Let’s Discuss: Pasture Partners

Horses are herd animals, no one will deny this. But since getting Foster in 2011, he and the others I’ve been caretaker of since then, have never been in a field with a “herd” of horses. I realize this is not everyone’s first choice, but for me, I feel that my horse is safer by himself or with one or two buddies, rather than in a large field with a gaggle of horses.

At previous barns, we had a hard time finding a buddy that would stick with Foster. Not that he’s some kind of bully, but that the couple options available (since others were settled in their own field) just didn’t pan out. So he would flit between being pastured alone, or with one buddy (which is his current situation, by the by).

Foster in his paddock | PC: JP

Foster in his paddock | PC: JP

Where I currently board, the setup is more attuned to solo turn out. The majority of the paddocks are too small to accommodate more than one horse, so both Riley and Smitty got (get) a paddock to themselves. Because of the gentlemen that they are, they share their fence lines with other horses, including mares, and I feel like they get plenty of interactive opportunities with the other horses. Based on the scuffs and scrapes Smitty comes in with, it’s obvious that he’s still finding plenty of play time while he’s out. And I get the satisfaction of knowing that serious injuries due to kicking, etc are limited due to his setup.

Smitty in his solo turnout

Smitty in his solo turnout

I certainly understand the “let horses be horses” mentality of large group turnouts, and if that’s your situation, I applaud you. Our farm has limited opportunities for group turnout, and I’m an OCD ninny after dealing with Foster’s issues and injuries, and have okayed myself to bubble wrap my horse in a solo situation.

What is your horse’s turnout situation? Do you mix mares and gelding? Are you limited by your farm’s setup? Or do you have specific preferences that dictate the occupancy limit of a pasture? Has the turnout situation for your horse ever caused problems, or have you noticed certain benefits in your horse based on a change in turnout arrangements?


21 thoughts on “Let’s Discuss: Pasture Partners

  1. Henry got his current injury in solo turnout. So… yay. But he really doesn’t seem to care if he’s alone or not. I’ve had others that very obviously preferred companions and some that very obviously preferred to be alone. Henry can kind of go either way. I’d rather he be alone than with a bully, but I’d rather him have a good buddy than be alone. I’ve never really had a problem mixing mares and geldings, but I’ve boarded at a few places that segregate them.

  2. I board at a private property where my two horses are the only ones on the property. I prefer it that way – I don’t have to worry about other horses being bullies, or harming my older mare or miniature.

    If I were to board at a large facility, I would have to keep Spud (mini) from large groups simply because it’s just asking for a broken leg.

    Suzie seems to do OK in larger groups, but is the bottom of the pecking order so she gets bullied away from grass and such.

    I like that my two are alone, with eachother, and I don’t have to worry about someone else’s asshole horse beating up in my two, or ruining their blankets, etc.

  3. My gelding has been in herd turnout almost all his life. He tends to fall near the bottom of the pecking order and comes in with lots of marks and scrapes sometimes, but has never had a serious injury from being with a herd. *knock on wood* He is very social, likes to play (or try to instigate play) and gets stressed out when he is alone, so I’m generally ok with herd turnout. Not sure how he’d react to one or two buddies plus friends over the fence, but I’m sure he’d adapt fine.

  4. You know I’m on the “horses be horses” side of the fence. None of my guys are ever stalled (unless injured) and if all of them ate the same way/held weight similarly, I’d have no issue with them being out on infinite acreage in large groups, but that’s the kicker (pun intended…lol). If resources are scant in the area that you have numerous horses, that is when I’ve noticed tensions rise. For example, I have a 12×12 run in set up in the barn. I’ve seen FIVE horses packed into that space happily, but I know those 5 get along well and aren’t likely to fight. If I mixed a different group, it wouldn’t go so well. Heck, in some herds if I had three 12×12 run ins, one horse may dominate each run in and two horses be stuck outside. 😉 So, in short, my opinion is that large groups are fine when resources aren’t limited or if they are a bonded herd.

  5. I think it’s really up to the individual horse. If they’re happier alone or with one buddy, great. Drifter is out 24/7 with a herd of horses and he loves it. He manages when he has to be in a stall for several days at away shows but by the final day he tries to follow me out of the stall when I leave him and looks very forlorn. If I owned my own horse, I would prefer some kind of partial indoor/outdoor setup…maybe one day!

  6. I definitely lean more toward the “let horses be horses” mentality, but understand that not all horses can remain intact like that (haha). Mine is on 24/7 turnout with another gelding. Our pastures are big enough for 2-3 horses, but I wouldn’t be against having him in a group turnout situation as long as the hierarchy worked out, which would be hard seeing as though mine is the one who tends to be the bully. Justin was out with a mare through the winter and spring, and I have no problem with mixing mares and geldings as long as they live well out together!

  7. I don’t know whether Courage’s specific issues come from 6 years in a box stall or whether he’d be this way regardless, but he just doesn’t get it in terms of how to interest with other horses. We’ve tried him in various groups and pairings, and it all ends up the same–he is a danger to himself and others. He does fine alone, so solo turnout it is.

  8. Current situation is having our horses at home, so the 2 mares have a 4 acre pasture to themselves. Have been in various setups at boarding barns from my mare being out with 1 other mare to small group of mares. I prefer the 2 mare situation – less injuries and personality conflicts.

  9. Roger’s one main flaw is that he’s super dominant in turnout, so he’s usually paired with an older, been-there-done-that gelding or another OTTB gelding around his age. At my barn, there are never more than 2 horses to a field, which is great: the horses get interaction without having a huge group of buddies to roughhouse with. Roger has been turned out by himself on occasion, but he tends to walk the fence line when he realizes he’s alone, or he’ll start racing around the field and ultimately pulls a shoe. More often than not, he’s turned out with another horse.

