It is always an unwelcome surprise to come to the barn for morning chores to find your horse has escaped his paddock or stall and has been chowing down in the feed room for an unspecified period of time. The danger to the horse is enormous if he delved into grain bags or other highly fermentable foods such as alfalfa. One sequela is colic; another is colitis; yet another is laminitis, none of which are a good situation for any horse. Sometimes, more than one horse has escaped and helped themselves to a banquet. Even if you think one or more horses weren’t allowed access to the feed because a more dominant horse “kept them away,” don’t take that chance. Have your vet out to treat all escapees, as a precaution.
These scenarios can be avoided with a very simple effort: Locks. A separate feed room with a solid door keeps feed and supplements separate from horse access. Incorporate a spring-loaded latch that closes the door behind you so there is no chance to forget to shut it tightly behind you. But, don’t just rely on just a door. Put a hasp on the door and lock it with a reliable lock or padlock and check it every time before you leave the barn.
Pasture Escape Artists
As for horses who escape from the paddock or pasture—that can be avoided with strong gates and good latches that horses aren’t able to open, or at least not without a gargantuan effort or exceptional brain power.
I owned an Arabian gelding who would spend all night opening and closing gates within a huge paddock area for the sheer fun of it. It made him easy to use while mounted to open and close gates on trail, but this habit could prove disastrous if he ever escaped his paddock confines for the feed room.
Just wrapping a chain around a gate, even if twice encircled, is not much of a challenge for an inquisitive horse. Chains that can be leaned against can also be broken by the sheer weight of a pushy horse.
Gates should be affixed solidly to posts that in turn are secured firmly in the ground. Make sure they are affixed close enough to the posts or panels to avoid tempting a horse to think he can pass through a seemingly “open” but small space. It doesn’t tend to work out well if the horse doesn’t fit.
As for the latches: Keep in mind that horse lips are quite adept at moving things around. (You probably are aware of this if you’ve ever had your horse sort out powdered medication from his feed in a bucket.) Latches should require hands and fingers to open even if that means an inconvenience to you if your arms are full. Carabiners, snaps, spring rods, lockable one- or two-way gate latches, and hook-and-eyelet type latches are tricky for horses to open. Sliding bolt latches on stall doors should be doubly secured by using a clip or snap so a horse can’t work it lose with his lips; some of these sliders come spring-loaded.
Make sure there are no sharp edges on gates and latches. Cut off any bolts that stick out. Cap T-posts if these are used as part of a fence line.
For the real Houdini horse, you might simply need to electrify a fence line and gate to keep his busy mouth away from it.
If gates are easily accessible to a road or there is a potential for a theft situation, use gates and latches that can be locked with a padlock. Be sure to provide your local fire department with keys or designate a reliable friend to be in charge in case a natural disaster necessitates moving horses out of the pasture or barn and you aren’t available. Alternatively, you can fit your driveway with an electronic gate that needs a remote or keypad code to open.