Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Dry Lot Dynamics

Ah, my ever-changing dry lot. The horses all get along just fine in the field, but within the 40' x 60' dry lot, the dynamics are quite different! Problem-solving ways to improve the dynamics within this limited space has been a fun mental pastime for me since bringing the horses home.

Round One

When things began, all 3 horses were in the dry lot together without a divider.

I had to carefully sneak up on them to get this shot without them all walking away! At the time, I was so pleased they were all sharing.

This worked okay until I got my hay feeder. When it arrived, I learned that Stan was [still] a holy dick about discrete food resources and wouldn't let Grif - and sometimes Q - eat. This wasn't a total surprise as this horse has been like this his whole life. He's not aggressive toward people about food, but when it comes to horse v. horse and discrete food sources (i.e., anything except pasture), he's a complete and total asshole.

I put out an extra hay bag (not a slow feeder) for awhile, but that only served as a bandaid to the dynamics within the closed space. Finally, after Griffin came in for his dinner one evening with a 8" gash (not serious or too deep at all) on his rump, I decided enough was enough.

Round Two

And so I split the dry lot into two sections and segregated the old man.

This was prior to having multiple slow feeders

The difference in everyone's behavior once I did this was amazing. Stan was chill as could be, content with life because he had his own food that no one else had to share, and Grif and Q shared well. Everyone could eat and be happy!

Except, with time, this arrangement fizzled.

Q has really come out of her shell in her time at home under my sole care with only two herd members. As a result, her confidence has bloomed 10-fold. This has resulted in her bullying poor Grif so much more than ever before!

Round Three

After watching her back up for 2/3s of the dry lot throwing kicks the whole way to keep Griffin in the far back corner, I threw my hands in the air and swapped Grif and Stan.

A great shot of the dry lot with its dividing hot tape + the multiple slow feeders

If I thought the different in behavior after the first switch was extreme, this was off the charts. Suddenly everyone could eat without issue and was so happy. Q had her favorite boyfriend and Stan had his girl. Grif was a little bit sulky at first, but adjusted quickly within 24 hours. He quickly became more in-my-pocket (totally normal for him) and decided to seek me out a bit more than he had prior. I think it helped that he wasn't having to watch over his shoulder for someone to come bully him!

The biggest indicator of this setup being better was the manure piles. When Q and Grif were together, it looked like a bunch of monkeys took over their section and threw poop around for awhile. Everything was so churned up and disgusting! It always took longer to muck as a result. UGH!

Once Grif was settled and could no longer be chased, neat piles of manure reigned throughout the dry lot. Mucking was So Much Easier. Clearly, everyone was more settled and happy in their environment.

First dusting of snow in mid-late October. Grif on "his" side and Q and Stan on "their" side, each with a slow feeder

And thus, this arrangement held through the rest of fall and into winter.

But then the weather turned.

Round Four

I'd been dreading it purely because I wasn't sure what I would do about the water situation. I love my rain-fed trough system + trough heater, but it's only on one side of the dry lot and positioned such that Grif had no access. The entire time I'd had the dry lot segregated, I had a separate tub of water on Stan, then Grif's, side. Not wanting to invest more in a trough/heater when it wasn't really necessary, nor wanting to get a separate heated bucket (Griffin is too mouthy for that shit and would start a fire), I didn't know what I'd do once things started freezing over.

The need to provide Grif with un-frozen water necessitated a change, however. And so I crossed my fingers and re-arranged the hot tape in the dry lot to allow access to the water. By opening both ends of the now-not-hot tape, I hoped I could provide Grif with an easy exit if Stan decided to meander over. In a sense, I've turned the dry lot into a circle; the tape serves as a bit of a baffle down the middle so they must travel around the long way. This allows ample time for Grif to get out of Stan's way before he is bitten or kicked and also provides him with room to make his exit.

Newer setup with three slow feeders and a baffle down the middle, open on each end

Q will push Grif around, too, but she's all bark and no bite the very large majority of the time. My main issue with her and Grif was mainly that she'd spend too much time backing him into a corner and not letting him eat. It's kind of amusing for me to watch, honestly. She's decided she has a very large bubble of space that Grif is not allowed to be in. If he enters it, she uses strong body language to tell him to back off, which usually results to him sulking in a corner. When she's sated on hay, she'll move herself to the corner to gaze off into the distance and then Grif can eat.

Fortunately, I had three feeding systems by the point I opened things up: the hay basket + net and both halves of the IBC tote in place, each with their own netted hay on one side while the hay basket + net is on the other side. Everyone has a place to stand and eat now!

The triple feeding system has greatly minimized the need for Q to push Griffin around. She's a smart mare and simply doesn't see the point to move from her original feeder to another one if she can help it! And fortunately, she's happy to share with Grif for limited periods, allowing the Stanimal to lose interest in the hay feeder he chased Grif or Q away from and travel to another.

Until Next Time...

All in all, things with the dry lot are a perpetual work-in-progress. While I certainly wish I had all the time/money/resources to get things perfect right off the bat, I'm honestly having fun problem-solving approaches to improve dry lot dynamics.

