Thursday, June 7, 2012

Tough Turnout: Thunder and lightning II

If ya don't like the weather here, wait a minute... Har har!
This is a continuation of TTTL I.

"Never again" becomes "I'll never learn!"
Sunday night (June 3), I was asked to pinch hit for another worker and do night turnout. I reluctantly agreed, as that is Bob and my "date night" --or what passes for it at age 50 and 60, respectively. We eat out at a diner.

Anyhoo. The afternoon had been  a doozy, careening from sunny/windy to rain/hail/thunder, then sunny again. At 5:45pm, Bob and I headed out to the barn, thinking we'd stop by the diner after turnout. The sun was shining, but it was windy and clouds were rolling fast. There was a weather alert for a fast-moving front, but one had just rolled through. Forecast was 40% chance of scattered t-storms, so following barn practice the horses would be turned out.

As soon as I started turnout at 6pm, it started to drizzle, then rain lightly, with the sun shining as white and dark clouds rolled in. Two more horses went out, and then winds started to gust. Now I could see a front coming in on the horizon.  I kept going. Two more pairs were turned out, and now it was raining steadily. I started turning out the horses in the most nearby pastures, hoping the rain would let up. It just rained harder -- and off and on it poured. At least I had my rain gear.

Fifteen minutes later...
Thunder... Lightning... Winds...  (25 minutes ago the sun was shining!). I changed into my "serious" raincoat, as my windbreaker is soaked through. One more pair, and three singles left to go, and I see my husband Bob  driving out to meet me at the the pasture gate. He rolls down his window. "Lightning is hitting the ground just south of us. You shouldn't be out here."

"Call a retreat?"
 I can't recall anyone having abandoned turnout and leaving  some horses in, some out. This worries me. You can never predict how horses will handle a change in routine. I go to get the next pair, and while we're walking out, the wind catches my rain slicker making it billow and whip. The horses spook badly, and I barely get them in their field before they take off. Surprisingly, they let me approach and remove their lead ropes without much fuss. I'm grateful because the thunder is now right over my head.

Note to self: Better wet than trampled, no more flimsy rain gear.

I jog back to the barn, with three more "singles" to turn out. I try to halter Rudy, a high strung OTTB, but he is jumping around in his stall. The other single is new to the barn, I don't know him, and he's going to an unfamiliar field tonight. The last horse is a warmblood cross who routinely runs like a nut, just because he enjoys running.  They're all stabled next to each other (along with Harv/Riley who are staying in) in the lower barn. If I choose not to turn them out they are in company.

"Oh, yeah -- I'm mortal."
I'm agonizing over the safety of the horses, and Bob gets exasperated. He knows someone that was struck by lightning, and he assures me they did not enjoy it. He also impresses on me that in these conditions, it is a real possibility.

All this agonizing, getting soaked, and Monday morning quarterbacking by boarders/trainers, for -- well, let's just say monetary compensation seems a little meager. But the bottom line is, it is thundering with lightning directly overhead.  No sane person would be walking around outside.  I leave a long note on the board describing what happened, and why I stopped turning out. Then we left.

No right answers! WWYD?
How do you all make the turnout call? What factors do you consider? I will mention that I've become more conservative re: turnout with Ri and Harv. If the forecast calls for more than a drizzle, or if it is less than warm, they both stay in. I don't envy barn owners/managers who have to make this call daily.  Stay tuned for Part III: My (theoretical) barn turnout rules


  1. This is one of the positives to living here (Tucson.) We don't have pastures, so that's not a part of our consideration. Unfortunately, it means many places don't turn out at all, so we built our own facility. Bella the Friesian cross will voluntarily trot approximately 5 steps at once for her "exercise" so she has a smaller paddock (24x80)off her stall. She can canter in it if she chooses, but we believe she never cantered on her own until after we bought her at 9 years old since she seemed unsure how to do it. Now she will for half the length once in a while. Our other two each have about an acre off their stalls, and they regularly race each other down the 300' or so fenceline, circle the perimeter and come back to race again. If it's lightly raining they all choose to stand in their stalls for shelter.
    And then there are the summer storms. Our barn is very airy and open because our biggest problem is summer heat, not detrimental weather. But we get monsoons in summer, and they can dump an inch or two of rain in less than an hour with lightning and hard blowing wind. All three will hunch up in their stalls trying to protect themselves from the weather, but we go out and at least close the stall doors which will help block rain if not all the stall doors as well as the normally open barn doors. They still get some rain through the ventilation in the barn, but don't get pummeled.

    It may be because we get so little rain, but in your situation I definitely wouldn't have turned the horses out. It just means so much less turnout in your case I can fully understand the guidelines you use, and really can't even guess what I would have done in your situation!

