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Facilities for weanlings

From: Mary Lou Steines

Hi Jessica, Thanks so much for your response to my question. I really appreciate the time and effort you made to answer my question about my weanling filly rearing. Everything you suggested made sense particularily about horse management.

Now I have another question. We moved our two weanlings this weekend to my daughter's barn. In your response you said they should be put out in a field with shelter from snow and rain. We live in central Wisconsin and as you know the winters get VERY cold here, usually with a lot of snow. What I was wondering is if the way we set-up our barn would meet the needs of our "babies?"

We have built two 9'x13' foot stalls, side by side. In front of the stalls is an alley which leads to a sliding door. This door exits to a L shaped horse run(?) which is approximately 48' long and 24' wide (36' wide at the end of the L). We have spread a layer of 75% sand /25% clay in this area. The area is wood fenced (3 rail) plus we also put a plastic mesh general fence on the outside (to keep other animals out). We are going to add a strand of electric inside also. What we intend to do is let the weanlings get used to the barn (about 1 week) and then start letting them out for short periods at a time when we are home. After several weeks, when they are used to the barn and the run, we plan to let them out all day, with the ability to run into the alley of the barn for shelter from the weather. (No one is at home during the day, so want to be sure they are comfortable before we let them out when we are gone.)

However, we do not own another horse to act as a babysitter as you suggested. Will the set-up I have described be sufficient for our "babies" to develop as they should? We have put a lot of effort into making it as safe as we can, within our financial means. Any suggestions you would have would be greatly appreciated.

Hi Mary Lou! You've certainly put a lot of thought and work into making a safe environment for your weanlings, and this will pay off in the long term. The setup you've described, which will allow them to come in and take shelter when they need it, sounds very good. They'll stay much healthier if they can spend most of their time outdoors in the cold air -- it's breathing INDOOR air, full of hay dust and ammonia, that causes respiratory problems in horses. If horses are sound and sturdy and well-fed, winter -- even Wisconsin winter -- won't be a problem for them. Horses have a much more difficult time dealing with summer heat and humidity -- their bodies are actually much better-equipped to cope with cold. As long as they have water, salt, lots of hay (probably free-choice for weanlings, along with their regular amounts of grain) SOME form of shelter against WET cold -- say a shelter that allows them to escape from freezing rain -- they can winter out very, very well.

Your outdoor area sounds like a nice turnout paddock for them to play in on the days that they can't go out into the field. But weanlings do need SPACE to play and develop -- even if you can only get them into a field for a few hours a day, it's worth making the effort. The arrangements you've made will be wonderful for them in a few years' time, when they are nearer adulthood, working under saddle and getting daily ridden exercise. But right now they are babies, and for the next year or year and a half, they'll still be too young to longe, and FAR too young to ride -- this is the time that they need to be outside, in as large an area as possible, so that they can run and buck and twist and turn, play tag with each other, have races, and move about freely, without risking injury by trying to do any of that in a small space. When they are older, they'll be glad of a lovely clean outdoor paddock to stand in and doze -- but what they need now is running room.

Even the equivalent of a small dressage arena -- which is NOT a very big area for a horse to play in -- measures 20 meters (66 feet) by 40 meters (132 feet). For young stock to grow up healthy and athletic, they really need at least a couple of acres where they can run and play, preferably with other, older horses. This isn't because of sentiment, it's because baby horses need to learn how to be horses, and they will learn this very nicely from older horses! Baby horses brought up by humans are MUCH more difficult to train than baby horses brought up by older horses. If those babies learn horse-manners and horse-discipline from their equine elders and betters, they will be infinitely easier for humans to handle safely.

I understand that you may not have fields of your own, or fields with horse-safe fencing, but you might be able to arrange something with a breeder in your area; try making a few phone calls and visiting some local farms. Otherwise, it's a bit like trying to raise a large, athletic dog in a small upstairs apartment, and hoping that he can somehow get enough exercise running around a tiny patio.

Don't worry, your hard work won't be wasted -- when the weanlings are two-year-olds and ready to begin more formal exercise, you'll be able to put those stalls and that run to good use.


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