With an increasing frequency of winter weather moving through, I'm already pondering and experimenting with yet another modification to help mitigate for the issues snow and ice create. I'm working through several thought exercises to figure out the best way to increase efficiency and streamline my barn chores through the winter months. Coming up with new horse-care hacks is quickly becoming a new favorite pastime! (As if horses didn't already consume enough of my life, HA!)


  1. Herd dynamics are interesting and can be ever changing too. Hopefully once spring comes and they get back to the pasture things will be easier on you

  2. Herd dynamics can make turnout situations like 8168436x more complicated than they need to be, but sounds like you've figured out a good method! If you're so inclined, I'd love to hear more/see up close photos of your hay feeders! I'm always tweaking how I feed hay and love to see other people's set ups 😁

    1. I'll have to do a post on that eventually! Essentially, I've got large slow-feed nets (two 10'x10' and one 5'x5'; each with 1.5" openings) that cinch closed with paracord. I then secure the nets in the hay basket and IBC totes so the horses can't rip them out and throw them around. The 10x10s will take 2 bales each if needed and the 5x5 takes one bale. Slows them down IMMENSELY!

  3. Ha! This is so similar to our situation as well, except we have a bit more space. Sometimes we have one feeding station per horse, sometimes we have multiple. If it's wet things change up. What worked this week might not work next week. Sometimes I think it's their job to keep us guessing!

    1. Oh yay. I'm glad that things forever-changing is relatively normal. I don't expect I'll ever find a one-size-fits-all plan that works all year!

  4. Hopefully this works for a very long time! Herd dynamics are so interesting to me!

  5. This may be a stupid question- but can they not eat in their stalls? Or do they not have 3 stalls? I can't remember the layout.
    Seems like what you've got works. And yeah, it's amazing how the herd dynamics keep changing. Just when you think one horse is the boss, another will surprise you. I always think June is the ultimate boss and then another horse comes along and puts her in her place...

    1. They've got 3 stalls and I give them their grain in there. They much prefer to be outside (it's pretty much all they've known, except for Stanley) than in their stalls. And I'm currently hesitant to just leave the stalls open all the time because even when they're open for short period when I'm down there mucking, they slip into stalls together. It's one thing when I've got a watchful eye, but makes me nervous if I wasn't there because I worry that Stan or Q would just sneak in and light into Griffin without much warning or opportunity for him to escape. Freaking horses and their hierarchies. C'est la vie!

  6. I have similar dynamics here with Remus (and whomever he is out with) cause Remus is a dick. Not a mean dick but a dick nonetheless!! I dont have a dry lot but a muddy gross one. BUT i have found a few things that help. I hang haynets (Thought about getting a hay feeder but realized before buying one that Remus wont share) about five or six fence boards apart (Far enough that Remus is too lazy to run Caz from each one just to be an ass). I also often put up an extra haynet on cold days so that they each can have access. Water luckily Remus does allow Caz to drink from the one heated muck bucket and the other troughs not heated are often okay to drink out of as well. If it is THAT cold i will lock them up. Their stall doors are open and Remus is a jerk with that but gives Caz ample warning before muling his way in so Caz doesnt get hurt. Horses......ugh

    Glad you kind of found a solution for now! :) The thing with Remus is in your herd dynamic? He would be the Grif of the herd. He is a chicken shit really and only bullies horses he knows wont stand up to him. LOL

    PS i am so jealous of your lovely dry lot though still :)

    1. I'm baffled how Remus can be both a dick and a wuss! It's kind of fascinating honestly! Thanks so much for sharing all of this.

  7. So interesting how much they can adapt based on each change and opportunity provided. It's like a soap opera/drama haha

  8. Every year something needs to be tweaked here. I love my water heater but it’s not on all the time.

  9. Even with just one horse, the opportunities to optimize are endless lol. The oval setup is a clever solution.

    Two questions for you - I see everyone has on their shoofly leggings on in the first picture. Do you still have those wretched little black flies like we do - at the end of frigging November? I've used more fly spray and fly gear this month than the whole rest of the year combined. Also - how long do you leave yours on for? I've wondered if rubs might eventually happen around the coronary band. The fluffy stuff at the bottom of the boots doesn't stay fluffy...

    1. The legging photo was from August. I leave them on all the time unless it rains for an entire day. I wash them when they get gunky, and they come out good as new! No runs on any of my 3 yet.

      Leggings came off for good in early October. We've had a few snows and subzero windchill already so no worries with bugs anymore! Pluses to living where winter season is longer. 🤪

  10. Oh man, glad you’ve found a solution for now! Horse keeping at home seems like a constant exercise in adaptation and optimization and problem solving lol. Tho ya know winter is tough at boarding barns too... my barn (like most in this area) kicks horses off pasture and into sacrifice paddocks for winter, usually with a single round bale. Charlie always gets a spot at the bale, but mostly bc he’s extremely large and extremely persistent. Damn he gets chewed up in the process tho!! Anyway tho the multiple feeders solution you used makes sense. When I was a kid our barn owner used to tell us to set out enough hay piles for every horse PLUS the “invisible horse” so that no matter what there would always be another pile for someone to move to.

    1. Oooohhh, I really like the invisible horse idea!