Thought Exercise: Turnout

As you all know, one of my favorite aspects of my barn is everyone’s willingness to talk through different aspects of the industry. Of course my trainer and I spend a ton of time talking about (1) how to ride more better and (2) how to schedule shows to meet my goals without going broke. But she also takes the time to talk to me about the overall industry and the moving parts that make up the equestrian competition world.

OK real quick I know I’m supposed to be reviewing my jumpoff but what do you think of allowing nose nets in the hunters THIS IS IMPORTANT

One thing that we were talking about recently was turnout. All the horses in our barn get turned out for at least 12ish hours a day, with many staying out closer to 24 hours if the weather is nice (they’ll come in for meals and riding, and then go right back out). They all go out in groups unless they’re in the med paddock, and will only stay in if there is truly extreme weather.

I love this for Frankie. No matter how intense our training program gets, he gets guaranteed “horse time” every day to stretch, roll, interact with his buddies, and relax. Of course there’s always a risk that he could get injured, but for me the benefits of group turnout outweigh the risks. We’ve had several people bring their horses into the barn and warn, “she’s spooky, he’s hot, be careful, he needs a specific bit, etc.” Once they’re on the full turnout schedule, literally every single one of these horses has ended up being completely chill. Without exception.

But this isn’t a blog post about how I’m a big fan of turnout. That’s boring. What I found much more interesting was our discussion of how turnout time actually can have a cascading effect on an entire training program.

Go play this is crucial to our success

For example: let’s say that Frankie only goes out for 1-2 hours every day. In order to not lose competition-level fitness, this means that he needs to be ridden every day at least once, maybe twice. As a working amateur I certainly don’t have the time to ride twice a day, so Frankie goes into a full training program.

Well, now my horse is being ridden 6 times a week by a professional. So now I have certain expectations for how he will perform. If we struggle with an exercise in my weekly lesson, I’m annoyed that the pro rider didn’t school this enough with him. If we have rails down at a show, that’s my trainer’s fault for not preparing him to go win. I’m paying the trainer big bucks to have Precious Pony in a rigorous program, why pay that money if we’re not going to go win? I have relinquished responsibility for my progress and my results, and put a whole lot of stress on my trainer to be responsible for how I do.

LB_sat_yellow oxer
Someone owes me an apology for having 12 faults on the clock by jump 8.

On the flip side, let’s say that Frankie is turned out every day for 12 hours in a hilly field (which is the real life scenario). He can easily stay fighting fit in a 6 day/week schedule, because he spends most of his day moving up and down hills. That’s a schedule his ammy owner can work with. He may get regular tune-ups from a professional, but the vast majority of his rides come me.

So now the expectations for performance lie within myself, because I’m the one who puts most of the miles on him. If we mess up, I know why- it’s because we need to work harder on XYZ skills. If we do well, I can be really proud of the work that’s gotten us to that point. My trainer is responsible for making sure we’re competing at an appropriate level and giving us the tools we need to succeed, but as the main rider I am responsible for actually following through and giving a good ride. It puts the ownership of the accomplishment (or slip-up) firmly with the rider.

LB_sat_yellow oxer
Holy crap trainer I am an embarrassment to you and your program.

So the attitude and perspectives that we have while exiting the ring can lead back all the way to how much time the horse spends outside.

See Francis, I told you playing with your friends would help us out

Is this a 100% direct exact correlation? No way! There are plenty of owners and horses that work hard and do well with less turnout, and there are plenty of kooks who turnout 20 hours a day. This is more of a thought exercise on how the pieces of how we care for our horses feed into the way we approach a training program, which feeds into the way we approach competitions.

I’d love to hear your thoughts- how does your approach to care affect how you train or compete?

30 thoughts on “Thought Exercise: Turnout

  1. Lauren 12/11/2017 / 9:27 am

    Hmm, I honest hadn’t considered this as an aspect of training before. I love turnout and am for all the time if possible but it’s always been in the frame of what I believe is best for the horses mindset. Definitely an interesting thought!


    • hellomylivia 12/11/2017 / 9:38 am

      I’ve also always thought of it more as just something that’s good for my horse, it was definitely interesting to consider how it affected other things!


  2. Alex 12/11/2017 / 10:49 am

    I wish I had turnout, even an hour, for Scarlet. But turnout isn’t available in the majority of the barns here in CA. It sucks but that is what it is. I literally drool every time I hear you guys talk about overnight turnout etc.


