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I am a big fan of giving horses as much turnout as possible. I believe it is good for them both mentally and physically. But I also understand that the majority of injuries in the average riding horse happen in the field. I have heard some vets claim that if you want to break your horse, turn them out. So this got me thinking, is turnout good or bad when it comes to injuries?
New research by the Centenary University Equestrian Center in New Jersey USA, has found that turning horses out for at least 12 hours a day can reduce the risk of soft tissue injuries by 25%. The study looked at 146 horses over a 6 year period. 57 of these horses were turned out for more than 12 hours a day, the remaining 89 horses had less than 12 hours turnout a day. 50.6% of horses turned out for less than 12 hours a day experienced a soft tissue injury during this time compared to 24.6% of those turned out for more than 12 hours a day.
This study hasn’t been peer reviewed yet and there are many factors which might have affected the results, such as the fact that the average age for horses in the study was 17. There is also the argument that those who are stabled more, might be the ones who are already more prone to injury.
Why might turnout reduce injury?
There are a few reasons why turning horses out for longer might reduce the risk of injury, both mental and physical.
Multiple studies have found that turnout helps build a horse’s natural fitness. This can lead to horses naturally conditioning and strengthening the tendons and ligaments. Especially as horses get older we see the benefits of giving them more turnout to help stop them getting stiff in the stable.
My Physio always comments on how well Scottie keeps his muscle and topline, despite being semi retired in very light work. She thinks it is largely due to his field being on a hill and walking up and down the hill all day while turned out helps keep him in good condition.
Turnout Less Exciting
I don’t think it is surprising to think that horses who spend more time in the stable have more energy to burn. They don’t move much during their time stabled but will often eat the same amount of forage. So when it comes to turning these horses out, they are likely to have more energy and are more likely to run around being a bit silly.
Over the years I have certainly noticed a difference in Scottie’s behaviour as his turnout routine changes. When he is turned out 24/7 or longer hours during the summer, he is a lot more relaxed going out to the field. During the winter when he is out for less of the day, he is more likely to jig jog out to the field and nearly always gallops off to the bottom of the field.
Even before this research, I always thought the benefits of turnout outweighed the potential risk of injury. Not only is it important for their mental and social health, but it can also improve their physical health. Horses are designed to move around while they digest. Colic is more common in stabled horses than horses who get a lot of turnout.