Should you keep your hor•e •tabled or turn him out? Weigh the pro• and con• of hi• turnout rou­tine in or­der to find the right bal­ance to keep him happy and healthy.

Practical Horseman - - The Ride of Your Life - By Elaine Pas­coe

Araw day with a dark sky threat­en­ing rain. You’ve de­cided to skip your ride and you’re stay­ing out of the weather. So is your horse, snug in his stall with a big pile of hay. But maybe that’s not the best place for him. We asked three ex­pe­ri­enced horse keep­ers to share their views on the pros and cons of keep­ing horses in stalls or out in the field. Spoiler alert—although their pro­grams vary, they all want their horses out­side as much as pos­si­ble, even in weather that would keep you in­doors. Here, they ex­plain why and of­fer some tips on find­ing the right bal­ance of barn time and field time for your horse.

Turn Him Loose

“Sta­bling is more a hu­man thing than a horse thing,” says Karyn Mali­nowski, PhD, pro­fes­sor of an­i­mal sciences and found­ing di­rec­tor of the Rut­gers Equine Sci­ence Cen­ter in New Brunswick, New Jersey. “Too of­ten horses work and then spend the rest of their time in a stall. The sched­ule is re­ally for the con­ve­nience of own­ers, train­ers and riders.”

The Rut­gers cen­ter’s re­search horses live out­doors year-round in fields and pad­docks with run-in sheds. “They are out­side un­less they are brought in for a rea­son,” Dr. Mali­nowski says. “Be­ing out­side helps them stay happy and healthy.” That makes sense—af­ter all, horses evolved liv­ing in groups and con­stantly roam­ing over wide ar­eas, of­ten trav­el­ing 10 miles or more a day to graze.

But round-the-clock turnout may not suit ev­ery sit­u­a­tion in to­day’s horse world. Camie He­leski, se­nior lec­turer with the Univer­sity of Ken­tucky’s Equine Sci­ence and Man­age­ment pro­gram, cur­rently has her own two horses pas­tured 24/7. “I think their men­tal well-be­ing is per­haps the best it’s ever been,” she says. “But they are a lit­tle over­weight, their coats are sun-faded and they have slightly chipped hooves.” Be­cause it’s hard to keep horses in per­fect body and coat con­di­tion when they live out all the time, she ac­knowl­edges, that may not be the best op­tion for show horses.

In the past, when Camie showed her horses, they were in the pas­ture 12 hours a day and in box stalls the other 12. “Dur­ing win­ter, they stayed in at night and in the warm months they stayed in dur­ing the day,” she says. “For night turnout, I used a fly spray de­signed to deal with mos­qui­toes as well as flies.” The split sched­ule also al­lowed the horses to get roughly half their diet on an in­di­vid­ual ba­sis and made it eas­ier to ad­min­is­ter sup­ple­ments or med­i­ca­tions.

At John and Beth Man­ning’s les­son and board­ing barn, Bis­cuit Hill Farm in Shel­burne, Mas­sachusetts, horses are out all day and stalled for the night. “We don’t think liv­ing out all the time is good,” Beth says. “We empty the barn in the morn­ing ev­ery day of the year ex­cept Christ­mas and New Year’s Day, and the horses come back in for din­ner.” The horses wear fly masks in sum­mer and wa­ter­proof turnouts in wet or cold weather.

The daily sched­ule pro­vides a builtin op­por­tu­nity to in­spect each horse.

“When horses live out all the time, it’s easy to miss health prob­lems. When you lead a horse in, you will look at him and no­tice if some­thing’s not right,” Beth says. Be­cause the farm (true to its name) is on a hill, she says the horses build fit­ness as they move around their pad­docks. All-day turnout also helps older horses stay lim­ber, coun­ter­ing the ef­fects of chronic arthri­tis, and it pro­motes hoof health. “Nearly all our school horses can go bare­foot be­cause they’re out so much,” she says, “and be­cause our horses are not cooped up, we have few be­hav­ior prob­lems.”

