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Stable and Field Management - The Basics

Horses depend on their owners for everything. Your horse can’t tell you what’s wrong. It relies on you to get it right, which is why stable and field management is so important.
 
Whether you’re learning to ride or wanting to buy your own horse or pony, it’s vital you have a good understanding of what’s involved.
 
The British Horse Society and The Pony Club run excellent horse management courses for both adults and children and for anyone thinking of buying their own horse or pony, we strongly recommend you find out more about the courses available.
 
This article will highlight some the work involved with stable and field management but for more detailed information you should contact either The British Horse Society or The Pony Club.
 
When looking for somewhere to keep your horse or pony there is a lot to take in to consideration. The British Horse Society BHS approval scheme has a list of approved livery yards. However, if you’re unable to find a BHS approved yard in your area here are a few tips to help you choose the right yard for you.
 
To begin with, most stables are no less than 12ft by 12ft - any smaller and your horse could get itself stuck. Pony stables are generally no less than 10ft by 12ft. The walls should be well built and have no protruding nails, splinters or bolt and they must be constructed from animal friendly materials - the same applies to roofing materials. You don’t want your horse or pony to overheat during the summer neither do you want it to have to stand under a leaking roof during the winter. Ventilation is also important and all electrical fittings, including lights, should be out of reach of your horse, checked regularly and housed in protective casing. The door should open outwards and be wide enough for your horse to walk through with ease. Bolts, latches and hinges should be strong and fitted properly and so should any mangers or tie rings.
 
Stable floors should drain well, it should be smooth and easy to clean. Rubber matting is very good as it’s non-slip and it means you can use less bedding because it gives protection from the hard surface.
 
On a warm day horses can drink up to 12 gallons of water a day, so it’s important there is a constant supply of fresh water readily available. You will also need plenty of water to keep the stable clean, so make sure the water pipes and hoses are lagged to prevent them from icing over.
 
If your horse or pony will be kept at grass, the guidelines are 1.5 acres for the first horse and one acre for every other horse thereafter. Whether your horse or pony will live out all year or for only part of it, they must always have access to a suitable field shelter. A shelter should have three sides and be built where it will protect them from the wind. It must also be big enough to fit all the horses inside together.
 
Whilst it’s always good to have hedgerows and trees in the paddock because they act as a basic shelter against wind and rain, some trees are poisonous and could be extremely harmful to horses. For example, the yew tree which is often found in natural hedgerows is highly poisonous and acorns (oak trees) can also make your horse seriously ill. Horses can browse trees up to 2.5 metres high, so it’s important to make sure the trees in your field aren’t poisonous. Or, to keep horses away from trees, fencing all the way around the tree - using a line of electric fencing across the top will stop him or her from browsing.  Remember horses have a long reach so when fencing around a tree, make sure the fence is at least 2 metres from the tree.
 
Natural hedgerows and trees need very little management, but remember you must never cut or trim a hedgerow after February 14th because this is the traditional date for birds to start nesting.
Hedgerows make for excellent fencing. Good paddock fencing should be strong, well maintained and horse proof. A well built and maintained fence will last for many years, keeping your horse or pony safe from injury and from getting loose.
 
You must never use barbed wire and another very important point to remember is your horses health. The field should be free of any poisonous plants, rubbish and farm machinery, you should also make sure it’s free of as many stones as possible. Stones can cause a horse to trip.
 
The most dangerous plant is Ragwort. Ragwort has a distinctive leaf shape with a yellow flower. It’s called the ‘silent killer’ because when eaten, the Ragwort flower poisons the liver and sadly by the time you notice any symptoms it’s too late and fatal.
 
Ragwort blooms in July, August and September and unless it’s dug up, it will multiply. It should also be dug up and not cut down or pulled out of the ground, all traces of the plant should be destroyed. When handing Ragwort wear protective gloves as there can also be a risk to humans http://www.nativeponiesonline.co.uk/information/poisonous_plants.html has a list of more plants poisonous to horses.
 
Remember to make sure there is a trough and a constant supply of fresh water available.
 
Your field should always be muck-free, it’s important to muck out your field everyday. However, new Environment Agency guidelines state that the following is mandatory: “Run-off from manure heaps, contaminated yards, stable washings and hay soaking should not be allowed to enter surface waters or watercourses.” The exception would be if a written authorisation (a discharge consent) were received from the Environmental Regulator. This would usually necessitate a form of treatment to improve the quality of the liquid. Alternatively, the local sewerage undertaker may give permission for discharge of some liquids into a foul sewer.

As an example of how to ensure that the rules are followed, the Environment Agency offers guidelines for good practice:
 
“Temporary field heaps should be sited where there is no risk of run-off polluting watercourses. They should be at least 10 metres from a watercourse and 50 metres from a well, spring or borehole that supplies water for human consumption or for use in farm dairies. Permanent stores should have an impermeable base that slopes so that run-off can be collected easily in a sealed underground tank.”

A well-constructed manure store must therefore have a concrete base, which slopes to the back of the store (in the absence of a sealed underground tank), and solid sides which will prevent the muck spilling out and contaminating adjacent land. Ideally, the muck should be kept as dry as possible. Well-composted horse manure can be used as a valuable addition to allotments, gardens and even spread back on the horses’ own fields. Once manure has been composted for twelve months, it is generally accepted that the larvae of harmful parasites will have died. (Source: Surrey County Council).

Finally, look at the yard. Is it BHS approved? If there’s an emergency what procedures do they have in place. The same applies to their health and safety procedures. Are there enough fire extinguishers and does the yard comply with all fire safety regulations?
 
Is the yard clean and tidy? Take a look at the tack room, feed rooms, barns and drains. Are these tidy and clean and does the muck heap comply with Environment Agency guidelines?
 
For more information on stable and field management see www.bhs.org.

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