed, I try to put the hay on drier dirt.

    I watch his pasterns carefully during the winter for the beginnings of scratches (which I think is one of the negatives of standing in mud)but otherwise I just endure it. There seems to be no way around mud.

    Hope this helps!

  14. Thanks Laura for the extra words of encouragement. I am so hopeful that I am reading my horses' faces all wrong. You have made me feel better with the story of your older horse. I do think grazing is just one piece of the happiness puzzle. There are others that should help balance out the situation and I do think my horses have some great parts of their days.

    Jan - I thought Buckshot was out. Thanks for the letting me know. Not that I am glad Buckshot stands in mud occasionally. Misery likes company though and it does make me feel better that other people go through this too. This morning my horses' pasterns were so caked that I started crying. I always can get the mud off, but today it was nearly impossible - wet, muddy, caked on the pastern hair in dreadlocks. Really depressing because removing the mud was only temporary.

  15. HUGS HUGS HUGS! I can just feel your worried tone. Ok, so you are NOT alone and you know that :)
    Our pastures too are mixed with mud or frozen sections of mud. We have 4 pastures for the 3 horses that are 24/7 out. 2 of the 4 are closed for spring/summer preservation which makes me worry it will be a sugar lot and something I'll be watching for come grazing time but that is another topic.
    One thing that 'could' help; what if you hung a busy horse net? I hung one on one of the barn's poles. It slows the eating down and keeps them interested. Our 3 horses eat off the one BIG bag happily but two would be even better. However, as I write this; the horses can stand on the cement barn floor to eat OR in the mud, and Laz often CHOOSES to stand in the mud. It would bother me, so much in fact that I would walk over and push him over on to the cement. Then I would question why am I doing this?? It was for my comfort and I have to trust that he can pick and choose his own choices. Like opting to stand in soft cool mud vs hard concrete. So, ok, I leave him be.
    For your boys, the hanging hay net (can u put in two BIG posts in the ground/pasture??) would offer hay, and hay off the mud, and something to do while u feel they are just standing around.

  16. and I do feel, especially with our OTTB's, they are happier OUT than in. Giving them a break to dry out is not a bad idea, which is what you did. I just don't want you feeling like you have caged zoo animals, when they are standing quietly in their pasture. It could be this odd winter we are having too. Eating/drinking normally, good fuzzy coats and behaving normal is all you need, to feel good about your care :)

  17. I think horses tend to stand around this time of year. The ground is frozen in ruts here, so the horses pick there way over it to roam a bit, but they are much more stationary than in the summer. Do you know how many acres you have? Going from 2 to 3 horses could make it muddier, but it shouldn't affect their physical and mental health as long as you provide a dry (gravelled?) area for feeding and hanging out.
    You say they are looking good and they are well behaved on rides. I think that likely means they are fine!

  18. Thank you everyone for these great suggestions. Our last few days have been cold so mud is now rocky ice/mud holes.

    I appreciate all the help. I still haven't got myself out of worrying mode, but I did think they seemed happier today. I need to relax - I am driving my poor family crazy. Sorry, Brian, Maizie and Mom!

    Tomorrow is a new day and I resolve to quit worrying - it doesn't help in the least.

  19. Try some eyebolts on the fence with some Busy Horse small mesh hay bags - guaranteed to keep everyone busy and happy. We've had a lot of mud too, and I use the Busy Horses and small mesh hay bags to keep the hay off the ground and give everyone something to do.

  20. Thanks Kate! Busy horse it is - that is what I need - busy, not bored horses!

  21. Mud and Ice-mud are dreadful. I understand your frustration with it. We have a very small pasture. It's not big enough for more than a couple hours turn out. The grass is getting pretty thin right now. I feed year round and slow feeding has really eased my mind. It's very cold here today 20F and below. At 6:00 AM this morning I put about 18 pounds of hay in two slow feeders (9 lbs in each one) and about 3 pounds of loose hay in each horse's trough. I came home at 5pm and was relieved to see SaraJane walk out of the barn to greet me, with her little mouth busily chewing hay. Misty was outside just resting. Each slow feeder still had a little bit of hay left. I know they had enough to occupy themselves during the day and keep their tummy heaters working.

