One of the biggest debates in the horse world is whether or not performance horses should be able to have more turn out time than they do at most top training barns. My experience is mostly in the Western sector at training barns that don’t offer a lot of good quality turn out time i.e. longer than an hour, out on grass, in a space bigger than the stalls they are living in. I did work for one trainer that did turn horses out, but depending on who you talked to, some felt it wasn’t sufficient.
I have owned horses my whole life. All of my horses growing up were kept out in a pasture (or dry lot with good hay during the summer) 24/7. About 4 years ago, my mom decided that it was time for us to build a barn. I had this image in my mind of the barn I wanted, however the barn of dreams was way out of your budget at the time. I settled for a really nice shed row barn with 6 stalls that are 13′ x 13′, 3 sides are solid plywood, the fronts are open pipe and the dividers are 4 ‘ of plywood and 2’ feet of bars to keep the horses from going over the fence at each other. The gates into the stalls open against the walls, so they open to the right instead of the traditional left side of the front, which allows they horses the ability to enter their stalls turn around and not get caught in a “corner” by the gate.
When I decided on what kind of barn I wanted (within out budget), I wanted it placed in out pasture in a way that all we had to do was open the stall doors to let the horse out to pasture, no haltering and no walking so that my mom could put the horses away on nights that I had to work late or during the winter when I didn’t get off until after dark. My horses get fed their breakfast out in the pasture where they spend all day, free to move around, lay down to nap, roll, eat and drink however they want. Four of my horses spend the night in their stalls, so they get the grain and supplements that they require. The mustang get their grain and hay in their stalls, but they are free to come and go as they please because they don’t get anything special to eat.
I believe that my current top barrel horse who is 22 is in as good a shape as he is because he is allowed to be a horse and exercise himself, roll when he wants to and run and play as he pleases. A lot of the performance horses that are being shown these days are put under a lot of pressure early in their career and aren’t allowed to “be horses”. Horses need to be able to move around in a space bigger than 12 x 12 and for longer than one hour.
Horses out to pasture and getting regular non-riding exercise are less likely to get ulcers and are easier to condition and keep conditioned/legged up then horses stalled for most of the day. I have found that my horses are happier, healthy and I have had less vet call out for things like colic because they spend so much time outside and with hay to eat during the day.