We’ve all seen those funny memes of horse owners wrapping their horses in bubble wrap. Because, as we all know, horses often have the unfortunate talent of getting into trouble or hurting themselves. Horse owners have the difficult task of trying to protect their horses while “letting them be horses” at the same time. We asked top equestrians about whether they turn their horses out – the pros and cons of letting them out and any advice they have for others.
Beth Case – Unless your horse has a torn suspensory or some other major injury, turn them out. There are no cons. It makes them happier, gets some energy out, lets them chill, and get to be a real horse. I turn all mine out. There are some who don’t like being left out alone or for very long; I still turn them out. Just not for as long. If they have shoes on, I tape them up. Most of mine will eat bell boots. Turnout is the best thing you can do for them.
Leonard Berryhill – This can be very touchy. We love to give our horses turnout and find it really refreshes some of them. The pros for me are; letting them move around in fresh air. Seeing things on the outside that oftentimes makes things in the arena a little less bothersome. And just giving them the opportunity to stretch their legs and “be a horse” for a little while. Cons; I do not turn a horse out that is very fresh. I do not want this horse to run and go crazy with freedom. We’ve all heard the horror stories of horses being severely injured, or worse, by blindly running into a fence or slipping and falling. We always make sure to work our horses down before turning them out. Fortunately, we have a free walker and I use that as a form of turnout by putting them on it and letting them walk at a very slow pace for an extended period of time. Again, just getting them out of the stall.
Clayton Jerrell – Horses need time to be horses. For us, it certainly varies depending on the horse. Some of the show horses certainly prefer staying inside under their fan and fly spray system instead of outside. Whereas, we have others that will run and play for as long as we leave them out. We always put bell boots on them if they go out, and I don’t turn any with sliders out on grass, it’s too risky. We will turn those out in the round pen. We only turn them out for about an hour at a time to reduce the risk of injury and to not let them get too hot or eaten up by flies. When the weather is nice, I like to get them out at least once a week if not more depending on how busy our show schedule is coming up. I try not to allow our horses to get dependent on turnout because when we are on the road for weeks at a time (29 days at Congress then 19 at the World Show for instance), I don’t want them to need turnout to function. The best advice I can give is if you don’t know how your horse is going to act outside, ride them first, then turn them out so they aren’t as likely to run and be crazy. Other than that, just use common sense and check on them periodically while they are turned out. Also, have a big magnet that you can use because they will pull shoes.
Alyse Roberts – Good question. I turn all of my show horses out unless there’s a specific reason why they cannot have turnout. I have several different sized turnout pens for my guys. I usually can tell pretty quickly which turnouts work best for them. The ones that are higher energy and tend to run a lot get the smaller turnouts as I don’t want them hurting themselves in a larger area. My older ones and a lot of the time my mares are comfortable with the larger turnouts. I think it’s great for their mind and body to get that “turnout time” even if it’s just an hour or free time. I have one gelding that consistently pulls shoes in the turnout, which, in turn, has affected the quality of his feet, so he’s actually about to get moved to a very small turnout and walker only. But, overall, I think it’s extremely important for the mind and body to get that turnout time to just “be a horse.”
Melissa Shetler – I turn out all of our show horses. I know this is a controversial topic for some, but I feel like they need to be a horse at some point. I also think it saves their joints from a lot of the wear and tear we put on them while training. Many argue they can get hurt, but I’ve had horses get hurt in their stalls too. I feel like our horses are happier and more sound because they’ve been turned out. I also feel like we’ve had horses showing into their teens and 20s because of that. Longevity for the show horse I think is partially dependent on being able to be turned out a good part of the day.
Laurel Walker Denton – I have been lucky to live out in the country my entire life, so turnout for our horses has always been part of our plan. Every horse I have in training gets turned out every morning in an acre pasture all day. They eat their breakfast out and come in late afternoon for the night. I believe that turnout helps keep their minds happy and their stomachs content with grazing. I also believe it helps keep them sound when they can run, buck, play, and roll like a ‘real’ horse. They go out in the middle of a hot summer and snow in the winter. Show horses are under a great deal of pressure to maintain their peak performance level. I like to let my horses down a few times a year and then peak them at the right time. Having a large turnout for them makes this possible. The downside of turnouts is the never-ending blanket patrol; light, heavy, fly sheets, ripped slinkys. There is also the occasional lost shoe. There is no doubt it makes hair coat and ‘show shine’ more difficult to maintain. We have done it for so many years we have it down to a science. And we also have a good blanket repair guy. As a horseman, I believe turning horses out is the right thing to do. We end up with sounder horses with fewer problems and fewer ulcer issues. I understand not everyone has this option, but I am blessed that we do.
