— Opinion: Turn Out & Stabling
Okay. So let’s start here.
I believe that turn out, in general, is good for horses. I also believe that some people seem to take this notion a little far, saying that all horses should be turned out all of the time.
I have been around hundreds of horses in my life, from the ones my mother has trained over the years to my own to the ones at the barns I have boarded at. And yes, most horses like turn out. Even horses who are not accustomed to turn out and act badly at first, usually settle down and learn to like outside time. But actually, I have known a few horses that absolutely hated to go outside.
Let me give a few case studies for everyone.
I’m sure everyone knows, but this is my baby, Jesse.
Before I bought Jesse, he was never turned out, for fear of him being hurt. He was a show reiner (we’ll get into showing later). Other than the fact that he was crazy when he was brought out after not being worked one day, he was fine.
As you see in this photo, he goes outside now. At the McQuay’s, he was turned out for a couple hours every day, alone, but with friends in surrounding paddocks. At my barn in Kentucky, I have him turned out from 7-2, still alone, but still with a friend next door. He’s totally chill with this. He bucks and plays sometimes, but then chills after a max 10 minutes and eats.
Now, some people seem to want all horses to always go out with another horse. Sometimes, Jesse does go out with other horses.
Here he is with his friend, George. He got along with George remarkably well. Usually Jesse can’t go out with other horses.
Want to know why Jesse can’t go out with other horses? He’s a dick. He likes to bug and pester and fight. Even with horses who don’t really want to do that. He was turned out with another horse named Vinnie, who was totally mellow and just left him alone. They were happy. For about… ten days. And then Jesse started picking on Vinnie. So Jesse lost his buddy privileges. But it’s fine. He goes outside by himself, he eats and sometimes bucks, and he comes in and is still sometimes a dick when you get on him, but oh well, that’s just him.
Allow me also to clarify: Jesse does not go out when it rain. Even a light drizzle. If he is outside and it starts, he comes in immediately. This is because he likes to be an absolutely mud ball, as seen here:
Let me tell you something. I am a pampered show princess, and I like my horses clean. 100% clean. Currying this doesn’t get him clean enough, so when he looks like this, I have to bathe him. Which means I cannot ride. So we bargain. I say, Jesse you are allowed to go out when the weather is sunny, and even when there is snow on the ground (as long as your plates are off). I don’t care if you roll in dirt, because I can curry that off. When it rains, he stays inside and I make it out to the barn and turn him out in the indoor for twenty minutes. He gets out of his stall, I don’t have to bathe and not ride. Deal.
This is Evie. Despite the fact that I have a bosal on her in this photo (and only for this photo), she is a jumper. Evie is a princess. Evie doesn’t like to be dirty. She keeps her stall as clean as she can, and for a grey, she is almost always nearly 100% actually grey. She actually only goes to the bathroom in one corner of her stall. Also, she hates going outside. Hates it. Is happy in her stall, is happy being ridden, is happy being hand grazed, but if you put her outside she runs and screams and runs. And doesn’t stop. This isn’t like “woohoo it’s party time” running, like Jesse sometimes does. This is frantic “oh my god holy shit I want to come back in” running. And she’s had friends next to her, whom she ignores. She has been tested with another horse, whom she promptly attacked and had to be quickly brought back inside. So, basically? She doesn’t want to be out. She hates other horses (even like other horses in front of her stall makes her mad). She likes her box. It’s safe and clean and enclosed, and perfect for her. She gets out every day and is exercised, but she doesn’t like outside the box. Also she loves rings and hates trail rides. She likes boxes.
Finally, we have case #3:
Everyone, meet Carlin.
Carlin thinks he wants to be the leader of a Great Herd of horses in a field. This is probably because he lived… in a great herd of horses in a field in Argentina when he was young.
Carlin likes outside. You cannot catch Carlin unless he wants to be caught when he is outside. Even if you bring carrots. Or grain. If he isn’t ready, he leaves. So, he’s lived outside for days straight before. Until he was ready to come back in and have breakfast one day.
Also, Carlin likes friends. Sort of. He likes friends if they back down to him, because you know, he’s leader of the Great Herd (the herd is in his mind, he goes out with one other horse all the time and sometimes up to three in total). When he goes out with other horses, he meets them, and then turns around and threatens to kick. Smart horses back off, and everything is fine, and then Carlin loves them and accepts them into the Great Herd. His little brother, Ciarian, for example, he loves. And he protects.
So you see, three different horses that need three different types of treatment. I believe if you are a good horseman, you adjust what you do based on the individual horse’s needs. Also, I think a horse’s opinion of turn out is shaped when they are young - Carlin was turned out in a field full of babies and yearlings when he was young, so of course he likes being out and being with other horses. I suspect Evie probably was barn raised and only had limited turn out with just her mother as a baby, so that’s probably why she doesn’t like going out.
So, TL;DR Some horses need turnout to be happy, some horses don’t like turn out at all. I think it’s based on how they are raised. I think people treating all horses the same is dumb and each horse should be dealt with individually.