    • hellomylivia 12/11/2017 / 10:58 am

      It’s definitely a different world- whenever I talk to friends in Cali it’s always so crazy to hear the differences in how things are set up!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Jenn 12/11/2017 / 10:57 am

    You know how much Roger and I love turnout, and I’m fortunate enough to board with a trainer that has the same perspective of turnout as yours: all the turnout, every day (unless there’s like a hurricane or blizzard or earthquake or whatever). IMO, horses are not meant to live in a box. Plus, as you mentioned, the varying terrain in turnout fields does wonders for their bodies and balance.


    • hellomylivia 12/11/2017 / 11:03 am

      I love that Frankie’s field is so hilly! Helps out majorly with his dad bod.


  4. Stacie Seidman 12/11/2017 / 11:03 am

    I definitely wish my horses had big rolling fields to play in! I also wish they could go out together. But Jampy was gelded at 13, so that’s probably unwise and Rio is completely unaware that he was ever gelded at all (Doc thinks he’s probably a ridgling).
    Even though I don’t get to reap the benefits of a turnout situation like Frankie’s, I do think it’s great for them. Not only their fitness, but being out with other horses is actually really helpful in the manners department too (maybe not if your horse is the alpha in the herd though).
    I personally don’t think I would pin all of my failures on my trainer even if my horse was in full training cause I mean… I know how I ride… but I can see your point where you would expect a lot more for all that training.


    • hellomylivia 12/11/2017 / 11:07 am

      Woah I didn’t know that Jamps was such a stud! (Obvi I knew that Rio was though bc he’s perfect). I definitely agree that group turnout can be super helpful with manners- Frankie can be a huge turdblossom to the other horses, but they have clearly set limits and expectations for each other. It’s fascinating watching them play.


      • Stacie Seidman 12/11/2017 / 11:20 am

        Yep! I imported him as a stallion and planned to keep him that way because he was the easiest stallion ever! But he got loose at a horse show so I wound up gelding him. It was total chaos and I don’t want to ever go through THAT again!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Tara Tibbetts 12/11/2017 / 12:23 pm

    I have a couple of thoughts on turnout. I used to have an older Dutch mare with sticky stifles. Because she lived in 50% turnout on 7 acres and I have a few pretty steep hills on my property they were never an issue. I sold her and the new owner ultimately had to have her put down (she was 18 or 19, so not a spring chicken) because they just couldn’t deal with her stifle issues and she got more and more sore. That isn’t to say the stifles would never have been an issue for me, but two trainers and the vet acknowledged she probably did better at my house because of the hills.

    Second thought is that I show in the hunter division and keep my horses at home. There is NO way my horse would be fit enough to show if it weren’t for turnout! I have 3 horses to ride and a full-time job so in the fall and winter months I’m lucky to get 3 rides a week on my show horse.


    • hellomylivia 12/12/2017 / 8:14 am

      Girl, I am in awe of people like you who work full time AND have multiple horses. I struggle just with the one, that takes some serious dedication and time management!


  6. the_everything_pony 12/11/2017 / 12:42 pm

    One reason we made our arena so big is to be able to turn the horses out for a few hours a day. Amber can’t go out with Whisper because she’s rude, and I’m deathly afraid she’d kick Whisper or something and poor Whisper would be limping in like 5 minutes (though I so wish we could turn them out together). But we haven’t been able to do much turnout because people across the way have Oleanders which are poisonous to horses, so until we can get a bottom border around the arena to keep most leaves out when the wind blows we only do a bit of turnout. Because Amber will eat ANYTHING so I’m petrified she’ll eat a dead Oleander leaf. What I do like is that Amber is a stall walker. Whisper is not but they both have stalls that are at least 24×36, so plenty of room to move around and lay out to nap which is what Amber does all the time. I also feed Amber half of her hay in one inside stall and half in the other so that she has to walk back and forth to food. I’d love her on pasture, but even with a big arena for a few hours’ turnout is hard because there’s no grass so there’s nothing for them to do if you will. It’s so expensive to grow grass in a desert, so unfortunately it’s not feasible but I’d love her to be on grass pasture for most of the day. Thankfully, even when she doesn’t get any turnout she’s not spooky, I usually don’t need to lunge her at all, and she’s just the same every day. So it ends up working for me!