    It makes a pretty picture to see horses contentedly grazing in a green pasture. Even though that pretty picture is lacking this winter, it sounds like your boys are doing very well. They are probably happy to have a season to just slow down and hang out and rest. I bet they are content inside their heads, even though to us, we think they look bored. You are a good horse mom to keep an eye out for their comfort and well being. Winter is just blah. It'll pass soon.

  22. Oh! I am sorry that you are worried and that things "seemed" to have changed in the fields. I bet the extra water from the skies has had alot to do with it.

    Being a boarder I have little control. But I have chosen a nice place this time. They built it right with OPEN stalls to covered porch and fine graveled, almost sand(wish it were pea gravel) 50 foot runs to another 100 feet of trred dirt run. So if the weather is CRAPOLA..they stay in- but it's NEVER locked in and they are very happy horses. Mine takes little jaunts down her lane and back sometimes trotting and sometimes cantering. They are sacrificing 2 feilds for it's a every other day outing for mine..but like I said, evern in is NOT locked in.

    The MUD is terrible in the turnout field...but they gravel the gates up to the water when the mud freezes, the horses do not injure themselves, trying to get to the water. It's heated like yours keep them drinking.

    I did board at a place( before you started to follow me) that I purchased Pea gravel for the entire bottom part of the pasture I rented. It went from the gate all the way to the run in sheds Pantz and Wa had. Thick, strong cloth made for such a purpose was laid down firstly. it got tacked at the sides and i put an edge around the area to keep the gravel from rolling away. BEST THING SINCE SLICED BREAD! Pea gravel moved so much, it does not freeze!! I had the only place on the 30 acre property that winter that a horse could be outside for the ice and 28 inches of snow that fell ...for 2 weeks! My horses rolled daily-Pea gravel is soft- they also moved around alot- cause it did not hurt thier bare feet!
    And...hay is cleaned easily from it.

    Please don't worry too much more about those is deep winter and they have each other,they have YOU, the outdoors, a dry wickingly bedded stall- should they have terrible weather, YOU, if you get the neat hay bags..they'll have will be like grazing.

    Mine stands in one place for extended periods of time too. I can get to thinking...she'd rather be with Maddy mare, which is actuall true, but it is not going to happen..and I wish it could for my girl..she will stand and look like she longs for Maddy mare. But..she is with Maddy every night!! I have to stop making it negative. She can see Maddy from her field.
    So, I go to the barn, I do some chores and sometimes, leave her out there...and just look at her and Theo out in it..they have each other, and they rest, lay down, roll, eat, if one horse gets taken out of the pasture to go ride ot get groomed..the other calls and maybe runs a little...but soon settles. Sometimes they do totally LOOK bored- but with the activites they get from their owners ( ME!) in the midst of all that kinda works out nicely..a rounded schedule.

    Loved all the comments!! What great directions and simular thoughts of how to cope.
    Hang in Jules...I am looking forward to hearing what you and Brian come up with.

    Kac and Wa mare

  23. The kind comment below is from Allison at Allison's Dream

    Like many others, she is having a difficult time with comments. Not sure what is going on, but she emailed me her comment. Allison is going through some sad times after losing her Ebony in the fall. She talks about her sweet pony in her post, Flying Ebony. I know she would appreciate your support!

    "Hi Julia! If this doesn't post, I will try your e-mail. I am so glad
    you posted this! :-) What do you think about slow-hay feeders? It
    keeps the horses busy like grazing but I'm finding (esp. with our new
    easy-keeping Morgan-Connemara) that they don't gain weight because the
    kCalories seem to get used just in metabolism as soon as they eat it!
    I will be posting about my slow-feeder routine soon, but basically
    Dream still has to get loose 2ce a day to keep his weight UP and the
    pony just a bit loose in the morning to stave off her initial morning
    hunger. They work well for me also, slow hay throughout the day and
    into the night as far as midnight (10:pm hay bags, small hole) to keep
    the horses warm with constant but slow forage."

    Julia- Dream needs 25-30 lbs. of hay a day to maintain his weight. The
    pony only needs EIGHT but she is getting eleven just due to herd
    politics and peace, but she is not gaining any weight.

    I hope my comments 'work' soon; it may be something on my end....

    And don't beat yourself up for being attentive to your horses! Also,
    did you ask THEM? :-)

    p.s. Equus Nov. 2011 did a great article on hay slow feeders; I have
    an extra copy if you want it.

  24. Lucky horses, to have someone to care enough to worry about them.


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