The writers here at NoelleFloyd.com are teaming up to examine a few common myths (or, at least, commonly held beliefs) in the horse world. Why? Because some myths have prevailed while being simply untrue, or used to be true, but are not anymore. Some are not myths - they are actually valuable information! And some are, for whatever reason, super triggering to people and stir up all kinds of opinions (see: not immediately scraping the water off your hot horse while hosing makes him hotter).
Today’s myth explores the misconception that all horses need to be stalled to live happy, safe, and healthy lives. As humans, we enjoy our creature comforts, and as the doting horse owners that we are, we want our horses to live in luxury as well. And while living outside may not be high up on our list of “comforts,” many horses enjoy, and even prefer, living outside 24/7. Health and safety exceptions aside, many horses perform better both physically and mentally when they live out.
We decided we needed the input of a professional, and turned to Dr. Janet Greenfield Davis of Palm Beach Equine Clinic based in Wellington, Florida.
NoelleFloyd.com: So I’ll start by asking, what are the basic requirements for a horse that is living out?
Dr. Janet Greenfield Davis: “The basics are adequate food, shelter, water, and a good fence line – but since a lot of your turnout is going to get eaten down, you’ll still need to be able to feed them appropriately and monitor their nutritional needs.”
How might those nutritional needs differ from a horse that is primarily living in?
“A lot of those nutritional elements are going to be determined by the quality of the grass that they’re grazing on. Here in South Florida, our grass is likely not as nutritional as grass is further north, so you would have to supplement it. This is determined by your pasture – if there is no grass and only weeds that can be harmful to your horse. So then, it comes down to supplementing with hay and grain, as well as [ration] balancers for vitamins and minerals.
Nutritional needs are determined by the horse as well – the age of the horse, and if he’s an easy keeper or not. It is all going to be on a horse-by-horse basis, and a pasture-by-pasture basis. You can run a nutritional analysis on your grass, but mostly, it is going to be judged by the condition of your horse.”
How might you transition a horse from living in to living out, full time?
“Not all horses are going to be acclimated to living out, especially those that have been show horses for a long time and potentially kept in. They will need to be introduced to it gradually, and then you will be able to stretch their time outside based on how they are responding. They need time to get used to being outside, and being turned out at night can be particularly difficult on a horse that has been in its whole life. It is a different environment at night than it is during the day, so they have to be eased into it.”
What medical issues may be prevented, or improved, by living out?
“It can be beneficial for horses prone to colic or gastric ulcers to have that constant ability to graze, and in general, more frequent meals are better for horses with gastric ulcers. Grass also has more water in it, so it helps lubricate the intestinal tract. It’s also good for horses with arthritis who often become stiff when stalled for longer periods of time.”
What is the impact on a horse’s mental wellbeing?
“I think that mentally, it is good for horses to be out in the fresh air and allowed to play freely. If they are turned out with other horses, social interaction is good as well. It can also be particularly good for balance in performance – having to walk through different terrain leads to better proprioception (or perception of the position and movement of the body). Better proprioception leads to better balance which leads to better performance in the arena and decreases the chance for injury.
It’s good for their muscles too – it can help to keep a horse limber.”
What about any cons to horses living out?
"There are many elements that can be out of our control; for example, wildlife and exposure to animal-to-animal transmitted diseases. Possums and raccoons can transmit EPM. Ticks can transmit Lyme disease. Of course, a stabled horse may suffer from these diseases as well. Consistent monitoring of your horse is of course always recommended whether stabled or in pasture. If a horse in a large pasture you may not lay eyes on them every day, and if you do not see them every day you may not notice if they are losing weight, if they are lame, or if they have any wounds. Wild horses were meant to graze and move – that’s a benefit to living out, but there also some risks.”
So, there you go – the decision as to whether your horse should live out comes down to you, but not all horses NEED to be stalled. Consider this myth busted.