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Utah’s horse world – Make the move to pasture for happy, healthy horses

Living in a herd; happiness for the horse, lots of work for the human.
Living in a herd; happiness for the horse, lots of work for the human.
photo by Sarah Robertson (with Lils, Teequila, Tuffy and Indy)

The top topic amongst our readers has recently been horse health. What better way to improve your horse’s physique while providing them with emotional comfort and mental stimulation than allowing them to live out on pasture, or at least in a spacious dry lot, 24/7?

Before making the move to a self-care setting, there are some things to consider. First of all, are you prepared to be their sole provider of care, feed and water every day? If not, stay in a boarding environment.

Do you really need to have a covered arena for riding in inclement temperatures? Unless you strongly prefer outdoor rides no matter what the weather, don't mind hauling to an arena, or can shell out a minimum of 25k for even a small sheltered riding area, stay in a boarding environment.

Do you have only one horse? Horses, being herd animals, need friends. You must have at least two horses out on pasture. If that’s not an option, stay in a boarding environment.

Horses need safe and secure fencing. Even if fencing exists, it will likely require frequent repair. Fences made with t-posts and wire, while comparatively inexpensive to install, will need rubber end caps on the posts to keep the horses from injuring themselves. If you’re not up for a bit of labor and upkeep, stay in a boarding stable.

Safe footing is vital to the soundness of your horses’ hoofs. Go to a hardware store and purchase a rolling magnet to pick up old nails, screws, broken pieces of metal and those assorted sharp nasty scraps that are capable of insidious damage. They cost about 40 bucks; cheaper than a farm call and stitches. Consider putting down pea gravel and sand or possibly additional screened top soil to improve ground quality. You’re looking at $30 - $50 a ton on average for materials plus delivery in the $60 - $80 range. Can’t afford it or don’t want to do the work? Keep the horses in a boarding stable.

Where’s dinner coming from? Okay, so you’re prepared to do the feeding, but where will you get hay? You’ll want to find someone who can provide feed of consistent quality. Bales (the standard 60lb size) run about $10 - $13 each. A horse consumes about 2+ bales a week. Are you going to pick up and stack your feed or do you need to find someone who’ll assist with those labor-intensive tasks. If that sounds like too much, keep your horses in a boarding environment where stable management takes over that worry for you.

Do you enjoy working, training and riding alone? If yes, and if you're willing to accept the risk that doing these things by yourself with 1000 lb prey animals can present, you're probably a good candidate for managing your own land where you'll be the sole human inhabitant the majority of the time. However; if you particularly like the social aspect of equestrian sport and feel comforted by having a bit of human interaction, you may be more content in the confines of a boarding stable.

Before your horses are moved onto the land you’ll need a good sized water trough or two, plus a hose. (or two; a backup is a good idea). You’ll need to be there to check and fill water daily and make sure the water container is cleaned at least once a week. Do you have a place to store your tack? Do you have tools and a spot to keep them? Is there a shelter in place to provide shade or protection from cold, rain and snow? Are gates on site secured? Where will you ride? Is there room on site? Is the area enclosed and is the footing adequate or will you need to trailer to an outside locale?

There’s a lot to consider. While keeping the horses out in an area where they can move and interact in a herd environment can greatly enhance their well-being and overall health, it is a more labor-intensive prospect for the owners. You’ll want to make sure you’re not put in a position that will lead to abject exhaustion or trigger a nervous breakdown.

If you’re not absolutely certain that you’re ready to take on all the responsibilities of solo self-care, you may want to keep your equine friends in a boarding environment where you’ll have some assistance, reasonable facilities and supervision on site.

Take a careful look at the list of pros and cons. Be honest with yourself about not only the needs of your horses, but about what's best for you and your long-term horsemanship goals. Then move ahead knowing you've made a well-educated decision designed to cater to the best interests of both you and your animals!