Talk to me about moving your indoor board horse to outdoor

So I have a young guy who got himself into some trouble and got a tendon injury. We have done shockwave, laser, PEMF but vet agrees now the answer is time. In discussing we have thought about turning him out on Dr Green for 6-12 months.

He’s always been on stall with me, perhaps except as a young horse with his breeder. He likes his stall and can be a bit dramatic about bugs, but I don’t want him sitting in a stall more often than not while we go into winter and he’s not being ridden. I think it will be good for him but I’m so nervous to make the jump. He’s been in show barns for the last while.

I have a friend with a nice place with small groups who come into a close field at night with shelter. They will grain him too, so it should be fine, but he is an anxious type.

Please tell me your experiences. Good bad and ugly. How can I help him transition.

My horses became outdoor horses when I moved them home. Mare in her 20’s had always been stalled but at one barn they put the horses back out at night if the weather was good in the summer. She seemed to like that, showed enthusiasm when I put her back out after riding. Gelding 11yo had always been stalled when I owned him 2.5 yrs at the time. They didn’t seem to have any problems adapting to a paddock and run in shed. I blanketed them (OTTBs) as needed. Interestingly, the mare grew the thickest coat ever for the first winter at home (they moved in April.)

Take it slow. We moved my stalled, retired show horse to retirement at a relatively young age and at first he was an anxious mess, running the fenceline, calling for the one horse that he bonded with right away. We kept it simple- a few hours a day in the inner paddock closest to the barn, increased the time, and eventually he moved to the big field with the herd and now lives out full time except in really bad weather. He had a mini as a buddy during that time which helped. If he’s really anxious, you can work with your vet to identify an appropriate calming agent for the interim while he acclimates.

More likely than not, this time next year he’ll not want to go back in a stall :slight_smile:

I have one here in retirement that is happy in, out, or any combination thereof. The other is not really happy out on pasture for more than 15-30 minutes at a time. Bugs are a hard no. Heat is a hard no. He has access to a sacrifice paddock and overhang (think run in shed but attached to the barn) and will stand there all day and night rarely venturing out into the acre of pasture attached to this set up. His buddy is out there most of the time. Oddly, this horse doesn’t particularly like to be stalled, and wants his stall open to “come and go” into his smaller paddock. It works for us.

I’d go slow-- there can be lots of running and drama, which may be counter to his recovery. Be prepared to switch him back to stall and smaller turnout.

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Go slow and give it some time. Horses are creatures of habit, but they can adapt to a new routine (or lack of routine). It might take some time, and usually goes better if they’re out with a friend who is happy to stay out. I’ve also noticed that a lot of horses who “run the fenceline to come in”, are actually just accustomed to coming in for grain at a particular time. Those horses are often very happy to go right back out after they eat.

My moms 18yo gelding doesn’t do well with bugs, but he likes to be out. In the summer he gets to come in during the day. Lucky for him the staff just waits until he comes up to the gate for breakfast. On a cool breezy day he might not come up until noon, on a hot buggy day he might be waiting to come in at 8am. Once he goes back out in the late afternoon he doesn’t want to come back in though, even if it’s yucky out, he’d rather go hang out in the run-in with his friends.

My 12yo gelding lives in the same field/herd, but he lives out 24/7. When the stalled horses come up to the gate he ignores them. He has his own routine. He’s the boss though, so I never have to worry about him getting bullied away from the hay/run-in/water. He cribs if he’s inside and wants to be out.

We also have a 4yo mare. She’s stalled for convenience right now. She needed frequent handling as a young horse, she became quite feral during the lockdown last year. I think she would adapt quite well to 24/7 turnout though, she’s high up in the chain of command.

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After decades of horse keeping, I am coming to the conclusion that so many soft tissue injuries are caused by residual inflammation from standing around in stalls all the time. Sometimes they are exacerbated by bad trim or shoe jobs, too.

The reason I’m starting to believe this is I see such a stark contrast in limb soundness from horses turned out 24/7 versus those kept in industry-standard boarding barn care (8 hrs turnout, 16hrs stall). My experience is their body condition is so much fitter and sounder when they’re allowed to move around unrestricted. Microinjuries are sometimes part of having a horse in moderate work - if they stand around in a stall, the inflammation makes it worse. If they move around, their bodies dispel the inflammation better and turnout conditions them well to riding work, making these injuries far less likely.

