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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?