  10. Connor can’t be caught if he’s turned out with other horses. So…that’s that. Haha. Most of our geldings are in group turnout, unless they are 1. special, 2. mean, or 3. ridiculously accident prone. Then the two mares go together.

  11. Since I’ve only had show horses, I’ve kept mine separate from others (especially after Ramone got beat to hell after I first bought him), I find that if they can see and touch and talk to other horses they still get that socialization.

  12. basically every farm i’ve worked at has had group turnout situations, including strictly mare herds, strictly gelding herds, and mixed herds. where horses fall in those groups tends to depend on their individual behaviors or needs (like groups of horses that need to be dry lotted, for instance). the only horses i’ve ever seen turned out solo are stallions, rehab cases, and specific privately owned horses.

    given that i’ve honestly seen few catastrophic injuries specifically related to herd drama (esp relative to any other way a horse can become sick or injured) but have seen issues with unsocialized horses, my personal inclination is toward group turnout (and the more turnout, the better).

    ultimately tho – i’ve seen happy horses in just about any type of situation, so if it’s working for the owner and horse i’m not judging.

  13. Pasture in CA is nearly impossible to find. Basically we just get paddocks attached to stalls. My barn is really nice and the owner built us a small pasture that attaches to our paddocks. Most of the time we just leave it open for Shasta alone, but we occasionally turn Eugene and Nilla out or put Nilla out with Shasta.

  14. Francis has his Big Bay Show Pony turnout- four big bay geldings that share turnout. However, most of the time one or more is gone at a show, so he’s usually only out there with one or two other horses. He seems to like the company since I usually find him grazing near a buddy, but hasn’t had any complaints when I separate him. He does come in covered in scrapes and marks from roughhousing though- if he wasn’t so sturdy, I’d ask to change his turnout situation. I like that he gets some social interaction, he’s such a friendly guy haha

  15. Currently, the boys are turned out in a GAINT field (think 20+ acres) nightly with a herd of other OTTB geldings. I know one of these days someone will come in with a terrible injury because they race around like no other. I’m not a huge fan of mass turnout, but they like the freedom it seems and I don’t have much of a choice. It took us about a month to figure out turnout when we combined 2 barns into one with 60 horses..NIGHTMARE. There are 3 gelding fields, 1 mare and 1 paddock for the injured. Otherwise its mass turnout.

    At my home and the old farm it was smaller pastures (think glorified paddocks) and 1-2 other horses. I didn’t like the one other horse either because of attachment issues. I think 3-4 is a good number for turnout. More than that and they’re likely to play a bit too hard.You can never really win though with horses it seems.

  16. UGH WordPress ate my comment! But, anyway, I think horses should be horses and live how they were designed to – outside, in a herd. I believe that turnout, herd interaction and equine-equine relationships are very, very important for horses in general. Granted, your pasture has to be big enough to support however many horses are in there with enough grass, space, etc. to prevent problems. And the herd dynamic needs to be such that they aren’t attacking each other on a daily basis. For example, Dino is an asshole. He cannot be turned out with other assholes because then they fight to see who is the biggest asshole, fight to be the first out the gate, etc., and then people and horses can get hurt. That’s no good. But as long as he can be in charge, everything’s just peachy. He’s lived in mixed herds of up to 6 and done very well, and right now his ‘herd’ is 2 other horses and 2 mini donks, and he’s thriving with that arrangement as well.

  17. My horse goes by himself, or with one buddy. Personally, I think large herds increase the chances of injuries for sporthorses. For horses that I do not plan to ride or show much, a bigger herd situation might not be bad. I think as long as they go outside a lot, they’re good! I think that a “herd” can be created by simply having other horses on the property too; even if there are fences in between them.

  18. I’ve had just about every turnout situation youcan think of but I love that at my current barn stall board horses go it in pairs usually. Annie can go out with mares or geldings but currently goes out with a mare as they get along beautifully.

    Totally feel you on the bubble wrap! Though generally speaking with Houston I found that he got into more trouble alone than he did with a buddy. Boredom maybe?

  19. I really do think it depends on the horse and the size of your pasture. If you have plenty of grass for horses to eat then you can put as many horses out in a field as it can support. Sometimes that’s 2 horses and other times it’s 20+. The second horses have to start fighting to eat bc a field is overgrazed that’s when you start asking for trouble and injuries.

    Personally I would prefer to have at least 3 horses in a pasture together if the pasture situation is setup to accommodate more than 1. There is always a horse that is an exception to the rule but in general I think group turnout is better than single turnout with neighboring friends if a farm is set up to handle that.

    I also love watching the herd dynamic and the different personalities that come out. My favorite thing to do is stand by a fence and watch a group of horse eat hay and see who pushes who around and who shares with who and figure out who the leader is. With my guys Arrow is the thoughtful decision maker, Chimi is the muscle, Finn is the investigator, and Marley is the flirt. Arrow shares his hay with Chimi and Marley but not Finn. Arrow is the top, Chimi 2nd, Finn 3rd and Marley last. Though Marley can hang out with Arrow and he’ll protect her from getting bossed around by the other 2 🙂 I really do love the social aspect of group turnout!

  20. Lucy goes out with our mini donkey because she lives at home and that’s the only option. She also basically lives to boss him around because it’s the first time she’s ever been in charge, hah. I’m glad she doesn’t have to be alone these days because before I had her and even when she was at the trainer’s she always went out alone and it always just made me a little sad!

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