How to Safely Introduce Dogs and Horses

Many of us who own horses also have a dog (or two or three…) that is part of the farm family. In general, horses and dogs go together like peas and carrots. But just like people, animals are individuals so caution should always be taken. If you’re considering introducing your dog to your horse, here are a few steps to help ensure the meeting goes well.

  • First, make sure your dog is trained and obedient. Basic commands – especially come, sit and stay – are vital to be certain you have your dog’s attention.
  • Gradually introduce your dog to your horse by getting him or her used to the daily routine of the barn. Let your dog see your horse in a stall or pasture before they meet nose-to-nose. Use this approach for a few days. 
  • When you are ready to introduce your dog and horse, have someone there to help in case an unexpected situation arises. Each person should have full control of only one animal. You don’t want your dog’s leash getting entangled around a horse’s legs or a horse stepping on a lead rope if you are busy trying to tend to your dog. 
  • If either your dog or your horse is nervous, don’t force the interaction and try again another day. And if one acts aggressively, immediately remove them from the situation and when all is calm reward them with a pat or treat.
  • You’ll recognize when your four-legged companions are comfortable with each other when they just go about their own business, in a relaxed, calm manner.

The most important thing is to remember to take the introductions slowly. By nature, dogs and horses are predator and prey, so building the relationship will take some time. Once they are accustomed to each other, they are likely to be good companions for life.

Nutrena Nutrition Tips: Feeding Horses During Reduced Work

If your horse’s work level changes during the year, then his feeding program should change as well, to ensure he stays in peak condition no matter what his activity level. Adjusting caloric intake through adjusting the total amount fed, or through changing which feed product is being given, are both viable options to help maintain ideal body condition and topline score.

Nutrena Nutrition Tips: Feed Freshness and Storage

One of the many components of feeding horses properly is feeding fresh feed. This video will walk you through some simple steps to ensure that you are purchasing the right amount, storing it properly, and feeding it correctly to your horse, so that he always receives the freshest feed possible.

Switching Feeds Safely

Most horse owners know that changing their horse’s feed should be done with care – but how exactly should it be done? In this video, Nutrena Equine Consultant Kirk Carter explains the proper way to transition feed.

  • Slowly transition horse to new feed over 7 days
  • Weather can play a really critical role in transitioning horse to new feed
  • Make sure your horse is in an environment that they’re used to

When to Start Spring Grazing

It is tempting to turn horses out into spring pastures at the first sight of green grass, especially after a long winter. However, spring grazing should be introduced slowly and delayed until grasses reach 6 to 8″ to optimize both the health of the horse and pasture. When horse pastures reach 6 to 8″, begin grazing for 15 minutes, increasing the grazing time each day by 15 minutes until 5 hours of consecutive grazing is reached. After that, unrestricted grazing can occur.

Why is this recommendation so important? Even though hay and pasture are both forms of forages, there are significant differences. Dried hay is approximately 15% moisture compared to fresh pasture that is 85% moisture. The horse is a hind-gut, fermenting herbivore that relies extensively on the microbes present in its gastrointestinal tract to be able to process forages. The microbes are a mix of different organisms that work together to the benefit of the horse. If the feedstuffs the microbes are utilizing change suddenly, there may be too little time for the microbial populations to adjust to the change. Instead, large numbers of them die, while others flourish, setting up a situation where toxins may be absorbed by the horse, resulting in digestive dysfunction and possibly colic. A gradual change from one feedstuff to another provides enough time for the microbial populations to adjust.

Additionally, pasture grasses need sufficient growth before grazing is allowed. Photosynthesis (the process of converting solar energy to chemical energy) occurs mainly within the leaves of plants. If the leaves are grazed too early (prior to 6″ tall) or too often, plants can lose vigor, competitiveness, and root structure due to the lack of photosynthetic ability. This will lead to eventual die back and overgrazed areas being replaced by undesirable plant species or weeds. Grazing should cease when forages have been grazed down to 3 to 4 inches. At this time, move horses to another paddock or a dry lot. Grazing can resume when grasses regrow to 6 to 8″. On average, about 2 acres of well-managed pasture can provide the forage needs for one horse during the grazing season.

It is critical to slowly introduce horses to spring pastures. So, the following is worth repeating, when horse pastures reach 6 to 8″, begin grazing for 15 minutes, increasing the grazing time by 15 minutes each day until 5 hours of consecutive grazing is reached. Following this recommendation will help ensure both horse and pasture health.

Author and photo credit: Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota