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Turnout Time: Key to Health and Happiness for Horses

Last updated: June 29, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

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Just as humans require rest and recreation, horses, too, need moments of leisure. They’re not merely workhorses or racing champions; they’re living beings with a need for downtime, often referred to as ‘turnout time.’ But what exactly makes this turnout time so indispensable for our equine friends?

Turnout time provides horses with the opportunity to express their natural behaviors freely. It’s during this time they can run, roll, socialize, or simply relax. This freedom not only contributes to their physical health, ensuring good muscle tone and flexibility but also caters to their mental well-being, offering a much-needed break from their structured routines.

Interested in learning more about how turnout time influences a horse’s behavior, health, and your relationship with them? Join me as I delve into the world of equine leisure, exploring how these seemingly simple moments of freedom can transform our beloved horses.

Understanding Turnout Time

Think of “turnout time” like recess for horses. It’s the time when they get to leave their stalls or small pens and move around in a bigger space, like a field. Just like how kids at school love recess, horses also love their turnout time. They can run around, roll in the grass, hang out with other horses, or just relax.

Most horse experts say that horses should get as much turnout time as possible. The best amount is around 12 to 14 hours every day. This is because, in the wild, horses would spend their whole day wandering and eating grass.

But every horse is different. For example, a racehorse might not get as much turnout time because it has to do a lot of training. But a pet horse that lives on a big farm might be able to spend almost all day outside. It’s important to make sure each horse gets the right amount of exercise, social time, and rest.

Picture of horses enjoying turnout time in a large pasture.
Turnout pasture.

The Physical Benefits of Turnout Time

When horses have turnout time, they are often in motion. They might gallop around the field, kick up their heels, or just take a leisurely stroll. All this movement helps them stay in shape. Their muscles get a workout, helping them stay strong and flexible. Think of it like us going to the gym or taking a walk.

Turnout time also helps prevent health problems that can happen when horses stay in small spaces for too long. For example, horses kept in stalls all the time can develop issues like stiff joints, weak muscles, or even problems like colic.

It’s just like how you might feel stiff and tired if you sit at your desk all day without moving around. But when horses have regular turnout time, they can move and stretch naturally, which keeps them healthy.

The Mental Benefits of Turnout Time

Turnout time isn’t just good for a horse’s body; it’s great for their minds too. Imagine being stuck inside all day with nothing to do. You’d probably feel bored and a little bit stressed, right? Horses feel the same way. When they have turnout time, they can relax and have some fun. This helps them feel less stressed and bored.

Turnout time also allows horses to act like, well, horses. They can graze, explore, and interact with other horses. These are things horses naturally love to do. For example, a horse might enjoy rolling in the grass or scratching a friend’s back.

When horses can do these natural behaviors, they feel happier and more relaxed. It’s like how you might feel good when you get to play your favorite game or hang out with your friends. For example, our racehorses start learning to be ridden when they’re two years old.

After training for a few months, we give them a break. We turn them out for about three months in a pasture, letting them just be horses and having fun again. When their break is over, they come back refreshed and ready to continue their training.

Turnout Time and Socialization

Turnout time is like a social hour for horses. Just like you might enjoy hanging out with your friends at recess or lunch, horses enjoy spending time with their friends during turnout. They might play together, groom each other, or simply stand side by side. This helps horses build strong friendships and learn how to get along with others.

Being part of a herd is natural for horses. In the wild, horses live in groups, and each horse has a place in the herd’s pecking order. During turnout time, horses can work on these herd dynamics. They learn how to communicate with each other and understand their place in the group.

This helps them get better at social skills. It’s just like how you learn to work with others when you play a team sport or work on a group project at school.

Picture of yearlings in a field.
Yearlings in a turnout pasture.

Making the Most of Turnout Time

Just like how we need to be safe when we play, horses also need to be safe during their turnout time. Here are some tips to make sure your horse’s turnout time is safe and fun:

  1. Check the field or paddock for any dangerous objects, like sharp rocks or broken fences.
  2. Make sure your horse is wearing the right gear. Some horses may need protective boots or a fly mask.
  3. Watch out for any signs of bullying between horses. If a horse is being too rough or mean, it may need to be separated.

Toys can also make turnout time even more fun for horses. Things like balls, cones, or even a big brush for scratching can keep a horse entertained. It’s like how you might enjoy playing with a soccer ball or jumping rope during recess.

Just make sure any toys you give your horse are safe and right for them. For example, a young, playful horse might enjoy a big bouncing ball, while an older horse might prefer a quiet spot to graze.

Precautions During Turnout Time

Turnout time is usually a fun and healthy part of a horse’s day. But sometimes, things can go wrong. It’s important to know the signs that turnout time might be becoming harmful or dangerous.

One sign could be if a horse is getting hurt a lot. Maybe they are being bullied by another horse, or they keep getting scrapes and bruises. Another sign could be if the horse seems scared or upset during turnout time. Or if they are losing weight because they aren’t eating enough grass.

If you notice these problems, it’s important to take steps to fix them. This might mean changing the horse’s turnout schedule or who they spend turnout time with. If the horse is getting hurt, you might need to check the field for dangerous objects or fix the fences.

If the horse is scared or upset, it might help to spend some time with them during turnout or introduce them to a friendly horse who can be their buddy. Remember, it’s always okay to ask a vet or an experienced horse person for help if you’re not sure what to do.

Picture of a quarter horse standing outside of his paddock.
Quarter horse standing outside of his paddock

Conclusion

Turnout time is more than just a break from work for horses; it’s an essential part of their health and happiness. During this time, horses get to move freely, socialize, and act naturally, which is good for their bodies and their minds.

While it’s important to take precautions and make sure turnout time is safe, it’s also a time for fun and play. So, let’s make the most of turnout time for our horses. After all, a happy horse is a healthy horse, and there’s nothing better than seeing your horse frolicking and enjoying their time in the great outdoors.

Picture of my horse eating grass.

FAQs

Is it better to turn horses out at night or during the day?

Whether to turn horses out at night or during the day depends on several factors, including weather, insect activity, and heat levels. Some owners prefer night to avoid peak sun and heat, while others prefer daytime for visibility and safety. Always consider your horse’s comfort and the specific conditions of your area.

How many hours of turnout should a horse get?

Most experts recommend horses should have as much turnout as possible, ideally 12-14 hours daily. However, each horse is unique, and requirements may vary based on factors like health, age, and work schedule. Always consult a vet or equine professional to determine the best schedule for your specific horse’s needs.

Miles Henry