It’s finally October. The heat is almost gone, and the bugs are returning to hell – where they came from, so it’s safe for West to be a normal horse again.
By “be a normal horse again” I mean he’s back on full time, 24/7 turnout. If you know me, you know that this is something I do every year in the winter. I’m a major believer in as much turnout as possible – and even MORE so during the winter months. Here’s why …
1 . Your horse has the ability to warm himself up. Sometimes the weather drops down to colder than expected, sometimes the barn staff accidentally doesn’t blanket your horse heavy enough. Things like that happen. When your horse is trapped inside a stall, there isn’t much he can do for himself if he becomes too cold. Outdoors, your horse can move around and generate body heat. If he is in turnout with a herd , the herd can huddle together to keep everyone warm. Another way that your horse can keep himself warm is by grazing, which he can not do inside.
2 . Reduce the risk of colic. Studies show that colic is more of a problem in the winter. Veterinarians say this is due to many reasons, but the biggest being that horses don’t like to drink frigid water. Outdoor horses unknowingly take in extra liquid when grazing. Grass naturally has a degree of moisture, and even more so when the horse is grazing after a rain or in the morning when there is dew on the ground. It might not sound like much, but a horse with the ability to graze takes in substantially more liquid per day than a horse in a stall. Horses with the freedom to roam, gallop, and move have an immediately lesser chance of impaction, meaning less colic.
3 . Improved behavior. Have you ever seen those videos of horses going nuts in turnout? Bucking, snorting, and flailing around? That doesn’t happen to horses who aren’t pent up in stalls for 20 hours per day. We already know that horses tend to feel themselves when it’s chilly out, and unrestricted turnout greatly cuts down on this behavior. One of my favorite sayings is that “the best calming supplement is unlimited turnout.” It is 100% true. When you give your horse 24/7 or ample turnout, you’re allowing him to exercise and use his brain – things that he can not do in a box stall. There’s no denying that a horse straight in from turnout is exponentially more relaxed, calm, and easier to work with.
4 . Looser muscles, healthier bodies. Horses were not made to stand in a stall all day long. They’re roaming, grazing creatures built to move. There’s no doubt that offering your horse 24/7 turnout provides plenty of physical benefits. Many horses tend to have stiffer joint and tighter muscles in the winter, turning them out and letting them keep muscles warm and loose on their own alleviates this problem. This also reduces your warm up time when riding during the winter.
In 2009, Dr. Patty Graham-Thiers conducted a study to compare health and fitness levels in horses who were stalled and horses who were in 24/7 turnout. “After 14 weeks, the horses in the pastured groups had lower heart rates, faster recovery, lower blood lactate levels, lower rectal temperature, and lower peak CO2 blood concentrations after an exercise test, indicating a greater level of fitness.”