Once your horse has been confined for a set period of time and you have diligently pursued the rehabilitation exercises prescribed for him, there comes a time when he is given more freedom. Unlike a person, you can’t exactly tell him to go easy and be quiet and expect him to follow your directions. The first thing he may do when faced with a bigger space is to run and kick up his heels, screech to a sliding stop, spin, then start those maneuvers all over again.
What can you do to keep him safe during this transition period?
Before Turning Him Out
Sometimes it is really helpful to start the transition very early on in his confinement period. Instead of confining him to an inside stall with very little stimulation, when possible, horses do better when housed outside in a small, stall-sized paddock. You can build a portable corral from panel fencing and move it around the property so he can stand in a small patch of green grass and graze. Moving it every couple of days gives him a fresh patch to graze and gets him away from manure-contaminated grass.
By being able to gaze at the Great Outdoors, he’ll receive stimulation from his surroundings to keep him interested and looking around. By being able to “graze” in proximity to his comrades, even if they are in a larger pasture, he will be more content that he is “part” of the herd. By putting him in this type of enclosure early on--but only with the approval of your veterinarian--you won’t have such a large transition from an inside stall to the outdoors when it is time to extend his liberty.
The Next Steps
No doubt you have been providing some form of controlled exercise in the weeks (or months) preceding the big day of freedom. The rehab should have helped to maintain a bit of muscle tone and taken the edge off his restlessness.
Here are a few ideas of how to introduce him safely to bigger spaces:
- Start in increments with how much room he has to roam; perhaps start with twice the confinement size, and gradually enlarge it to bigger spaces.
- The turnout area you designate for him should be in a quiet area of the property so he isn’t as likely to have reasons to spook.
- Turn him loose on an empty stomach with hay provided in several locations. throughout his new enclosure so he’ll spend time eating rather than racing around.
- Ensure that he is turned out solo, without any other herd instigators that might set him to running. And, turn him out only after the entire herd on the other side of the fence has settled down.
- Stand lookout initially so you can curtail his activity if he becomes too frisky.
- While your horse is still in this transition phase of returning to less enclosed spaces, refrain from putting him back on his full diet until he is actively back to work.
Sometimes it is less disruptive to leave a horse turned out 24/7 rather than bringing him in and out of the barn or corral. Depending on the horse’s temperament, he might be less inclined to run wild if he is in his larger turnout all the time. Check with your veterinarian about the wisdom of full-time turnout in less restrictive quarters.