Monday, 28 September 2015

Moving Your Horse from Pasture to Stable!

It is that time of year again with the nights getting colder that you might change your horse or pony from 24/7 turnout so that they come in to a stable at night.  I recently read an article which suggests that you need to make this change as gradual as possible. 


A 2009 study at the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, University of Nottingham (Sutton Bonington Campus), looked at whether a change from pasture to stabling is a risk factor for colic in horses.  The aim of the study was to investigate the effect of a change in management from pasture with no controlled exercise to stabling with light exercise on aspects of gastrointestinal function related to large colon impaction.

How we manage our horses is affected by different factors, such as season, geographic region, horse’s breed, age or use, and finances. Most horses in the UK have some access to pasture throughout the year, but are also stabled at some time, which means that most will experience management changes.

Simple colonic obstruction and distension (SCOD) is one of the common causes of colic. Risk factors for SCOD are a recent change in exercise, increased time spent in a stable (with stabling 24 hrs/day associated with the greatest risk), and a recent change in concentrate feeding. Pelvic flexure impactions are the most common type of SCOD, this type is often associated with transferring a horse from pastured to stabled management.

Previous research has not established whether the underlying cause of impactions is dehydration of ingested food, an alteration in motility, or both. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of a management change from pasture with no controlled exercise to stabling with light exercise on large intestinal motility water intake.

Seven horses aged 6-10 years of different breeds with no history of gastrointestinal disease within the previous 12 months and a body condition score of 4.

  • The horses were monitored while at pasture 24 hrs a day, and for 14 days following a transition to a stabling regime with light controlled exercise. All horses were at pasture for a minimum of 3 weeks prior to the study. The horses had constant access to fresh water, no controlled exercise and no supplemental feed.
  • Under the stabled management regime, horses were housed individually on shavings, with continuous access to fresh water. Hay was fed twice-daily according to body weight and condition score. No concentrates were fed. Horses were exercised for up to 60 minutes.

Drinking water intake, faecal output and faecal dry matter were measured. Motility of the caecum, sternal flexure and left colon (contractions per minute) were measured twice daily by transcutaneous ultrasound.


  • Drinking water intake was significantly higher on all days post stabling compared with when horses were at pasture. In the stabling regime, drinking water intake was greatest on Day 10 after stabling.
  •  Faecal output was significantly lower on all days post management change compared with when horses were at pasture. Lowest faecal output was recorded on Day 3 after stabling and the highest faecal output after stabling was on Day 10.
  •  Faecal dry matter content was significantly higher on all days post stabling compared with when horses were at pasture. The highest percentage of faecal dry matter was recorded on Day 1 post stabling.
  • Large intestinal motility was significantly decreased in all regions of the large colon on Day 2.

 There were significant changes in large intestinal motility patterns and parameters relating to gastrointestinal water balance during a transition from pasture to stabled management, particularly during the first 5 days.

Overall, the horses in the stabling regime were drinking significantly more water, but producing less water in their faeces, which suggests significant changes in fluid movement across the gastrointestinal tract between the 2 management regimes. The duration and pattern of changes following the transition to stabling was interesting, particularly in the context of SCOD. Both drinking water intake and faecal water content showed an abrupt significant change immediately following the change in management.
However, the pattern of changes and peaks differed between the 2 parameters. Some of the highest values for drinking water intake were in the first 3 days, but with a second higher peak resulting in the greatest intake 10 days post stabling. Rapid changes in faecal water content in response to changes in hydration have been reported previously, consistent with this early response. This second peak may correspond to the changes in the content of the colon and the bacterial flora gradually changing in response to a new diet.

Drinking water intake is dependent on a number of factors including environmental conditions, exercise, diet and feeding patterns. In this study, environmental conditions were similar, and differences in diet, activity levels and feeding patterns are likely to be the main factors.

Faecal output and dry matter: – the pattern of changes was slightly different for faecal parameters. The greatest changes (highest faecal dry matter and lowest faecal output values) were recorded on the first day of the stabling regime. The gastrointestinal tract holds large volumes of water and can act as a reservoir to maintain circulatory fluid volumes. Fluid transit through the equine gastrointestinal tract is rapid, and the small colon also has a role in the retention of faeces and absorption of water. Ingested food transit is slower, with changes in colonic bacterial population and the dry matter content of ingested food and faeces in the colon occurring more than 28 hrs after a change in diet between forage types with different dry matter content.

The rapid changes in faecal water content in the current study probably represent a response to changes in hydration or electrolyte levels, or changes in activity level, and/or stress associated with management change. There are marked differences in the dry matter content of hay and grass. The continued increase in water intake, combined with stabilisation of the faecal dry matter content probably reflects the slower changes in ingested food content, as the horses were adapting to the increased dry matter of the feed.

Large intestinal mobility: – the ultrasound assessments showed significant motility changes in the first 5 days post stabling.

Overall, this study showed that drinking water intake, faecal output, faecal dry matter content and large intestinal motility change significantly in horses during a transition from pasture to stabled management.

Together, these changes will result in a slowing and drying of ingested food, which was most significant within the first 5 days, suggesting a possible cause for large intestinal impactions in horses moving from pasture to stabled management.

This study did not identify either faecal dehydration or motility changes as the main factor affected by the management change – instead there were significant changes in both. It seems likely that dysfunction may result from interactions between different components of gastro-intestinal physiology, or a failure to adapt and compensate for the changes.

So what does this mean for the us?

The study seems to back up what has often been said about making changes to a horse’s diet. Change must be made gradually as far as is possible to allow the gastrointestinal tract and the colonic bacterial population to adjust. For me this means my horses are never in or out 24/7. In the summer they come in out of the heat and flies for some of the day, in the winter they are out in the day and tucked up with plenty of hay at night.  This has been more difficult with Basil at the moment so I will have to be careful when he is allowed more hay and I can start bringing them all in at night.

Just something to think about!

Taken from

Have you seen last week's vlog 'One Day in September'   on my You Tube channel.  
Horse Life and Love.  Please check it out and SUBSCRIBE.

You can also follow me on Facebook and Instagram for updates on Chesney, Basil, Tommy and Daisy.

Until next time!

No comments:

Post a Comment