I grew up riding at traditional hunter/jumper show facilities. Not all fancy places, by any means, but farms that had had a lot of love and strict schedules for the show ponies who lived there.
My horses over the years were turned out a few hours a day. Some right after breakfast, usually in big grassy fields, and then brought back into the barn at night. Some were turned out at night with a few buddies and stayed inside under the fans during the day. Some went out in dirt lots. Others were in paddocks by themselves for maybe just a few hours.
Every horse is different, as is every turnout arrangement at a boarding barn.
So when I decided to let my imported, former show horse live a pasture-only lifestyle, it was a big change for both of us.
My Hanoverian mare spent the majority of her life in a stall before I purchased her. She was black, so during show season, she was never turned out during the day for fear of bleaching her coat. She was also a broodmare for many years, so her pasture schedule was always very strict when she had a foal at her side.
Even when she was turned out, it was always alone, for fear of injuries.
I wanted my mare to relax in her late-teen years. We still rode regularly and competed on occasion. But I was convinced that more time outside, moving around, was better for her in the long term than being cooped up in a stall.
So I opted to board her at a facility where she was turned out all night and all day with two pasture buddies on five acres. They had plenty of shade under many massive oaks trees. They cooled off in a pond near the front of the property. My mare was kept in her stall twice a day for about an hour each time during her morning and evening feedings.
At first, the transition to a pasture board scenario was strange for her. She stayed close to the barn and only ventured to the farther ends of the pasture when she was following her new buddies. But after a little while, I don’t think she could ever go back to being stalled all day.
My horse was happier when she was outside. She was stalled enough — for vet visits, when we groomed and tacked up, etc. — and she was handled enough to remember her ground manners. Nevertheless, she was always eager to be back in her field.
I noticed the changes in her behavior even under saddle. She was braver on trails and enjoyed working out of an arena more and more, to the point that I even took her cross-country schooling, a feat I never considered doing with her before.
Most of all, my mare was less stressed in this environment. I saw first hand how more turnout changed my horse.
Tons of turnout doesn’t work for every horse. And there are risks of course, to being outside all the time. But studies show that horses benefit from being outside. After all, they are herd animals, and are designed to be grazing and walking all the time.
It was important for me to give my mare an opportunity to just be a horse, after so many years of being a tried-and-true show competitor. She deserved it.