Horses In Confinement

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Question: Dear Julie,

I just moved to a home on 40 acres (with a live creek) in Missouri. I’ve never owned a horse (of course, always wanted to) and haven’t been around them for a number of years now. In order to get them the care they need, I have to catch them first. I watched the episode of your TV show on [the hard to catch horse] and was thrilled to see my instincts were correct. I’ll be putting up a round pen to start working with them. My question is this: The former owner had allowed them to roam the entire 40 acres; I want to section off an acre for them to stay in. I’d love to have three sectioned off, but just can’t afford it right now. I have cleaned out a section of the barn for them to get protection, but they must have a favorite spot “out there” because they don’t use what I made them. They’ll also be getting more of a stall set-up. Can I change them from “free roam” to confined? I love animals so much and just want to be sure these horses get the best care I can provide. Thanks for any help you are willing to give. By the way, I have two mares and two colts (yearlings) quarter horses.

Sincerely,
Mary

Answer: Mary,

Your horses should not need to be confined in order to catch them. As you saw on Horse Master, training a horse to be easy to catch is not too hard. The method demonstrated on the show is very effective and I call it “walking a horse off.” It is explained in an article on this site.

You can also easily train your horses to come when you call by using a grain reward. Start at feed time by yelling or whistling a unique call. Then shake the grain can to get their attention. If they get a small bite of grain every time you call, in no time, you’ll be able to call them in at any time day or night. If you establish a routine of when you call them in, they’ll be waiting for you every time.

As for your horses not coming in the nice protected barn you made for them—that is the oldest joke that horses play on humans. Countless people before you have spent time and money on what they thought were ideal, cozy shelter for their horse, only to find him standing out in the pouring rain, through gales, blizzards and heat. Many a horse owners have made this frustrating realization, but it should really come as no surprise—horses are flight animals—confinement is not their thing. Plus, they are well-equipped to survive in adverse conditions.

Research has shown that run-in sheds are more favored by horses if they are not fully enclosed and there is ventilation at the bottom and tops of the walls. Being able to see the horizon is a key factor in how comfortable a horse is when he is confined. The better he can see his environment, the safer he feels.

Horses can become habituated to a shelter, particularly if you feed them in there. Horses do like to have shade and a wind break in extreme weather conditions, but they have to feel comfortable and safe in there. If you spend quality time with your horses in the barn, they’ll come to feel safe in there and seek out its comfort more often.

While I am sure you can get your horses habituated to confinement, it may not be necessary. Your horses will be happier if they can run around and be horses. I would bring my horses in the barn for feeding and grooming and get the youngsters used to being tied up in there, etc. But then let them be turned out the rest of the time.

If you wanted your horses to get used to being in stalls—which is not a bad thing for a horse to be comfortable with, especially if you plan to show him or go to events—you could bring them in at night then turn them out for the day (or visa versa). Horses get used to this routine easily and seem to enjoy it.

You will probably need to figure out ways to separate the youngsters from the mares at some point so they do not become too herd bound. In fact, you’ll probably want to find opportunities to separate the all horses at various times so that they learn to be calm and independent away from the herd and are easier ride out.

Good luck with your new herd!
Julie

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