Kelly McDowall – I turn them all out every day, weather permitting. If one has an injury, I may or may not depending on the injury. I have 11 turnout pens. Usually 2 1/2-3 hours a day in a 50 x 50 individual pen fenced with electric rope so they don’t mess with each other or the fence very often.
Lauren Crivelli – I am a firm believer in turnout. It’s a must-have for my horses. I think they benefit both mentally and physically from a good turnout. When they get turned out, they always wear bell boots. I start with a small pen, and once they have proved themselves trustworthy, they get turned out in the larger pastures.
Katy Jo Zuidema – We turn all of ours out all the time. I think it’s great for them mentally and physically. In the summer, we do it first thing in the morning because it’s hot, but this time of year, we do it throughout the day.
Farley McLendon – They all get turnout. Who wants to sit in a cell 24/7? I believe the horses’ minds are better when they can expel some energy on their own. Some of mine like to be out longer and others for shorter amounts of time. I do feel bad when we’re on the road for long stretches, and they don’t get some free time.
Hillary Timchak – It’s horse-specific for us. Some love it, but some make poor decisions and are restricted to turnout in a round pen or arena. I think regardless, show horses appreciate some time to have complete autonomy and do whatever they want to do. It’s a good way to let them just be a horse and relax. Frequency and length of time all depend on the horse, but I’m definitely pro-turnout. Everyone needs a little downtime.
Beth Clemons – I absolutely believe in giving our show horses the opportunity to be horses. I think it’s mentally invaluable and physically important if you want a show horse to last a long time. The obvious con is that they can get hurt. I’ve had it happen, and it’s awful, but they can also get hurt in the stall or in almost any scenario. If you’ve been in horses long enough, you know that. I try to turn mine out as much as possible. I think the more opportunity they have to be in turnout, the less likely they will run and play so hard they hurt themselves. There are always exceptions. If one is healing from an injury, I try to find other means of mental stimulation to keep it happy until it can return to the turnout pen.
Blake Carney – I think it’s really important that horses go out, even high-end show horses. I tend to turn out for a couple of hours in smaller turnouts and always individually. It’s scary to sometimes see a horse running around crazy when they cost a lot of money, but I have found if you’re consistent, they do get over that and just enjoy some time out to themselves. I always use bell boots and sometimes tape their feet so their shoes stay on (or at least try) and if I have one that I think is going to be particularly rambunctious, I wrap their legs. I also like to use turnouts where I can see them as many of the older show horses don’t like to stay out too long and start to get frantic. I do always discuss a turnout plan with an owner as some really don’t want their horse out, but most are all about it.
Kellie Hinely – I turn almost all of my horses out at least once a week. My turnout pens are big enough for a horse to buck and play, but not so big that they can really run. I think it’s good for them to have a mental break and be in the sun. I make sure they have the appropriate wraps and bell boots. If I have a horse with a soundness issue, and I know it will rip around, then I refrain from turnouts.
Chelsea Carlson – Depending on the horse, we do a lot of turnout. And likely surprising to others, I sometimes turn our show horses out with others as well (depending on if they have hind shoes or not and the owner is okay with it). Especially with the younger horses, I believe it is crucial for them to get their play out and also learn respect from others. With the older horses, it is so healthy for them to move around more and get time out of their stall. Most of the time, they don’t need as many days under saddle to an extent. Horses I am less likely to turn out are often ones that lose their brain and put themselves in situations to get hurt. For those types, I try to do turnout after already working them that day so they are less likely to be as wild. If you have a safe space for them, I think it helps keep their minds fresh and happier to work. We as people need work/life balance, why shouldn’t our equine partners get the same treatment?