The longest standing battle for anyone in the show world is turn out.
How long, where, with who? Sometimes even why?
And today I' m all over why turn out should be your number one concern for your horses well being.
So let's discuss the big "why"...
Why horses need turn out:
1) Digestive Health
I know, I know.. how does going out in a paddock have anything to do with digestive health? A lot! A horse is a nomadic grazer, whom in the wild would travel roughly 30 miles a day, graze 16 hours of that day, and poop and fart his brains out in all different settings of the countryside. A horses' digestive system is meant to have food moving through it at all times, from start to finish it is designed to be doing what it does best; breaking up forage into yummy usable energy sources. Now what it also does very well, is create gas. And without moving around, literally all the time, a horses' digestive system can get stale and balloon up with gas pockets. Hello colic bills!
So all in all, I think you can understand why a horse would need to get out and move around. Having a nice walk around from grazing spot to grazing spot is great for pushing that food and gas along their digestive tract so it can do it's job right.
2) Locomotive Health
We all know what stocking up is, and we all know why we want to avoid it. And since we all know that the cure for stocking up is moving around.. we can all understand why turnout is important for a horses' locomotion activities!
3) Mental Sanity
A horse in work is constantly under physical stresses to perform, and constantly left to their own devices without any source of mental stimulation or enrichment in their stalls. This is why turnout is so important for their mental sanity. Being allowed out (ideally with other horses) allows your four hooved friend some much needed play time, to burn off some mental steam. Think about it, have you ever seen an Olympic athlete only ever leave their house to train at the gym? Of course not! They'd go totally bonkers. They go out with friends, even just out for a movie is a good way to burn off steam. So let your ponies out to play! Your performance depends on them having a level head, not just a bubble wrapped body.
4) Respiratory Health
Horses have very touchy respiratory systems and as such are very susceptible to breathing issues from dust, ammonia and mold. Being trapped in the same 12'x12' space with their own ammonia and fluffy farts isn't helping that evolutionary failure. So let them out to get some fresh air and exercise.
5) Social Enrichment
Whether we like it or not, horses are herd animals. And as such, need a herd of horses! Horses are very physical beings, they need to touch everything. Having a good roll is right up there with having a good mutual groom with Freckles down the aisle. Social enrichment is super important for the mental well being, as well as for their feelings of safety and certainty. Herd animals find safety in numbers, being forced to be alone all the time amplifies the need for safety rather than dampening it. If you have a super expensive show horse that you just can't handle out in a herd of rowdy geldings, consider getting them a companion.. a pony, old timer, goat? Someone fluffy on four hooves to hang with out in the paddock.
So I win, there are tons of whys for turnout, and all of them turn to the idea that maybe we should be trying to make turnout way more important than it is right now. Next is how?
The best place for a horse? In a group of other horses with a whole lotta grass to nom. In a perfect world, we all have 100 acres right? Yeah, no. So, again, how?
If you are turning horses out for the day, or for limited turnout; your biggest priority should be to get them moving while they are out there. If they are just standing in the field eating from the same pile of hay, or same spot of grass; they might as well be in a 12'x12' stall outside. The best solution for this is either with a well groomed grass field, or with multiple hay feeding spots. Feeding one flake of hay in every corner of one paddock makes a horse have to move around for their food, and increases their activity while outside. But you know what increases activity even more? Another horse to play with!
How long can be a hard one to tackle too; especially with the demand of labor forces and limited paddocks available. Again, the best is to let them out as much as possible. My guys all live out 24/7 all year round. And you know what? They are the happiest horses in the industry. SO happy in fact, that if you try to coax them inside on a stormy night (you know, because I have to humanize them and think a nice warm stall alone would trump huddling with your comrades in the cold) they protest, all night, until they can go out again. Because being together in a herd is their place to be. And they know it to the core.
But, if a 24/7 schedule just isn't do able, aim for the longest possible. They should, at the very least, go outside for a few hours a day. Being chased around the arena does not count, by the way. While that might take care of a few of the physical aspects of turnout, it's not taking care of the mental side of it. And no matter how you slice it, that's the most important half.
So hop to it! Make a turnout schedule that involves allowing your horse, be a horse! And the benefits will begin to pile up, and you'll forget why you even thought turnout wasn't important in the first place.
Keep on keepin' on!