Horses are herd animals that prefer to live in the comfort of social groups and acquire their nutrition through selective grazing. It is estimated that horses spend 10 to 17 hours per day grazing, which is often divided over 15 to 20 grazing periods.
However, in the domesticated environment, some horses may spend all or part of their time stabled during the Autumn and Winter season. This occurs for a variety of reasons, from severe weather to illness, and to prevent paddock injuries.
Despite our best intentions as horse owners, reduced turnout time does impact on your horse’s physical and social health and wellbeing.
So, what are the pros and cons of limited turnout time? In this article, we explain how to support your horse’s health during stabling and turnout.
Health Issues of the Stabled Horse
In nature, wild horses spend their entire lives in the outdoors, seeking out natural shelter and each other in times of extreme heat, frigid cold and high winds.
There are many instances where stabling your horse is essential, such as when they are recovering from an injury. In other instances, horse owners may rely on stabling during Autumn and Winter due to limited acreage or livery yard rules.
However, it’s important to understand the stabled environment is at odds with nature and any horse that is kept stabled for prolonged periods without careful management may not have all their physical and social needs met, potentially leading to problems.
One of the main threads in the web of health issues that can afflict the stabled horse is poor ventilation and subsequently, air quality. In a poorly ventilated stable or barn, allergens and irritants from several sources can harm your horse’s respiratory health, such as:
- Dusty hay and bedding
- Equipment and vehicle exhaust
- Stirring up particles during cleaning, sweeping, and blowing
- Dust particles flowing from an attached indoor arena
Non-infectious respiratory diseases that present as coughing and airway inflammation are common in the stabled horse. Studies have shown 25 to 80 percent of stabled horses suffer from Recurrent Airway Obstruction (RAO) and Inflammatory Airway Disease (IAD).
Colic, most often impactions, occur with more frequency in the stabled horse than those that are routinely turned out. Behavioural issues stemming from boredom may also arise.
Without regular exercise in the form of turnout, in hand or under saddle work, stabled horses on high energy feeds may also experience tying up and other muscle disorders.
Health Issues of the Turned-Out Horse
While bone and tendon health are supported through daily movement, horses that are turned out 24/7 may encounter paddock injuries, such as slips and altercations with paddock mates, as well as hoof and skin conditions that proliferate in the cold and wet.
However, the benefits of turnout time for horses far outweigh the associated risks, which can be minimised with reasonable care. Providing adequate turnout time for your horse, preferably in the company of other horses, is critical for their health and welfare.
A few best practices to follow include:
- Feeding quality forage to keep your horse warm from the inside out
- Providing free-choice shelter which can withstand wind, rain, and snow
- Blanketing if the weather requires it, particularly if your horse is old or infirm
- Minimising muddy areas by facilitating proper drainage in yards and paddocks
- Ensuring your horse has unlimited access to fresh clean drinking water
- Checking routinely for hazards, such as broken fences and protruding wire
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to replace professional veterinary advice. Always consult your veterinarian if your horse as any health-related issue or is exhibiting symptoms.