Over the last few years of living on a retirement farm a few common themes have emerged. When horses first arrive their owners are typically very worried about the same thing. Without question the two most common concerns are transitioning out of shoes and transitioning to living out 24/7. We have some stall boarders here but even the stall boarders are out of their stalls more than they are in them, which in my opinion is the right way to do stall board. Coming in at a close third place on the list of worries is their horse being integrated into a group for turnout.
I've touched on the hoof issue a lot in previous posts so I won't dwell on it here. Transitioning out of shoes does not make *our* list of things to worry about. Don't get me wrong, more often than not the feet are a mess and the horse has been following a very specific therapeutic shoeing protocol. The owner has good reason to be concerned because they have a vet and a farrier, and usually a trainer as well, telling them that without *this* shoeing package things will be ugly for the horse.
This is one area where years of experience are on our side. We've successfully and comfortably transitioned lots of horses out of shoes. Horses with navicular, horses who have foundered, have pedal osteitis, club feet, underrun heels, sheared heals, ringbone . . . you get the idea. I will say again many of these horses would need to be shod in order to stand up to the rigors of routine work, but for being a retired horse on soft turf they are more than fine. In fact over time, as I've said many times before, soundness *always* improves. We also have the good fortune of working with a gifted farrier who has a true talent and feel for transitioning a horse out of shoes. This is a *very* rare person to find. With some horses we use boots, sometimes along with pour-in pads, for anywhere from one to a few trim cycles before going completely bare. For a topic that causes so much stress for the owners it would be one that we worry about the least!
Another common area of concern is the worry that their horse loves to be in their stall. I do not question this either. In most typical boarding set-ups the barn is where good stuff happens. With the best thing being they get fed. Food is number one on a horse's list of needs to feel comfortable and happy. If food comes from the barn then the barn is where they want to be. The barn is where most of the other horses are at any given time. Since horses are herd animals and need to feel part of a group the barn is filling that role as well.
We've transitioned some hard core fence runners to loving 24/7 turnout. The funny thing with these horses is they tend to still be all or nothing type personalities. Except they switch from running the fence wanting to come in to pacing, pawing, stomping, stall walking (or spinning!), wall kicking, screaming and other type behaviors to let us know they are demanding to go back outside. The caveat here is *compatible* groups that are turned out on large acreage relative to group size with free access to forage (grass or hay) for all of the horses.
Third on the top list of concerns is transitioning into a group. Believe it or not in our experience the larger the group size the easier this is to accomplish. The smaller the group the more drama there is, because the relative effect on herd dynamics is a lot bigger. The Big Boys, our big group of active, rowdy geldings, is by far the easiest group for a new horse to acclimate too. There is minimal drama, in fact I would go so far as to say no drama most of the time, when there is a change in this group. They have a true herd dynamic in their group. On the other hand when we introduce a horse into a group size of about 5 horses or less the drama level is high and the process takes a lot longer.
I can't tell you how often we've heard that the vet thinks their horse should be turned out with 1 or maybe 2 other horses. The vet thinks that the horse will be too active in a larger group and exacerbate whatever soundness issue led to retirement. In our experience we have yet to see this be an accurate statement. Prior to essentially making my living dealing with herd dynamics I would have agreed with this perspective. Several years of managing herd dynamics later I've changed my opinion. Obviously you need to pick the right group for the horse, pairing appropriate horses together based on personality, activity level and age. Again since we have multiple groups to choose from we have an advantage here.
I often hear people talking about turning out their elderly horse with their young horse. "It keeps them young" is the common statement. For some elderly horses I agree with this, it does keep them young, and we have a couple of groups that are a mix of old and young. However for some elderly horses it doesn't keep them young but instead makes them old. They don't like having to constantly defend themselves because they aren't as nimble as they used to be or they don't want to play and get tired of being harassed. This makes the horse feel insecure at best. Or maybe the scenario changes and what used to keep the horse young is now making him old, and at this point it is time to change groups and we've made this change a few times as the need has arisen.
Well, I feel like I've been preaching from my soapbox the whole time I've been typing this post so I think it is time to step down. We don't have all the answers or the key to the universe even though I've made it sound like we do. I should probably go back and edit the tone of this but it is late and I just don't feel like it. :) However we do have a lot of experience in transitioning horses out of shoes, out of stalls, and introducing them to groups. Hopefully it might be helpful to someone!
MyLight and Cuffie were frisky today; Maisie thought about joining but she opted for watching along with some head tossing for good measure
Faune decided to roll too