A Browse Walk With My Horse

There’s nothing interesting under the snow in Tonka’s paddock. It’s packed dirt.



A horse’s digestive system is designed to have a constant influx of small amounts of forage, and ideally that would be consumed while walking – about fourteen miles daily! Obviously, this isn’t possible for our horses. With animal care there are always compromises. A horse Tonka’s size eats about five flakes of hay a day. Where Tonka is boarded, that’s divided into four feedings, and the hay is put into special nets that slows consumption. That helps, but there are stretches of time when the hay is finished and there’s nothing to do. Even eating the hay probably gets boring. Horses don’t eat only grass. They also like bits of leaves from bushes and trees, and weeds like dandelions. There aren’t any of those interesting things to find and taste in the paddock.

The winter can be boring in other ways, too. Under that snow there is ice. Tonka has small cleats on his shoes to keep him from slipping, but it’s still too dangerous to ride outside.



Horses have to move (if they don’t their joint, circulatory and gut health are all aversely impacted) and so we move in the indoor. I ride daily, and I even keep track of how far we go with an app on my iPhone so as to make sure that he gets enough exercise. Most days we go around this small indoor up to 4 miles. I also take lessons weekly, so we’re doing interesting work, not simply going around in circles. When it’s too cold to ride (my tolerance for getting in the saddle stops at 18º F) I hand walk and lunge my horse.

Kim lesson  1/18/16


Part of the reason that I have such a willing and happy horse is that we spend companionable time together. In the summer I hand-graze Tonka for at least a half-hour daily. We hang out while he contentedly bites and chews, and bites and chews. We both find this very peaceful. I ride daily in the summer, too, but we go on long trail rides at least weekly, have a choice of outside or indoor rings for schooling work, and always end the session with a stroll in the woods back of the barn.

So, Tonka and I are going a bit stir-crazy. That’s why I’ve been taking him on browsing walks.

The snow isn’t very deep this year, and back in the woods there are tufts of long grasses.

horse walk


A few bites and Tonk looks up to see what else he can find. He meanders over.

what's next


Pine needles on a young sapling are delicious.



The snow has melted just enough that dormant grass is at the edges of the barnyard. We spend some time there.



As with so many things in life, it’s not the quantity of what you consume, but rather it’s the experience, that matters.


  1. Such a lovely, soft expression Tonka has. And I couldn’t agree more– the mental health benefits of your foraging strolls may even outweigh the considerable physical health ones.

    I’ve written here about a NYC carriage horse I rescued and eventually sold to a local girl, aged 14, for $1, many years ago. He suffered from a number of joint and leg ailments, which made riding or driving him unwise. He was, however, turned out daily into a 28 acre, gently hilly pasture which was glorious in the summer months. But being the sociable boy that he was, when there was snow cover he would just hang by the gate in the winter, standing stock still for many hours in the cold. Our enterprising 14 year old owner took the vet’s counsel to keep him moving, albeit slowly and without weight, as an important way of managing his osteoarthritis, very seriously. So, when there was snow on the ground, every morning before school, she would walk the circumference of this huge pasture turnout and drop half a flake of hay here, another half flake there, and wiggle in a cut up apple or carrot into each pile. We would double over laughing, watching our earnest boy Ben, slowly trudging up, down and across the huge pasture every day, ears forward, head bobbing, so heavily blanketed that he looked like a pile of laundry, pink leg warmers marching up and down, searching for his next treat, crunching carrots happily whenever he came upon a new bundle. We estimated he walked a good mile a day while his owner was at school, was mentally stimulated searching out all the new locations every day, and would be waiting at the gate for her when she got off the bus, ready to go to his stall for the vigorous grooming and endless fussing over that only a 14 year old could give.

      • I hear you. Half of rehabbing the ex-racers was to simply let them be at liberty for a significant part of the day, with enough room to avoid any crowding, yet able to interact in a stable ‘herd’. You could actually see them decompress by the day. In snow, I kept all the other horses in smaller, more level paddocks where they were less apt to fall on ice. But Ben moved so slowly and carefully –no bolting bursts of bucking and high kicking for our Ben– that he and his small hay piles had it to himself in winter.

  2. This is such a lovely post, Terry. It is fun looking through a window into Tonka`s life with you, and having a narrator explain what we are seeing. Even though it is winter scenes, this gives me such a warm fuzzy feeling. Tonka is indeed lucky to be so treasured by you. Thank-you…I enjoyed consuming this.

  3. Great blog, you have such a wonderful relationship with Tonka, long may it continue…:)

  4. We read so often what a positive influence dogs have on our lives, but I am thinking life with Tonka brings about a mentally healthy life also. On these cold winter days, I love getting my dogs outside to throw the ball. I know we all feel better after a large dose of fresh air.

  5. Tonka is so beautiful, why do you keep the mane trimmed, just curious! You take such wonderful care of that horse! As with your hens and goats!!!

    • A short, even mane is a style that goes with what I ride – dressage – but even if I didn’t show, I’d keep it short. I think that it shows off his neck and looks elegant. I have a technique of “pulling” the mane that doesn’t hurt him. You can’t simply use scissors.

  6. I’ve recently seen an article about a huge ball offered to larger livestock animals…horses, donkeys, even goats and sheep. When left outside, it appears wild deer will play, too! It is sized to fit. Watching the horse play with that ball was so awesome! Biting, carrying it around, punching, and body slamming. This was used for a horse with sore joints, and it seemed to be so much fun for him, too. It reminded me of my chickens chasing around a cabbage, but on a much larger scale. Have you seen this item, or considered this “toy” for Tonka?

    • I’ve seen it and I’m of two minds- I love the idea of toys and enrichment, but often the way the horses “play” looks less happy and more aggressive, as in “get that thing out of here.” Pinning ears and biting are not natural play behaviors for horses. There are other enrichments that I prefer, and I’ll be posting about them in the future.

  7. I’ll be interested in what you say about it. The “play” does look like what horses do when they are roughhousing with each other. Not that gentle, for sure. Was interesting to see wild deer use their feet to kick and push a smaller ball. And I wonder what goats would do with it. I will watch for your post…will be interesting and enlightening for sure to see other opinions about these toys…and alternatives. Alas, I no longer have horses…just chickens and outside bluebirds. I wish I had known about many things, we all would have been much happier. I can only say I tried with what knowledge was at hand at the time.

  8. I love the idea of a ‘browsing walk’. I learn so much from your blogs — not being a horse person, but only a lifelong lover and admirer of horses, I can only say your thoughts and opinions about horses and horse care always right true for me. I think Tonka is the most gorgeous horse I’ve ever seen, and surely he is so fortunate to have found you.

    I am reminded of the kind of ‘puttering walk’ we gardener do, at all times of year, but most notably in the winter, when there isn’t much else to ‘do’. Wandering here and there, pulling over a leaf to look at it … admiring the hardy weeds springing up around the edges already (!!!) … breathing in the crisp, cold air … crunching of frost or snow underfoot ….. glorious blue winter sky above …. and underneath the conscious thoughts, little whispers puffing up ‘hmm, look at that — the crocus is starting to come up …….. carrots did so well here last year, I’m going to plant even more this year ……. rats — I’ve simply got to dig out that stupid ______ and put something nicer in!’ etc. Feeding the spirit as much as you are feeding Tonka’s belly. Lovely — thanks for sharing.