Aqueos - Stable & Field Safety
Stable and field safety
Ensuring the safety of your horse or pony at home or the yard is a key responsibility of equine ownership. If you are lucky enough to have your own yard and land, then stable and field safety and maintenance will fall directly to you. If you keep your horse at a livery yard then it is likely the yard owner will play an important role in ensuring stable and field safety – but it is always worth being aware of what should be kept in check to ensure your horse or pony’s wellbeing.
Protecting against theft
All horses and ponies should, by law, now be microchipped – even if a passport was issued earlier in their life without a microchip being present. A microchip is a useful way of identifying any horse or pony, especially if they have been stolen or they have escaped from their field. Ask your veterinarian to scan to check whether a microchip is present and reading properly when you next have a veterinary appointment, and to confirm the microchip number.
The microchip number of a horse is linked to their passport, and should be searchable on the Central Equine Database – go to www.equineregister.co.uk for more information. Ask your veterinarian to microchip your horse or pony if they do not already have one.
Assessing risks for wounds
Horses and ponies are known for not being sensible when turned out – nor in their stables for that matter! It is often said that wherever they are, they will always manage to find something to injure themselves on!
So as owners, we must do everything we can to reduce the risk of injuries occurring. Ensuring tetanus vaccinations are kept up to date is vital when thinking about reducing the significance of any wounds that may occur. Stables and fields should be checked for sharp objects/corners and any potentially hazardous items, e.g. disused machinery in the corners of fields, mucking out equipment left in stables.
Fields should ideally be walked and checked daily to look for any new dangers – this can be easily done whilst poo-picking each day. Things to look for include changes in ground conditions, the development of new holes in the ground that horses could trip in – rabbit holes, for example – broken fencing, any litter, problems with the water supply, standing water, poisonous plants, etc.
You should also check your stable daily for hazards if your horse is coming in – check the integrity of the floor, door, windows, drinkers/buckets, and hay racks/bars – all very easy to do whilst mucking out and doing your daily stable chores. Your horse or pony should also be checked at least daily for any health issues or injuries that have developed.
Fences should be checked regularly as part of your daily checks. The best type of fencing for horses and ponies is post and rail fencing, or alternatively wooden posts with electric tape in between. Barbed wire should be avoided at all costs, and where possible stock netting should also be avoided – these pose an increased risk to horses if they get tangled in the fencing, as wire wounds can be particularly difficult to deal with and are more likely to involve critical structures such as joints or tendon sheaths.
Plastic electric fencing posts are also a hazard as they can move too easily – often due to wet ground conditions or windy weather – leaving the electric tape loose and risking your horse escaping from their paddock or getting tangled in the tape. Alternatively, hedging can be used as a boundary and has the additional benefit of providing shelter/shade, but the hedge must be very well established for it to be the sole boundary.
Gates should be wide and secure, hung well, and easy to open and close. Ideally, there should be a way to fix the gate open to stop it swinging into a horse or pony as they are being brought in or out of the field. It should not be possible for horses or ponies to put their feet through the gate, and there should be no protruding catches or bolts which can injure a horse as they pass by or through the gateway.
It is important to consider drainage in gateways, as these areas are ‘heavy traffic’ and therefore more likely to become poached and pose a potential hazard for slipping and accidents. If multiple horses are turned out together, a double gate system can work well – i.e. a small area outside of the main turnout area to bring a horse into, before then going through the main field gate once the access to the turnout area is secured. This can help to reduce the risk of escaped horses and ponies, especially when they are all desperate to come in for the night at the end of the day.
Some may choose to padlock their field gate, but be mindful that in an emergency you may need to open the gate quickly, so all parties should know the padlock code or have quick and easy access to a padlock key.
Often in abundance in summer and lacking in the winter! The main challenge is having appropriate turnout available for each horse, ideally with enough space to rest land as well. Resting land helps from a worm control point of view, but also to optimise ground conditions year-round. For some horses and ponies, restriction of grazing is required for weight management, either by reducing the area they have access to (strip grazing/track systems) or reducing the time allowed out at grass.
Grazing muzzles can also be used alongside these measures – see ‘Field attire’ below for some safety points. Poo-picking should ideally be done daily to allow monitoring of faecal output and regular field checks. However, twice-weekly poo-picking can be sufficient to break the life cycle of worms when daily clearing is not possible.
These should be open-fronted if multiple horses or ponies are turned out together, to avoid a horse or pony becoming trapped in a corner and potentially kicking out at another horse when they feel threatened. Field shelters with multiple entry/exit points are also an option. They should be inspected regularly for hazards, just like a stable, and cleaned out regularly too. You may wish to use bedding in the field shelter, but make sure this is suitable for those using the shelter in light of any skin/respiratory issues.
Ensure that any field shelter is sited in a well-drained area, and that it is positioned in such a way to optimise protection against the prevailing weather.
The water supply should be checked frequently as horses and ponies should always have free access to water – this is likely to mean checking field water once or twice daily depending on the weather conditions and how many horses are turned out. You should check for ice forming several times each day in the winter, and in very hot conditions in the summer, you may need to check that water buckets have not been emptied by very thirsty horses!
Water troughs or buckets should be cleaned out regularly and checked for contamination. The same principles apply to water in the stable, especially if using automatic drinkers, which can freeze during the winter months.
It is always safer to remove headcollars when horses are left alone when stabled or turned out, as they can catch on fencing or gates or bolts, causing a horse to panic or pull back and potentially injure themselves. If your horse is difficult to catch, consider using a ‘field-safe’ headcollar – these are specifically designed to break if put under pressure, which may reduce the risk of an injury.
Rugs should be well-fitting and appropriate for the weather conditions. Check rugs regularly for damage, paying particular attention to the straps and fixtures/fittings. Not all horses or ponies will need rugging, especially native breeds and those that need to lose weight over the winter months. Body condition, age, and whether your horse or pony is clipped may all influence the decision of whether to rug, and if so, which weight of rug to use.
Fly rugs and/or fly masks may be required during the summer months to protect from insects. If your horse or pony wears a grazing muzzle this must fit well, not interfere with drinking, and should not be worn 24/7; you should check grazing muzzles regularly for wear or damage and replace as necessary.
Forage in the field
If hay or haylage is fed in the field during the winter months, you should think carefully about how this is done. Large bales are often used for ease of feeding groups of horses in fields, but they can be a problem if bullying occurs around the bale, or if unsuitable feeders are used around the bale, e.g. cattle ring feeders – horses and ponies have been known to get stuck in these or injure themselves on them.
If multiple horses are turned out together and bullying is likely, there should always be multiple sources of forage so they can move from one source to another, e.g. multiple piles of hay/haylage, multiple haynets, or multiple bales. A good rule is to say one haynet per horse turned out, plus one! This should help to prevent fighting and reduce the risk of injuries. If bucket feed is given in the field, feeding time should be supervised as this is often a period when fighting and potentially injuries are more likely to happen.
Although horses are herd animals, fighting and injuries are common in large groups turned out together, so be mindful of this when introducing new companions – always supervise new arrivals, and think carefully about which group they will be most suited to being turned out with.
Take home message
Ultimately you can’t supervise your horses and ponies 24/7 when stabled or turned out, but taking some time each day to check for hazards, removing these as necessary, can go a long way to prevent unwanted injuries and subsequent stress for you and your horse.