Three fundamental facts about horses are that horses are social animals, they are grazing animals and are highly sensitive to their environment. I have been around horses for the majority of my life, and I have seen many different preferences when it comes to turnout. But what is best for our equine friends? There are many complications that can arise from inadequate turnout. I will talk a little about the importance of your horse having plenty of time out in the pasture.
We have taken horses out of the wild, confined them, break them and teach them to do as we ask. They usually oblige with minimal fuss. But these animals were not meant to be cooped up or stalled. They were meant to run free. So why not make them as comfortable as possible, being that they are trying so hard to please us? Would you want to be cooped up in your room for 20+ hours out of the day, or even 12 hours out of the day? I know I wouldn’t. I especially would not want it if I was an animal meant to move around and graze for 20 hours out of the day. So let’s talk about why turnout is so important.
The number one risk factor of inadequate turnout is colic. They need to graze and move around in order for their bodies to maintain good digestion. Horses are grazing animals so they do the best when they are allowed to graze day and night as much as possible, unless your horse is overweight or prone to laminitis. When grazing is not possible, hay is an adequate substitute for grazing as long as they also have room to move around and browse. Horses who act up because they are bored, anxious, frustrated, or otherwise unhappy with their situation often become more content when given hay free choice instead of feeding two to three separate meals per day. They are designed to forage constantly. Good eating habits will help keep things like colic and ulcers at bay a good bit of the time. Ulcers are caused by a buildup of acid in the stomach usually due to inadequate amounts of hay being consumed, stress and boredom. I have actually seen horses with very large ulcers from being stalled too much be cured by turnout alone. It is the natural way.
Vices are also a big downfall to stalling for long periods of time. Things such as weaving, wind sucking, wood chewing, wall kicking and many others are a direct result of boredom. They learn to find something, usually a bad habit, to occupy the time they would normally spend grazing.
Legs tend to stock up and swell when kept confined and limiting movement for long periods as well. Horses need the movement to properly pump the blood back up from their legs. When this is not possible usually from the knees down swells, it is usually referred to as “stocking up.” Horses’ feet are actually said to grow healthier and faster due to the constant stimulation of turnout.
Respiratory issues can also occur. High levels of ammonia in a stall or barn that is not ventilated properly could make your horse very sick. As much outside, natural crisp air as possible is best for your equine friend.
As long as horses have shelter and you are able to turnout, turnout as much as possible. It is what is best for your horse, and it is what nature intended him to do. You can spend a longer healthier life with your friend if you just allow him to be a horse!
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