Turning Horses Out on Wet Fields

Half fun but serious. Who else can relate to the guilt for not letting your horses out on wet fields?
They want out. Stand at the gate. Bored. And I like them moving all day long. They were relaxed and happy.

I grew up with horses at home - out 24/7 - and all the goodness that comes with it. I don’t remember what the fields looked like and maybe we even locked them up at times. Then boarded for the past 25 yrs and then finally my life time dream is realized. The barn was built and they’ve been home two months.

But, NOAA accurately predicted a wet winter. Snow, rain and now my paddocks and pasture turnouts are suffering. Two small paddocks 90x90 already closed. My next bigger turnout - 325x120 - eaten down and torn up enough I think it needs to wait for spring growth and dry up before they are back out.

Two more turnouts are available (325x135) and they haven’t been on them. But the ground is soaked and they’ll punch through it.

I’ve got a big nice dry lot built (40 x 160) - two horses. 24/7 hay in slow feeders.

But still feel bad. How do you balance turnout during the winter? Doesn’t look like the next two weeks is going to freeze.

I’d planned on possibly up to 4 horses here but now see no way. At the most I’ll add one more horse and know that is pushing it. Otherwise my land will be torn up and ruined. We spent probably $5,000 over the past 8 yrs rehabbing the ground - seeding, testing, adding minerals and amendments.

We do have 15 acres out back in woods etc but it’s not fenced yet. That’s years from now due to cost.

OK, so I’ll get on the couch and listen to yall.

40 x 160 with hay sounds like a great dry lot for them! That is a lot of ‘length’ for them to move around in (better than a square).

I only have ‘summer pasture’ here – it’s too wet this time of the year to do more than hand graze the driest parts occasionally.

My dry lot is about 50x100 with a 12x24 shelter and honestly… that’s where he lives most of the time. I obsess about the transition to grass every year, eventually get switched to turnout all night… and then back into the dry lot. lather rinse repeat.

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I have a cushinoid horse that can’t go out to eat grass, so is permanently on dry lots.
Has been like that for years now, dry lots are 300’ long, from 80’ to 126’ wide.
Other horses go out to pasture by him.
All, including him, are on 24/7 out with barn access, fed twice a day.

He and I just had to get used to the idea, is all.
Both of us are adaptable, so we make do. :innocent:

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Whenever I feel really bad for my horses at home who have a similar dry lot/hay arrangement and access to my arena for exercise, play and shelter. I go visit where they were boarded before. Very nice facility, but this time of year turn out = a few minutes to roll in the indoor and caught if you look like your going to play to hard. They do look at the pastures with such big sad eyes. I have had 4 here and I will say 2 is much easier and better for them.

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Where we live in the middle of the city it is common to take the horses out onto the streets to be hand walked,

I feel your pain! I have a large stonedust dry lot and in the winter I used to only let them out onto the grass during the day when the ground wasn’t too saturated. Last winter I actually cheated and experimented with allowing them access to one of my three acres 24 hours a day, all winter long. I know, bad bad farm owner!!! But…the field wasn’t really any more torn up than when I managed it more carefully, the mud didn’t get any worse, and in the spring I still had more grass than I knew what to do with. It was a short, mild winter but we had average precipitation. I have some pics that show the field at various times in winter and spring, if you’d like to see: http://thesmallhorsefarm.blogspot.com/2020/04/2019-2020-my-winter-of-living-lazily.html. I’m doing the same thing again this winter because the horses are so happy and my chores are so much lighter due to less manure cleaning. Not that I’m saying you should be lazy too…but it worked pretty well for me last year.


They will be fine! We use dry lots and all-weather footing turnouts this time of year - until the ground freezes solid. If you want to encourage them to move around more, spread the hay out into multiple piles or nets. You can also stuff some hay pellets or similar into a treat ball for them to kick around. We have the Amazing Graze, and at least half of them seem to like it.

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Last winter my mare lived on a trashed field which meant a lot of mud and nothing much to eat. She was very happy to come into the dry sand coverall arena and get hay. For a few months they were allowed to use the back quarter of the coverall for shelter. They spent a lot of time in there.

After they were kicked out of the arena in spring they spent a lot of time in the field looking wistfully at the arena!

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence!! If you have a fence or a gate your horses will spend a lot of time thinking they want to go see what’s out there. They are built to roam, nibble, explore. It doesn’t mean you are depriving them of anything specific.

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Would it help you feel better to know that although ours do have access to the whole acreage, at this time of the year they choose to hang out near the barn? For weeks at a time?

I think your dry lot is substantially bigger than what many equines have access to in January. Just think how much they will appreciate their quality grassed paddocks on that beautiful spring day when finally opened up to them!

I really appreciate all your replies and thoughts. All good to consider. Of course my favorite is @Libby2563 cuz it’s what I want to do! :heart_eyes: AND love your blog and all your data, graphs, pictures. So helpful!

I did give in and turned them out on my middle field and they were very well behaved and no one ran around.

Hoping others will chime in with what works for you.

P.S. I changed the topic heading since it was clickbait! buwhahahaah!


I also hand graze in season my dry lotted horse a little bit.
Just so he feels special and still gets some minutes of green grass around the barn.
You could try that:


One of mine is happily pawing his way down through what is left of the grass at the fence line…Or not happily. Apparently grass roots taste good? Their winter paddock is an almost acre, plus the real sacrifice quarter acre lot. As opposed to the other rotating 6 acres which they have in the summer and which they do Not have now because…digging. And they also have free choice hay in the winter, But no. grass roots are better. So he is working his way along the fence line, digging it up . If I wanted a dog…I would have gotten one!

