Turn ‘Em Out, Turn ‘Em Out!

Jenny Furlow's horse Buddy having a grand time in turnout yesterday.

Jenny Furlow’s horse Buddy having a grand time in turnout yesterday.

It’s winter, so the ground is invariably slick, frozen over, covered in snow, or totally muddy and disgusting. You look at the ground and you imagine all of the 36 ways that your horse could go outside and pull a shoe/break a leg/fall and smack his head/run through a fence. Here’s the conundrum: Do you turn your horse out even in the crappy footing, or do you wait and pray for some better weather, knowing that when you do allow him outside he’s more liable to go crazy from being cooped up for a long time?

I totally understand the instinct to bubble wrap, if only for a little bit longer — just in case — to decrease risk. These horses, they cost a lot of money, not only to buy, but to keep in top competition shape! Everything to do with horses costs a lot of money, and the best way to spend more is to have a silly pasture accident. Their lives are precious and even as big animals, they are far more fragile than they seem.

However, here is my theory, and I know it won’t appeal to all of you. If my horse is incapable of going outside on some differing terrain and managing his own body through a few different gaits without putting himself in horrific danger, I don’t really feel like I want to ride him on cross country. Some self sufficiency is required out there, and I’d rather he figure out where his four legs are without me on his back, thank you very much. Especially with young horses, I want them growing up knowing how to buck and fart and run about a little while controlling their bodies to a degree, and it’s nice to know you’re getting on a horse that has the know-how to preserve himself.

This happens, sometimes.

This happens sometimes.

I also believe that in terms of general health and soundness, horses that get regular turnout are on the winning side. Living cooped up in a small stall for the majority of the time is contrary to how they are designed to function on a really basic biological level. No, I’m not promoting that you let them live exactly as they would in the wild, as they are domesticated sport horses, and they do require certain luxuries that brumbies do not. However, I am suggesting that the act of regular grazing and wandering in a field for half the day is good for both the body and the mind of the horse.

Of course, as to any general statement, there are horses that will prove me wrong as exceptions. I’ve had horses that positively don’t know how to handle large open spaces and will lose their cool and run around like chickens until they are lathered and lame. I also understand if you spend $1 million on a horse, it’s hard to just … let them go and hope for the best. But, after all, a million-dollar horse is still a horse.

One of the hardest choices that sport horse owners and riders have to make is how to realistically protect an animal that has independent intentions in life. Anybody who has tried can tell you that bubble wrapping only works to a limited extent — and never for the long term. The best that you can do is prepare them for everything in a way that will decrease their future risk, and I believe that regular turnout is integral to preserving the sanity and well-being of any athletic horse.

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