Horses Living In the Woods
If you’re thinking about getting a horse, but most of your property wooded, then you might be wondering if it’s okay for horses to live in the woods. Over the years, my horses have lived in all types of environments, so I thought I’d share what I’ve learned on the subject.
Can horses live in the woods? Horses can live in a wooded area, but there are special steps you’ll need to take in order to ensure their wellbeing. If the woods have plentiful trees, then not much grass will grow. You’ll need to supplement their diet with additional hay or grain. Additionally, any dead trees and limbs in the area should be removed to prevent injury to the horses.
Whether you’re already keeping horses in woods or you’re planning to do so soon, here’s everything you need to keep your horses happy and safe in the woods.
Keeping a Horse In the Woods: What You Need to Know
If Your Horse Lives In the Woods, Expect to Pay for Hay Year Round
As I briefly mentioned, one of the biggest drawbacks of keeping horses in the woods as opposed to pasture is that there won’t be as much grass for them to eat due to the additional shade from trees.
That said, it’s vital that you get your horses all of the food that they need one way or another. Before purchasing horses to keep in a wooded area, you should first do some research to ensure that there is a hay supplier nearby who can stock you up with enough hay for both the warm and cold months of the year.
As you’re doing your research, another important thing to ask about is the price of the hay. If it’s well beyond your budget to buy it year-round then you might need to wait until your finances change, or you move to an area with plenty of pasture.
One last tip about hay! Check the quality of the hay to make sure it’s not moldy or filled with foxtail. You can check the quality by opening up a bale and smelling it to see if it smells fresh, feeling for any dampness, and visually checking for foxtail. I’ve included a picture of foxtail below to help you recognize it.
Some hay I recently purchased had all of the problems mentioned above, so always inspect your hay before feeding it to your horses! If you’re concerned about the cost of paying for hay and you need some ideas for owning a horse on a budget, you can read my article on the subject here.
Falling Trees In the Woods Can Be Dangerous for Horses
Something else to consider before keeping horses in the woods is the fact that trees can pose a threat to them. If there are any fully or partially rotted trees where you plan on keeping your horses, I highly recommend that you take steps to trim or remove them.
While the accidents involving falling trees and horses are few and far between, I’ve heard enough stories of horses being injured or killed by falling trees to know that they need to be dealt with. The best type of care you can provide to your horse is preventative care.
If You Keep Your Horse In the Woods, Pay Attention to Your Fences
Keeping your horse fences in good condition can be a chore even away from a wooded area, so adding in the complication of falling trees and tree branches can mean that you’ll have to spend more time and money maintaining them.
As you’re installing fences on your property, it’ll be in your best interest to keep them as far away from trees as possible. When it comes to the type of fence itself, I recommend choosing something that you can quickly and easily repair on short notice.
At least once every few weeks, I like to ride or walk along the perimeter of my fences just to make sure that there isn’t any damage and that no gaps have opened up wide enough for my horses to get through.
Checking On Your Horses Can Take Longer If They’re In the Woods
Something many horses owners might take for granted is being able to look out of a window quickly being able to see whether or not their horses are okay.
If you keep your horses on land with lots of trees, every time you want to check up on them you might have to play a little game of hide and go seek. This might not be so bad in the warmer months of the year, but if there’s snow on the ground it can take much longer.
If you’re already used to boarding your horse somewhere that you don’t have 24/7 access to them then this might not bother you that much, but if you’re used to having in a field right outside your front door then it will take some adjusting to.
Safety Tips for Keeping a Horse In the Woods
Keep Rotten Trees Away From Horses
As I touched on earlier, one of the biggest safety threats to your horses when keeping them in the woods is rotten trees. If a tree is fully rotten, then it doesn’t take much to send it crashing down.
With this in mind, an important preparation step before placing horses in the woods is to carefully inspect the trees in the vicinity to see if any are rotten. If you find any, the next thing you’ll need to do is take steps to have it removed.
As you’re looking for rotten trees, don’t forget to look up into the overhanging branches to see whether or not there are any rotten limbs that should be trimmed as well.
Some Plants & Trees In the Woods Are Bad for Horses
In addition to rotten trees, another hazard for horses in the woods are poisonous plants and trees. Here are the most toxic and common ones for horses, however, you should do research specific to your area to determine what you’re the most likely to find, and whether or not there is anything dangerous that isn’t on this list.
Plants And Trees That Are Poisonous to Horses:
- Deadly Nightshade
- Oak Trees
- Sycamore Trees
- Maple Trees
- Cherry Trees
- Peach Trees
- Plum Trees
- Black Locust
- Black Walnut
- Russian Olive Trees
- Horse Chestnut Trees
If you do find any of these plants where you plan to keep your horse, it’s vital that you remove them and do your best to prevent them from regrowing. Poisonous plants have killed many a horse so they’re not something to take lightly. (source)
Trim Sharp Branches When Keeping Horses In the Woods
Not only can trees injure your horse by falling and poison, but they can also harm them by cutting and puncturing them. Should a horse bolt directly into a sharp tree branch, they can easily be seriously injured. I’ve unfortunately experienced this situation firsthand.
What can you do to “baby-proof ” where you want to keep your horse? I would recommend going out with some limb cutters and trimming as many limbs as you can that might easily poke your horse. Depending on how many trees are in your area this might prove to be a big job so you may want to recruit some additional help.
Questions About Keeping Horses In Woods
What Should I Do If There Are Poisonous Plants Or Trees Where I Want to Keep My Horse?
If you identify any poisonous plants or trees around your horses, you should have them uprooted and removed immediately. Once they’ve been removed, it’s recommended that you burn them to prevent any animals from getting into them.
Even after a plant has been uprooted as best as you can, some of them need to be sprayed with the proper weed killer in order to prevent them from coming back again. In general, the younger a poisonous plant is when you identify it, the easier it should be to remove it and prevent it from coming back.
Are Horses Okay In the Woods During a Storm?
Horses have great instincts when it comes to bad weather, and in general, do a good job of keeping themselves safe. If your horses are kept in a wooded area and a storm is approaching, their natural instinct is to retreat the safest area they can find.
Whether your horses are kept in the woods or in an open field, I recommend providing them with a run-in shed that they can retreat to as they deem fit when bad weather is in the forecast. To learn more about caring for horses in bad weather, you can read my article here.
Thank you for reading, and best of luck if you’re getting ready to move your horse to a new area. If you’re moving, you’ll likely need to load your horse on a trailer. You can read my complete guide for safely loading a horse on a trailer here. If you’re traveling across the country, you’ll find my horse travel guide useful.
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