    • hellomylivia 12/12/2017 / 8:16 am

      I feel like that could be a whole other post- how your region (and vegetation) necessarily has a MONDO effect on what we can and can’t do! What a good mare she is ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  7. stampyandthebrain 12/11/2017 / 12:59 pm

    Turnout is always the best for horses in my opinion. They are meant to move not hang out in a small box. The retired boys go out for about 12 hours a day and love it. Really the only negative to that much turnout I’ve found is that Stampede loses weight from all the activity since he’s also not a great eater and has a metabolism that makes me jealous.
    Maestro is boarded and only gets 4 hours of turnout per day but thankfully is in the barn’s biggest pasture. Due to the fact his turnout is so limited, I am very strict with his riding schedule (as I was with the retired boys before). He is ridden five days a week and I try to come out one of the other two days to get him out of his stall a bit.
    Sadly there is almost always a balance to be made between the various needs for horses and I know often turnout is one of those things.


    • hellomylivia 12/12/2017 / 8:17 am

      Absolutely, so often there are limitations and trade-offs we have to make. As long as we end up with happy, healthy horses, it’s all good 🙂


  8. Bette 12/11/2017 / 3:45 pm

    My guys live out 24/7 unless the weather is cold and shitty and even then I rotate them between going out in waterproof clothing and coming in so they aren’t stuck inside for more than 10ish hours at a time. But I’m also lucky that they’re at home so I can be a bit more flexible in turnout options. Plus by keeping them out for a short bit in crappy weather they’re more excited about coming inside and don’t act the fool when they get to go back out!

    And I agree with you on the fitness aspect. Chimi hasn’t been ridden consistently since Oct bc of the Abscess of Doom and then personal family crisis. Today I had a flat lesson and Chimi felt great! We didn’t do a lot, just 30 minutes to work the kinks out and see where he’s at. If he’d been in a stall with limited turnout I don’t think he would of lasted all 30 minutes and felt so strong. But he was ready to go and wouldn’t stop cantering bc he was so excited to be back in work! So I do think we’ll be able to pick back up where we left off pretty quickly bc he’s had to walk up and down a big hill in his pasture on his own 🙂


    • hellomylivia 12/12/2017 / 8:17 am

      Aw yay Chimi! So glad he’s coming back strong, and that he gets his playtime!


  9. Abby F 12/11/2017 / 6:34 pm

    Turnout is SO SO important. Part of why I love that my horses live on our farm is that I can control their turnout. To me, turnout REALLY helps with long term soundness. Being able to move around for 12-14 hours a day helps keep joints moving, fitness levels up, and inflammation down. Mentally, it also does wonders for my horses, especially Charlie. Although Charlie and Parker don’t go out in groups, they do go out in large pastures that are next to one another. Parker is just too much of a brat to go out with Charles 🙂 Although I usually ride my horses 6 days a week, I don’t feel guilty if I’m sick or out of town and my horses miss a day or two. Knowing they are going out all night means they won’t suffer if something comes up and I don’t get to ride. Honestly, the hardest part about showing in FL is the limited turnout. An hour or two a day in a small paddock just doesn’t compare to what they get at home.


    • hellomylivia 12/12/2017 / 8:19 am

      Hahaha oh Parker. That is the only thing I’m a little leery about WEC for- it’s only two weeks, but that will be the longest Frankie has gone without steady turnout. I’m not worried about him misbehaving, I just know how much he likes his playtime. He’ll have to get plenty of it when we get back!


      • Abby F 12/12/2017 / 5:00 pm

        Exactly, Charlie doesn’t get wild without turnout, just sort of grumpy 😉 Parker gets WILD! Haha 🙂 At longer horse shows I try to make up for lack of turnout by getting them out of him the stall for hand walks and grazing as much as possible

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Liz 12/12/2017 / 7:05 am

    What a great post! Turnout is HUGE so far as keeping fitness on a horse from my experience. Mine are in a field board situation, so 24/7 turnout on 28 hilly acres all year. Q’s half Arab and thus is easier to get fit and holds it the longest but like, we went her biggest ride in 16 months this weekend – a 16 mile ride over 2.5 hours. (Previous “big ride” was 8 miles over the same time period.) She was hardly sweating. My QH, who also went, was sweaty along his neck, chest, and belly! If she’d been in a stall, no way could I have gotten away with what we did (nor would I have tried to). I don’t fret too bad about my horses having time off because they lead such an active lifestyle the rest of the time (Grif in particular raises hell in the field galloping about tormenting his friends). Turnout is a great thing to have and definitely valuable to a training program in my opinion.