Make the jump. Your horse will be healthier and sounder in the long run. Make sure he is with friends (as the best thing for them is to be in a personality-congruent herd). He will acclimate before you know it.

So many people claim horses “hate turnout” and pace the fenceline “wanting to be brought in”. My experience is that they aren’t pacing because they want to come to the stall - they’re pacing because they get grained in their stall or they are alone in turnout; two powerful motivation factors for them wanting to return to the barn. It’s not so much that they genuinely enjoy the stalls versus their food motivation and herd motivation tells them the barn is where they get these two needs: fix it so they have hay/grain/friend access outside, and they will never want to come in.

All my show horses are turned out 24/7 in a herd environment. I have noticed nothing but performance/personality loss any time I try to put them back in a stalled environment. A few times now I’ve tried to bring them to a barn with an indoor for the winter to keep them in shape all season – and they are just nowhere near as fit and happy.

I’ve taken on a few high risk TBs over the years that have come to me with DFFT ruptures, suspensory injuries, and other soft tissue injuries with guarded prognosis… Every single one of them has been chucked on Dr Green once the vet okays it – and every single one of them went onto eventing careers with zero issue.

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I moved the real JB from a 20 hour stalled situation (for almost 15 years), to a self-care situation with the goal of full time turnout. Fortunately it was right behind our new farm, and they were there while we were getting fencing and other stuff set up

I started with turning them out first thing early, then going back and bringing them in for breakfast, turning out after work and bringing in for dinner and the night.

Mornings turned into breakfast, me getting ready for work, turning out, and bringing in around lunch, then back out after work and back in for dinner.

It progressed from there

At first, JB was already ready to come in when I arrived, waiting at the gate. Then he would come to the gate only when he saw me. Then I had to go get him LOL

This was all made easier because it was November, so there wasn’t a grass acclimation issue, or a bug issue

Don’t let him train you. Like Beowulf said, horses often get excited or “anxious” out, when they are anticipating that there’s yummy food in the stall, not because they actually want to be in the stall or out of the pasture (not necessarily the same thing). Put him in his stall without his food (hay is fine), do some stuff, then feed. The goal being - don’t teach him that food is waiting for him the second he gets into his stall.

If he’s pacing or screaming or being stupid, hang out there with him, doing nothing, and the instant he stops his nonsense, praise and get him. Maybe do a little something on the way to the barn if he’s being a dink - work on whoa, or some basic yield to pressure, some very useful groundwork that should be ingrained (and usually isn’t), so there’s also no direct connection between leaving the pasture, and getting to the barn. If he’s polite and quiet no reason you can’t go straight to the barn. You dictate the speed of it all, not him.

“You” can mean literally you, or a trusted friend. As much time as it can be YOU, so you know it’s getting done, the better.

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I was lucky, when I transitioned my horse from 100% stall to turn out it was late fall early winter so there were not many bugs to deal with. The place had nice big pastures and lovely hay and my horse was very food motivated.
We did quickly learn that as long as he had something to eat and friends, he would stay out there happily. As soon as his friends started to go in, the melt down started so he became horse #1 to go in at turn in time.
I later moved him to a situation where he was out, with access to shelter, 24/7 without any issues.

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My first horse lived for 13 years in a boarding situation that consisted of a stall with attached run 12x24 total, no turnout. I bought a mare who foaled there and her filly ( i kept) lived that way for the first 4 years of her life. Very urban area. I rode faithfully 6 days a week year round or turned out in arena to goof off.

I married and on Nov 1st we moved 2000 miles East with horses in tow and our first house had 7 fenced acres ( a lot of woods but some grass) and a 2 stall run in. Horses went from basically stalled 24/7 to complete freedom. No adjustment required for them.

When the bugs are eliminated your horse may be just fine.

Some years ago I retired a mare to a friend’s property. Friend turned her out in the am to join the others. By late morning mare wanted to come back in. So she did. After a week or so, it was early afternoon before she wanted in. I think it was maybe 8 weeks until she just stopped coming back to the the barn at all.

If you can choose one of the nicer months of the year to switch your horse. Begin the transition by not bringing the horse into his stall during the evening at regular time. Just try to do everything slow…

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This!!! Or the turnout situations are stressful in other ways, like incompatible personalities in pasture-mates or no escape from the bugs/elements.