But What About …

Re­search sup­ports the pos­i­tive ef­fects of ex­ten­sive turnout. Var­i­ous stud­ies link pas­ture time to ben­e­fits rang­ing from stronger bones, bet­ter res­pi­ra­tory health and re­duced colic risk to lower stress lev­els and im­proved train­abil­ity. Are there down­sides? No ques­tion—but in most cases, they’re man­age­able. These are the main wor­ries:

Risk of in­jury: Horses can get hurt frol­ick­ing in the pas­ture, but the ex­perts we talked to say horses that are out con­sis­tently gen­er­ally learn to take care of them­selves. For one thing, they’re less likely to ex­plode with pent-up en­ergy than are horses who are stalled most of the time. Mak­ing sure that turnout ar­eas are safely and se­curely fenced and free of de­bris, holes and other haz­ards will go a long way to min­i­miz­ing in­jury risks. Bare­foot horses are less likely to slip on snow-cov­ered or frozen ground, Beth says; other­wise, horses need win­ter shoes with studs or bo­rium for grip in those con­di­tions.

Weather: You may think it’s too cold or too wet to be out­side, but your horse can deal with a much wider range of weather con­di­tions than you can. “There’s no nor­mal weather con­di­tion in which a horse needs to be in­side,” Dr. Mali­nowski says. At Bis­cuit Hill, horses go out in rain, snow and ev­ery kind of weather ex­cept light­ning and ex­treme con­di­tions like a bliz­zard. “In the hottest weather we may shorten the time out and bring the horses in early,” Beth says. In­di­vid­ual horses may need spe­cial con­sid­er­a­tion, of course. “If horses are very young, very old, un­healthy, very thin, with very lit­tle hair

coat–all those fac­tors in­flu­ence their abil­ity to han­dle cold weather,” Camie says.

A lit­tle ef­fort can over­come other less se­ri­ous turnout con­cerns, she adds. Among them:

Lost shoes: A horse is much more likely to throw a shoe in the field than in his stall. But stay­ing on top of his shoe­ing sched­ule can help keep shoes on. So can bell boots. (The prob­lem is solved, of course, if the horse can go bare­foot.)

Pesky in­sects: Fly masks, fly sprays and good farm man­age­ment can help keep bit­ing bugs at bay, although a horse with a bona fide in­sect al­lergy may still need to stay in dur­ing hours when the pests are most ac­tive.

In­con­ve­nience: Your horse won’t be wait­ing in the barn when you show up to ride, but whether that’s a bad thing may de­pend on your point of view. “My horses’ pas­ture is about 40 acres, so it’s of­ten a long walk to get them—good ex­er­cise for me,” Camie says.

Beth says the ben­e­fits of turn­ing horses out far out­weigh the risks. “Yes, the horses get dirty. But I will take a dirty, happy horse over one that’s clean but cooped up ev­ery time,” she says.

Alone or With His Bud­dies?

Re­search sug­gests that horses ben­e­fit most from be­ing out­side when they go out in groups. That’s largely be­cause group turnout gives horses a chance to fill their need for so­cial con­tact with oth­ers of their kind, ex­plains Camie. “En­hanced so­cial in­ter­ac­tion [in­clud­ing the op­por­tu­nity for mu­tual groom­ing] is a highly val­ued, highly mo­ti­vated be­hav­ior for horses,” she says. “Horses out in groups are likely to ex­er­cise more than horses in in­di­vid­ual turnout. A few stud­ies have shown these horses to be eas­ier to train and han­dle.” Stereo­typic be­hav­iors such as weav­ing and stall-walk­ing are less com­mon among these horses, too.

There are caveats. “Horses love to be out with bud­dies, but there’s a risk of ag­gres­sion when they’re first put to­gether,” Dr. Mali­nowski notes. “You have to watch when in­tro­duc­ing new horses to a group. Use com­mon sense and turn out in groups that are com­pat­i­ble in age, sex and ac­tiv­ity lev­els.” Cross-fenc­ing (di­vid­ing a large pas­ture into smaller sec­tions) al­lows horses to graze in­di­vid­u­ally or in com­pat­i­ble groups. It also al­lows horses that are sick, in­jured or dis­abled to be sep­a­rated from the larger group and it eases the in­tro­duc­tion of new horses.