  2. I can hardly wait for PartIII. I had a close call a few years ago when trying to finish topping up water buckets before the storm hit. I was doing the last bucket, right by the door, when lightning hit the electircal service box 4 feet away from me. I couldn't see for several minutes and could not hear for hours. No more taking chances for me! And last summer lightning struck our fence and melted and welded it before jumping to a neighbor's tree and setting it on fire.

  3. I was in Northumberland Sunday afternoon-ish and the weather was wild. Beautiful and sunny to booming thunder and pouring and back again within an hour. I would have done the same as you--turned out until it got ridiculous to go outside again. No sense in getting yourself hurt!

  4. Your story reminds me of a note left on a barn whiteboard that I read years ago. It read something like "I left the horses in b/c I am not risking my neck walking on ice for 25 cents."

    I think that both you and the winter barn worker made the right call. It just isn't worth it to get hurt.

    Can't wait for part III!

  5. We don't turn out when there's lightning or any kind of severe weather warning. And we use Google Earth to look at the path of the weather and see if it's going to hit us. Long ago I stood in our pasture and watched a small tornado twist the tops off all the trees on the access road. That's about as close a call as I want to have.

  6. I live far enough away from my horses that it is impractical for me to run and turn them out or bring them in for a change of weather. I will NEVER complain about the choices the barn owners make if it is for the safety of anyone involved, even if it means my horses staying out when I want them in, or vice versa. Anyone who argues against safety, human or equine, is a damned fool.

  7. I was suprised about turnout (or lack of) when I came back to riding as an adult. My horse is out 24/7 and I did try bringing him in for the winter (he gets a trace clip and heavy blankets) but he started cribbing and lack of shavings left him with some leg sores. I would of left them in... b/c of the lightning and harm to me not the horses. I was worried @ my barn b/c they left horses in 24/7 if the weather went to -15c (5f)... I hated that.
    LOVE your blog!!

  8. Ours are on 24/7 turnout (with available shelter), so I can't really say for sure what I'd do. I think I would probably have said "fuggedaboutit" on the last three, as two sounded pretty dicey as far as leading through a storm, and the third probably wouldn't know the difference anyway as he wasn't settled into a new routine.

    I had a cousin (in Maryland) that was struck by lightning; she was going into the barn to check on the horses during a storm. She survived it; but that's some scary stuff.

  9. I think one main determining factor is how your horse acts in weather.

    Mine don't care. They don't run around like nitwits in the mud ... putting them at risk for tendon injuries. So, I feel a little more comfortable turning out in wet weather. Lightning is different, of course. But ... just rain or snow ... ehhhhh. No big deal.

    Mine usually stand in the run-in shelter and just doze when it rains. That doesn't bother me. Also, in cooler weather, mine have thick coats and turnout sheets. They never shiver. So, again ... not an issue.

    I think it depends on the behavior and weather-tolerance of the individual horse and the comfort level of the owner.

  10. My horse is turned out 24/7 365 days a year and he is happy, healthy and safe. The actual chance of them being struck by lightening is very slim. I firmly believe horses belong outside 24/7 except in the most extreme cold (double digit sub-zero) and extreme heat (100+ heat index). As long as they have constant access to adequate shelter they are better off outside. All of the scientific studies shows that turned out horses have fewer feet problems, fewer colic cases and I've personally noted they don't get nearly as high strung as horses that spend only 50% of their time (or less) outdoors.

  11. Mine are also 24/7 turnout, and have access to shelter, and are healthy and happy. I don't understand why the trend to routinely locking horses up ever got started, it seems so at odds with everything a horse evolved to do (ie, run away from danger).

  12. This is really interesting. I've never had my own horse, nor have I worked as barn help, so I can't cite any personal experience. I guess I'm a bit surprised that you kept putting ANY of them out in the wind/rain/thunder/lightning. I thought there should be concern about them being electrocuted (never mind you, but obviously that was a risk as well!). However, other comments here have led me think that it's not as big a risk as I thought, and horses don't mind being out in howling storms.

    If I was a boarder I would certainly understand why my horse was standing in the barn instead of turned out, if extreme weather conditions had occurred. I hope nobody was mad at you, for goodness sakes!

  13. RW, it is partly "peer pressure." There is a lot of monday morning quarterbacking about horse turnout, and if people who live 40 minutes away don't have the same weather, there is an assumption that the workers are just being lazy. There is always pushback over a decision to leave horses in. People get upset.

    I had already decided mine were staying in.


Hi Guys, Your comments are valued and appreciated -- until recently I never rejected a post. Please note that I reserve the right to reject an anonymous post.