Return To Turnout

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Pasture turnout is no longer an automatic aspect of horse management at many farms. There’s simply less land available near population centers to keep horses outside on grass, and what open land remains is often horribly expensive.

People have found that they can manage a large number of horses on relatively few acres if they have a good indoor or outdoor arena where footing can be protected, small paddocks where the horses can stand outside, and means to haul away manure. Horses that aren’t ridden get lunged or walked if they don’t have a pasture available, and on their days off they just stand in their stalls.

Gone are the days when horses automatically went outside for eight hours during the day in the winter, 12 hours overnight in the summer and round-the-clock in spring/fall, just coming in for grain. Living full-time in a pasture with trees or a run-in shed now is often reserved for youngsters and retirees living in remote locations.

Access to turnout, of course, depends hugely on both geography and proximity to population areas. People in California have long been turning out horses in 12 x 12 “paddocks” that adjoin their stalls, and a couple of decades ago that would have horrified horsemen in Virginia. But now those tiny so-called paddocks can be seen sometimes in the East as well.

There has been a proliferation of diseases and conditions that weren’t in our equine vocabulary so very long ago. It sometimes seems that our level of frustration to keep our horses sound just keeps going up despite the latest advances in diagnosis and therapy. There are times when we suspect that our horses were healthier overall and less prone to injury when they spent more of their time in the pasture than they did in their stalls. They moved around more, and they got a steady supply of fresh grass, sunshine and fresh air.

Ulcers, for example, have recently come to the fore, with guesstimates of performance horses affected by ulcers at well over 50 percent. Ulcers can cause a host of problems, including back soreness, hind-end stiffness, a propensity for negative behaviors, and a lack of thriftiness that can allow certain diseases to take hold. The major component in preventing ulcers is a lot of time spent out on grass.

We see plenty of horses that constantly take two steps forward and then two steps backward in their overall health and soundness. Frequently these are horses that just don’t live “like horses,” spending a lot of time outside. For these horses, we think it would be worth the effort to find a place where they can get more turnout and see how that affects their overall well-being.

If you have a horse with soundness, health or behavior issues that you just can’t sort out, maybe it’s time for you to consult good old Dr. Green.

-Margaret Freeman