Boarding barns sometimes have suboptimal turnout situations because of the logistics/cost of managing a large facility. So it is definitely a plus that you are moving him to a smaller, quieter farm.

For bugs: fly boots help a ton. Fly sheets can also be a big help if your climate isn’t too hot.

Overall I think it is a lot more stressful for horses to go from being out 24/7 to being stalled than the reverse, so long as you can provide a positive experience in the pasture.

Don’t forget that horses need their down time also, something that stalls provide for many horses.
When watching horses in stalls, many will find a closed in corner, lower head and snooze away right after they come in and eat their first fill.
Some even lay down and take naps.

Outside horses seem to be more up and continuously stimulated and that is tiresome.
If they have learned to chill out in stalls, some like their stall time.

Listen to your horse, don’t go by preconceived human ideas of what horses like and why.

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My 6yo OTTB had always been stalled for some period of time. Previous owners had him inside during the day, out at night in FL. He was in 12 hours, out 12hrs when I first brought him home.

Then we ran into ulcer trouble and he cast himself in the stall multiple times. It became clear that if we attempted to stall him, he was going to maim or kill himself. So the transition to 24/7 turnout was pretty abrupt, but we didn’t know what else to do. He did fine. Thankfully we were coming into summer so the temps were mild, bugs hadn’t really become a nuisance yet, and the grass was good. It’s definitely helped him recover physically and mentally this summer.

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Our horses have it both ways, have individual acre+ paddocks with horses across pipe fences to interact with and individual stalls/sheds to get in and out of the weather and have some quiet time.
They come and go at will, go in the stalls to stand there napping, come out to stand by the water trough, another horse across, napping, then walk out there to graze around for a while, then stand out there asleep close to a quiet corner, or watch as cattle come and go in the distance, or other horses and riders do their thing by the covered arena.

Giving horses a choice where you may, you can watch them and see what each prefers.
They let you know.

I think so much depends on your particular horse.

My mare, who was raised outdoors, really appreciated her stall and slept best there. She was so much happier when kept in her stall for issues. My gelding, raised half time in a stall really prefers to be out 24/7 in his own pasture. He recently stepped on his clip on his shoe and developed an abscess and I kept him out.

I’d next suggest evaluating the “herd behavior” of your horse. Does he get this? Will he have to struggle to find his position in the herd? Does he or anyone else have shoes? Are you OK if he gets bitten or kicked on a regular basis? Will he be OK if he is forced to the bottom of the herd? You might have to try it and see. My mare HATED group turnout with the mares (she was raised in group turnout), was on the low end, and was miserable. I took her out of that situation after 2-3 months and she was much happier.

I again emphasize that you have to work with what is best for your individual horse.

This actually sounds a lot like my guy. He’s cast a few times too, and on top of the injury, I’m a bit at my Whits end with the stall injuries. If funny because he seems really happy to be in though.

By way of an update, my guy will be moving to friend’s place in a few weeks. I hope the timing works, as it’s still fairly hot out with cooler nights and the bugs are much better now. In doing this, we don’t really have the option of a slow transition, but stalls are available if he absolutely needs to get indoors. I’ll have his fly sheet ready if needed lol

He will be out with two older horses that seem pretty tolerant, so fingers crossed. He’s the low man, so as long as they don’t bully him, we should be fine.

I think this might be more stressful for me haha

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My RMH transitioned like nothing different happened. But he’s a pig and doesn’t care about bugs as much.

My OTTB loves not being in his stall. But he needs a turnout buddy. And he needs a lot of bug protection. He’ll spend a lot of time in the run-in during the day when the bugs are bad, but my set-up gives him that option so he’s very happy with 24/7. Fall is probably the easiest time to transition as well. Bugs are getting better by the day in my area.

I thought I would provide an update. Finally decided between the injury and casting in the stall that it was time for the move to outdoor. He’s been there about 4 months and doing great. Seems very happy, is getting hurt less and is good despite the cold weather. Blanketed up as he doesn’t grow much coat. Bug season will be a big tell.

We did it cold turkey. Had to move to a new barn so he was immediately on field board. I think it’s helpful that largely all horses stay out, so he didn’t feel like he should come in.

Never thought I would have him on field board but it’s been great!

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Agree. Bugs bother mine far more than cold/snow. Me notsomuch anymore. Glad he is doing so well.