Giving horses time and space to exercise and play can help minimize the boredom behaviors confined horses often exhibit. While exercise and muscle toning may be accomplished on a long line, treadmill, or hot walker, it is important to provide a horse with a minimum of an hour or two of free turnout time, ideally in at least a half-acre area where he or she can run and play.
Even though green grass isn’t available for grazing, the ability to self-exercise is good for both mental and physical health. Regular turnout time also helps keep joints moving and, therefore, healthy, especially in young, growing horses. Bone density of the growing horse increases with turnout with proven benefits of systemic fitness and joint metabolism.
With regard to paddock size for providing horses a place to move around, the bigger, the better. You can connect a run to a stall at least as wide as the horse’s stall. In some situations, you might have to reduce this width so there can be space between adjacent runs so horses can’t tussle or have nose-to-nose contact. I prefer runs to be at least 24 feet long, so caretakers have room to feed, water, groom, and perform other chores safely. A good, spacious run normally means that the horse spends more time out of the stall; this makes it easier for daily manure removal. In addition, the fresh air is better for the horse’s respiratory health.
In a natural setting, horses spend intermittent periods throughout the day grazing. Without that option, and for horses not allowed access to free-choice hay due to obesity, boredom can create significant management issues. For this reason, it is better to use slow feeder hay nets or mangers for feeding hay. Not all horses are interested in playing with toys, but they all like to eat. Slow feeders are good for making horses work a little harder for their forage, while keeping them occupied for a good while longer than if fed loose hay.
A practical solution for feeding a herd in a drylot is to spread hay piles around the area. This helps prevent dominant horses from interfering with subordinate herd members mealtime. It also encourages horses to exercise, moving from pile to pile. Bored horses might also chew paddock fences. While edging wood planks with metal helps to limit this habit, you must be careful, because worn metal can introduce other problems or dangers, so I suggest using wood plank substitutes when possible. Alternatives include metal pipe, channel iron, PVC rails, or composite decking material.