Ignore the horsie esp. They are sending mental images to try to convince you to open the gate. Be strong! They are fine.

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Well, a huge part of this depends on where you are located. How much precipitation you get, your soil type, micro climates, your property’s location and placement in relation to water tables and runoff, etc.

Horses also really wear on the land. What works 1 year in might not work 10 years in. Again, depending on soil types, location, etc.

Every paddock starts out looking grassy and lovely. Where I live, most of the soil is rocky clay. So, zero drainage, which leads to a lot of mud pits if it’s not handled correctly. Land is also at a premium here, so you often find barns with not enough turnout and way too many horses per acre, postage stamp paddocks and mud pit turnouts. It’s my biggest challenge in finding boarding. Eventually, many places end up putting down sand/stone dust in their paddocks to mitigate the mud. But, they don’t start that way, is my point. They start looking grassy and nice, and it takes a few years of eating, stomping, manure and loose hay to end up a muddy mess.

When I last had horses at home, in a rental, I had a 1/2 acre paddock, 2 small paddocks, and a 2-3 acre grass field up the street. Of course, the 1/2 acre paddock had their shelter in it, and it started looking grassy and nice, some upland and some lower areas, but after 13 years, the grass was entirely gone, and without the root systems even the upland areas would get muddy in the rain. They would dry quickly, and the water would run off to the lower areas, thankfully, but it was definitely not ideal. As a renter, there was only so much I could do, except turn them out in the 2 little paddocks as much as possible, or the field up the street. The fencing in neither place was such that I could not leave them there while no one was at home, and definitely not overnight.

Anyways, this was a long story but what I’m really trying to say is that what looks great now, or works right now, might not be great in the future. It’s hard to look at the land and predict what’s going to happen, unless you’ve done this before, possibly a couple times!

The only places I’ve seen with true pasture turnout year round have well draining soil, and plentiful acreage per horse. So the horses are basically rotating themselves, from one area to another, without the owner doing it for them.

I am using my dry lots so much more than anticipated, but it is ungodly wet this year. And, I fertilized and seeded late fall, so really want to give those tiny blades at least a chance.

My horses also stand at the gate, but I toss them an Amazing Graze with a few handfuls of alfalfa cubes to play with. They are doing fine. They are also both air ferns, so they spend more time on poor pasture with hay and dry lots than probably lots of other horses do. I actually have two gorgeous, lush fields that are never used because my fancy horse would drop dead with all that grass.

I feel this. I only have my gelding, and his companion pony, and they have 4 acres of well-drained, established grass. It’s hilly though, and my guy will rip and slide and I just can’t deal with it. Also he just pulled a shoe yesterday. So, he spends a lot of time in our 60X40 stone dust lot that attaches to the barn. He’s pretty adaptable, and he settles in, but he’s wistful for the pasture.

I hope I’m not hijacking, but on a side note- does anyone else notice that their horses are easier to manage, when they are confined? My guy got bad this summer, with 24-7 turnout, about sort of getting rangey and pushy, and not really wanting to come in or be asked to do anything other than be fed and groomed. I sent him off to a western friend for some boot camp and trailer loading, and he’s much better now. But, my trainer and my friend suggested more stalling and drylot routine, because it keeps him more reliant on human interaction? It has seemed to really work. Anyways, just wanted to see if others had this same experience.

In my experience, it is a matter of how much routine human interaction they get. In my set up, it has been possible to not put a halter on the horses for days, because of how the 24/7 is arranged. That worked fine with some horses, but it was marginal with one and now definitely would not work at all. I’ve consciously modified my routine to include daily dry-lot, daily halters for the two boys (the elderly pony does her thing). More routines that involve me as the boss basically! I try to keep them positive. So, for example something as apparently simple as getting let back out of the dry lot to the grass, first requires them to stand back from the gate and wait politely. And it never gets opened if they are running about!
I’ve become a firm believe in the saying that every time we interact with our horses we are training them.


I can totally relate to the guilt you’re feeling! I had planned on keeping my two confined to their dry lots all winter, but I already broke down and am letting them also have one of the 5 acre pastures when it’s not too wet out. I figured I can rest that pasture in the spring and switch them to my other 5 acre pasture until the winter pasture recovers. I can’t take the guilty stares!

ETA: @babyeventer I’ve actually had the opposite experience, my horses can get a little rude when they’ve been stuck in the dry lot. I think it’s mostly pent-up energy, they just get antsy being more confined. When they’re out 17 hours a day in the summer, they are all so quiet and behaved. Are you riding a good amount in the summer? That makes a big difference too…

Yes! I have made myself do this and it really works wonders. He has to halter, tie up, and move his feet, every time he goes in or out, etc. honestly I just got lazy and used my good setup to my non-horsey time limits, but it showed me that this horse isn’t one that can be managed as minimally as I thought, during the week. Once he got back from camp, it only took a couple discussions to show him that his old home wasn’t going to be as unstructured as it was, before.

@SugarCubes I do ride more in the summer. And, he gets sapped in the heat- not necessarily fitness-wise, but he’s a sweater and he voluntarily stays in the barn during most of the daylight (with free-choice hay), so I think he just isn’t as tempted to be evasive and challenge going to work. He’s just a lot quieter in the heat.

I agree Ruth. Will be interesting in time to look back and see what worked and what didn’t.