    • hellomylivia 12/12/2017 / 8:24 am

      Glad you like! And so glad that Q is coming back in such a strong way. I’m jealous of her little Arab stamina, me and Frankie both are decidedly warmbloodish in that regard hahaha


  11. uncanny580 12/12/2017 / 11:58 am

    My mare is on 24/7 turnout and I wouldn’t have it any other way. While she would love to be in part of the day for the attention from people, I think she would explode.

    I never knew all these weird injuries horses could get until I moved to the city where so many people have their horses on indoor board and they are lucky if they get to be out for 8 hours a day. At home, horses were turned out 24/7 in the summer and were out for about 9 hours a day in the winter (for the horses on indoor board). There were never any injuries except for a few cuts and scrapes.

    My horse at the time had nothing but issues being stuck in a stall more. It was constant. She was wild. I had her here for about a year before I moved home again and she ended up needing colic surgery and had 2 injuries in that time. She went home for about 2 years and had one fairly major cut to her shoulder and that was it. Moved her back to the city and leased her to a kid for almost two years. She had one minor colic due to a blanketing issue from the barn that caused her to overheat, and then she moved barn and had 2 major injuries. TWO in the span of a month being there, due to barn/farrier errors. And then she ended up contracting something and we had to put her down. She spent about 10ish years at her breeders/my home barn with no issues. After her first year in the city, I should have left her at home, she was clearly telling me something.

    Some horses just are not meant for certain lifestyles, and they are always telling us – we just don’t always understand!


    • hellomylivia 12/13/2017 / 9:22 am

      It so totally does depend on the horse! I know some that really seem to prefer being inside, and some that clearly struggle being stalled.


  12. Nicole 12/12/2017 / 1:52 pm

    I have always kept my horses on pasture board, especially the older ones as I think it’s better for their bodies.

    I know that some places just don’t have the space for all the horses in the program to get regular/long turnout, but I also wonder if some of it could be tied to the trainer’s pocketbook. I worked for one trainer that refused to let the horses go out after any sort of precipitation, because she didn’t want her nice green pastures to get torn up. This of course meant that all of the horses needed a training ride if the owner couldn’t make it out that day, which meant more money for the trainer.

    I also think it sometimes helps increase the feeling of complete dependency on the trainer. “Oh, Sugar is such a delicate flower, he couldn’t possibly handle being outside in less than perfect conditions. But of course now he’s a bit fresh, so let me lunge/ride him before you get on. How would you ever manage without me here to hold your hand?” Obviously the good ones don’t do this, but I have met a few trainers that are definitely in it more for the money than the horses’ best interest.


    • hellomylivia 12/13/2017 / 9:23 am

      As much as I would love to say “no one could be that skeezy!”, I’m sure it does happen. It makes me that much more grateful and relieved to work with people who genuinely put the horses first.


  13. HunkyHanoverian 12/12/2017 / 6:48 pm

    Love your post and how it correlates with show mentality. Keeping that theme going- I wonder how people feel it effects their horse to go from 24/7 turnout (or lots of turnout) to not turnout at all for a 2 week long show- or longer? Since most hunter/jumper shows go for weeks at time, is lack of turnout at shows a concern for those who’s horses are used to a ton of turnout? I, of course, think more turnout is better, but I also think it’s good for a horse to have routine, and that is a huge change (from tons of turnout to no turnout at shows).

    Curious what people think! My guy gets about 8 hrs of turnout a day in an individual paddock (but can touch noses with other horses). He just went to his first week long show and seemed fine without the turnout, but I’d worry about him for longer then a week at a time at this point. I think that I would feel even guiltier taking him from 24/7 turnout to total stall confinement if that were the case.


    • hellomylivia 12/13/2017 / 9:25 am

      That’s something I hadn’t thought of, that’s such a great point! That’s a huge disruption on their routine, I wonder if people have any sort of system for acclimating their horses to that? What’s the happy balance of turnout while still being ready to go show? I certainly don’t have any answers, but definitely something worth thinking about, thank you!


    • hellomylivia 12/13/2017 / 9:25 am

      Haha I think that’s one of the topics up for discussion at the USHJA meeting this week, I’ll be curious to hear their verdict


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