While the mantra for real estate success may be location, location, location, when it comes to horses I think the most important element of a boarding facility is turnout. Like pasta, horses need space to move around. It’s good for their joints and good for their minds.
My horses are extremely lucky (IMO), as they live in pastures that are close to two acres each and never are stalled. They have a run-in shed for when the weather is too hot, too rainy, or too cold, but unless it’s very hot out, they mostly prefer to be out in the elements.
Not all horses need turnout. Just as well because many horses spend much of their time in a stall and still seem to stay sane. However, it’s a little bit like asking a human to live in a cubicle, then come out and perform as an elite athlete.
I’ve been lucky to live in parts of the country where barns have plenty of turnout. And, for the past 16 years, I’ve also been able to let them live out 24/7. Freedom was the one who convinced me it was essential. The first night I had him, I put him in a stall. By the morning he’d rubbed a bloody spot on his neck because he weaved continuously over the Dutch door. That was the last time I kept him in overnight. These days, as his 23rd birthday approaches, the turnout helps keep him sound as well as sane.
Research shows that horses turned out all the time move around a lot:
Patty Graham-Thiers, PhD, of Virginia Intermont College, evaluated confinement’s effects on fitness of middle-aged (14-year-old) horses separated into three groups. She and colleagues found that pastured horses and stall-kept horses with nighttime turnout in a small paddock that were in an exercise program demonstrated improved fitness. (More details on the study can be found here.)
Over 24 hours, pastured horses traveled twice the distance (detected on GPS) of those with only nighttime paddock turnout, averaging 6.7 miles; those in stalls, with or without exercise, went 2.8-3.2 miles. Also, pastured horses had a larger increase in bone density, significantly different from exercised/nonexercised stalled horses. (The Horse)
Zelda is less picky. She likes being out, but when I took her to Vermont, a few summers ago, she adapted to being in a stall overnight just fine. The barn did indulge her by turning her out all day, even though their other horses didn’t go out that long.
Of course, some of this is out of a horse owner’s control. There are places where turnout is at a premium. In those situations, a regular work schedule and long, slow warm ups can be essential to keeping your horse happy and limber.
There are also horses that don’t enjoy being out all day. They might be bothered by the bugs or heat, or just prefer the quiet and comfort of their stall. These are horses that might hurt themselves when they get frantic.
The mismatch comes when horses that need turnout, or who are used to more unstructured time, don’t get it. This can result in behavioral issues.
Raf Freire, PhD (animal behavior and welfare), of Charles Sturt University, in Australia, says, “In common with other social animals, (horses) experience behavioral problems when isolated and confined. Our recent study showed that stabling does not meet horses’ needs for exercise, resulting in expression of high levels of activity when given the opportunity to exercise. This ‘rebound effect’ indicates that stabled horses are frustrated by the inability to exercise.” One hour of exercise per day was sufficient to relieve frustration in Freire’s study horses, but he stresses that the absolute time out of the stall is not the critical factor; what a horse is able to do while outside appears equally, if not more, important.
Freire added, “A critical finding in our study is that continuously stabled horses were more likely to misbehave during handling and trailer loading, for example. This has important implications for horse and rider safety since the majority of riding accidents are due to horse misbehavior.”
In fact, when buying a horse, a change in turnout can make a huge difference in the way a horse behaves so it’s always important to consider a horse’s previous environment when moving them or choosing a barn.
What do your horses like? A cozy stall or acres to run?
6 thoughts on “Turnout, Turnout, Turnout”
You are absolutely right my horse spend the last two day in her stall with a few hours in a 10’x15’ outdoor pen. She got cranky after an hour the first day. The reason was an infection and we need to get it under control. Today I turned her out with her herd and she acted like a yearling.
Glad Missy is feeling better. Once they get used to being out, they take it as a personal insult when you keep them in. Especially if their friends are out. When Zelda was at the Harringtons she occasionally leaned on the stall door so hard that she popped the screws out of the wood to open it. She obviously did not want to stay in.
I’m a believer in all horses being out all the time. Mine are. Having said that, I know of one horse who will not tolerate being left out for even 10 minutes to graze. As long as everyone is happy & healthy, I try – emphasis on try – not to judge.
Yes, I’ve met a few like that. They breathe a sigh of relief when they are put back into their stall!
I agree…I think the more a horse is outdoors, with the ability to roam at will, the happier and healthier he is. And of course, there are those horses that would prefer to stay in their stall. Giving them the choice is what matters.
When I brought my arab, Jordan, home after rescuing him from a very poorly run ‘riding lessons’ stable, where his life was spent in the arena with a learner on his back or in his stall. I brought him home and the first night, kept him stalled in the run in shed we’d built for him. The next day we let him go out 24/7. It was sort of sad to see him the first day…he went in and out of the shed at least a dozen times, just amazed at his sudden freedom. From then on he was out on five acres, all by himself, for the rest of his life. It made a HUGE difference in his health and his happiness.
Not far from my home is a HUGE stable, maybe 100 stalls, run by ‘professional horse trainers’. I’ve written about it in the paston my blog. The horses are in cages for 23.5 hours a day…that half hour is when they’re saddled, ridden into the arena, ””trained”’ for 20 minutes by going round and round, and then popped back into the stall. I cannot believe that they’re not all insane.
I meant, Jordan had 5 acres of turnout all TO himself…there were horses next door, so he wasn’t alone.