While most of the Bis­cuit Hill horses go out in groups, Beth says she will not turn a horse with hind shoes out with oth­ers be­cause of the risk of se­ri­ous kick in­juries. But like the other ex­perts we talked to, she says that horses usu­ally set­tle the peck­ing or­der quickly when they’re put to­gether. Once that hap­pens there are few prob­lems, but horses that con­tinue to ha­rass each other should be sep­a­rated.

Es­tab­lished group dy­nam­ics some­times change with time, Dr. Mali­nowski notes. She says that Lord Nel­son, the for­mer Rut­gers cam­pus pa­trol horse and res­i­dent equine per­son­al­ity who died in 2015 at age 42, hap­pily shared a pad­dock for years with a mare. “They were best bud­dies, but as he be­came weaker with age she be­came more ag­gres­sive,” she says. The two had to be sep­a­rated.

Horses that rank low in the group may lose con­di­tion if dom­i­nant in­di­vid­u­als push them away from food, wa­ter and shel­ter in the field. Pro­vid­ing mul­ti­ple hay racks and wa­ter sources can help pre­vent this, but horses may need to be sep­a­rated at feed­ing time to make sure they all get their fair share. Low rank can have other reper­cus­sions, Camie notes. She had a

mare who was sub­mis­sive to most of the other horses in her group and would not lie down in the pas­ture ap­par­ently be­cause of that. “If she was out 24/7 she seemed to get crabby and I al­ways as­sumed it was be­cause she had no op­por­tu­nity for deep sleep,” Camie says. The mare had to come in to a stall to rest.

“Anec­do­tally, peo­ple will say that in­di­vid­ual turnout is safer for the horses, with less chance of in­jury,” Camie says, “and cer­tainly if the group hous­ing in­volves fre­quent changes in pop­u­la­tion, that is likely true.” Horses that live out in groups can also be­come herd-bound—anx­ious about be­ing sep­a­rated from their pals—to the point that tak­ing just one horse on a trail ride or to a show be­comes dif­fi­cult, she says. In­di­vid­ual turnout avoids that prob­lem.

Time In­doors

Some­times it’s nec­es­sary to keep a horse in. Maybe he’s sta­bled for weeks at a show venue where there’s lit­tle or no chance for turnout or maybe he’s grounded by ill­ness or lame­ness. For ex­am­ple, a ten­don in­jury will likely call for a pe­riod of stall rest fol­lowed by strictly lim­ited ex­er­cise. While a day in won’t bother most horses, weeks or months with lit­tle or no turnout are some­thing else.

“Horses get used to be­ing in, but there are health risks,” says Dr. Mali­nowski. You may worry about turnout in­juries, but a barn can be a haz­ardous place for a horse. Dust and poor ven­ti­la­tion con­trib­ute to air­way dis­ease, and re­search shows that con­fine­ment in a stall reduces gut motil­ity, in­creas­ing colic risk. In ad­di­tion, stall life can be iso­lat­ing and stress­ful for herd an­i­mals like horses. That stress con­trib­utes to stall-walk­ing, weav­ing, repet­i­tive paw­ing and other stable vices as well as a range of health prob­lems. If your horse must stay in, take steps to min­i­mize the risks:

Put him in a stall where he can see,

Horses are so­cial crea­tures who of­ten ap­pre­ci­ate the com­pany of oth­ers, es­pe­cially when turned out. En­sure your horse stays in­jury-free in his group turnout by pay­ing care­ful at­ten­tion to the herd dy­namic and pro­vid­ing mul­ti­ple food and wa­ter sources.

ABOVE: There’s a risk that a horse could get hurt frol­ick­ing in the pas­ture by him­self or with a buddy, though most horses who live out in a herd gen­er­ally learn to take care of them­selves.

LEFT: If your horse does live out dur­ing fly sea­son, he could ben­e­fit from ex­tra pro­tec­tion from ir­ri­tat­ing in­sects.

Own­ers or barn man­agers are more likely to no­tice health is­sues with horses when they lead them in and out of the pas­ture and can in­spect them closely. In­juries or ill­nesses can be missed if a pas­tured horse doesn’t get han­dled daily.

Many horses, es­pe­cially those in reg­u­lar train­ing pro­grams, are kept in stalls up to 12 hours a day.

If you’re wor­ried about your horse get­ting in­jured in a herd, con­sider turn­ing him out in a pri­vate pad­dock where he can still see the other horses nearby.

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