Unsafe Turnout Behavior

Hey all!

I had a question about introducing a horse to turnout. I have a 3 year old OTTB filly who just came off the track. She has been in a box stall for 3 months with only daily hot walker use and occasional hacks. She has never been raced. She’s been at my facility for just around 2 weeks now, and I have some concerns about how she is reacting to large spaces.

Currently, I have her in a stall with a run. She is outside and is next to multiple other horses. My barn works on a turnout rotation, and I would love to start transitioning her where she gets to take advantage of the system, but her reactions (I’m worried) will cause her to hurt herself if we did. We have attempted to have her get some energy out both in a round pen and a smaller paddock. Both times she has attempted to get up to a full run and does a lot of the bucking/fast twirling behavior at the fence that is followed by very anxious whinnying. She has also gotten her leg stuck through the bars in both areas (luckily, with no more injuries than some scratches.)

The T/O area is much larger, however, and I’m very concerned about her anxiety in an area where she is easily able to get up to full speed. Has anyone else experienced this or have advice for safely transitioning her to turnout? Thanks!!

Can you tranquilize her the first few times?

A horse that is going out for the first time in a long time is going to work out some energy with galloping, bucking, rearing, etc. My horses act like this occasionally and they’re out 24/7.

Getting her hooves through the bars is a bigger concern and she could easily injure herself, I would recommend changing the design so she can’t do this. Adding mesh to these areas or replacing the gates would be ideal.

You could always drug her with something like ace before turnout, or something stronger if you’re truly worried about her behaviour.

Honestly though it sounds like a nervous pent up youngster happy to have room to stretch her legs, and I would probably just let it play out before getting overly worried.

Does she respect the fence? I’d want her slightly sedated if she’s going to run at full speed towards a fence line and act like a ninny. Ace is wonderful for taking the edge off.

Put her out with a steady Eddie, already in the pasture, and ace her. Make sure the ace kicks in before she goes out/gets wound up. Once the adrenaline is flowing my TBs stop feeling ace…

It might sound counterintuitive but leave her out as much as you can. 24/7 is really good for keeping the ones that want to run on turnout from ever having the “OMG I am FREE” daily run, but all my TBs enjoy a good gallop around the field. What you don’t want is her doing it in a way that results in injury or for an extended time where she gets hot or agitated. Aim for horse to do the “wheeeee! I feel awesome!” short, controlled runs and not the “OMg I am scared” panic runs! Zero running does not appear to be in the TB mindset. My WBs have all been slow to run/lazy but the TBs just have a desire to stretch their legs every now and then.

Since she has been hacked, and had some handling I would find out if she longes. If so longe her on a very large circle in a secure area, then a good solid dose of acepromazine, and then turn her out with a horse she likes, one who too has been worked, and will not be inclined to run with her.

If she does not longe, you say you have a round pen. Use that, work her, keep her attention focused on you. Then ace her, and turn her out.

Sometimes there really isn’t much you can do. After they’ve had a long time off of large areas, they tend to want to run and open up. My mare does that after even just 2 days stalled. She respects fences so I’ve not had the issue of her putting legs through, but there isn’t anything that I could do to stop her from running like an idiot. The bigger the area the better, it’s less likely yours will go up to a fence if she’s got a lot of open area.

Lunging (or long lining) might help “get her bucks out” before you put her in a large turnout. I might lunge her for awhile in the morning, then ace her in the afternoon/ evening and turn her out for as long as possible with a few calm old folks. I don’t think there is much you can do besides what others have said. Good luck!

Honestly, she probably doesn’t know how to behave in turnout. The last time she would have been turned out, in a big area, would be at the breeding farm; probably in a herd of young stock. Pick your most unlikely to get ruffled horse, turn said horse out first and then let the filly out. Once she has a set example of how to behave, she’ll probably settle in. It’s ideal for the horse to be a leader and not accept or flee from a feisty young horse.

Honestly, I would boot her lower legs and pasterns, and I’d turn her out. Many horses will get up to a full gallop as they stretch their legs and explore their surroundings. I wouldn’t ace a horse before turnout. I might longe before or work the horse in the round pen (in neither case would I just let the horse “blow off steam”, the horse would have to work) before turning out for the first time.

I also think the turnout mates are important. Who are the horses she’ll be turned out with? I have a friend who has a mostly TB appendix QH who was turned out in a large field (not every day) and ran and ran and ran all the time (lost alot of shoes). I watched her in a roundpen once and she just ran and ran and ran… I think it was because she was not regularly turned out. She was low on the totem pole in the large mare herd and ran to get away from other horses. She’s now turned out in a large field with one other mare - the two get along great - and she hardly runs at all (even after 1 month stall rest). Her current atmosphere is calm and she has benefited greatly.

When you have her in a round pen, are you doing any training or just letting her wear herself out? Training will help her anxiety issues. And yes, when you do turn her out, a little tranquilizer should help keep the running down to a minimum.

I agree with drugging her and safe pasture friend.