Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Exercise VS Turnout

For a long time I worried about my horses' fitness after long periods of no riding. This stemmed from having horses at a boarding barn, where they spent more time inside than out especially in bad weather. When we moved Barry and Sherman to the new barn and they had nearly 24hr turn out we were amazed at the increase in energy and loss of stocked up legs. I joked that almost 20yr old Barry had found the fountain of youth. He was a handful to ride.
After seeing the benefits of turn out we decided not to go back to a place with limited turn out unless that was the only option. The horses we have now, still show some of the same effects. Dottie and DaVinci do lose muscle at their age, but their legs stay tight and they are still ready to work when asked. The younger ones seem to maintain better muscle.

When spring comes, we don't have as much ground to recover in terms of their fitness. Mother nature provided her own work out for them. I can attest to the fact that walking through snow can be tough. So the horses being out on it full time, means they are exercising. Just like with people, the horses still have to build back specific muscles used only during riding, but at least they have the support of winter toughened muscles during the process.

Recently on Facebook someone asked about whether her pasture kept horse would need to start back at square one in the spring or if the winter romping was enough exercise to maintain his fitness. Surprisingly, the response from the vet told about a study done to answer that question. 3 control group were set: Pasture kept, stalled w/ no work, and stalled w/ 5-10hrs of work a week. They established a baseline with an exercise test for each horse before the 14 week program and then did the same test at the end. The researchers used GPS to track estimated distances each traveled. The Pasture kept group traveled more distance than the other two and had greater bone density. Heart rate and temperature stayed comparable to the stalled horses. Overall it showed that stalled horses with no exercise lose fitness, but pasture kept horses remained as fit as their stalled w/exercise companions.

Definitely makes me feel better about the lost riding time this winter. The aspect of greater bone density reminded me of an article Mom read about making sure foals got enough turn out. The article, sorry no link, talked about turn out giving the foals stronger tendons and bone. They also learn to handle terrain and build supportive muscle. I can vouch for Roscoe being able to run across the various terrains found at the barn.
I figured since so many of us are stuck in snowy situations this was a good time for this post. We had to hang our hay bags so they did not get buried in the snow, but as soon as we could we put them back on the ground. The horses walk those bags all over the turn out which I prefer to them standing around. Though Mother Nature is doing a great job providing an exercise program, I hope we can get back to steady riding soon.


  1. That's really neat - thanks for posting! It also helps ease my worry a little bit lol. My mare is on mostly 24hr turnout and only really stocks up if the ground is so frozen and choppy that she just hides in the shed

  2. It's so easy to forget the nature of the horse -- they are meant to be constantly moving!

  3. Ha, Emma I think they all have moments of hiding out in the shed. I'm just glad they utilize them. Tracy that is so true. I know it was a bit scary the first time we left the horses out full time even in weather after years of limited turn out. But you can't beat the benefits especially with older horses.

  4. Really interesting! I know my older pony is definitely better with 24-hour turnout. What kind of hay bags do you use that you put on the ground?

    1. We use the Shire's Greedy Feeder hay bag and just secure the ties before putting them on the ground. I wrote a post about the different slow feed bags we have, but those have come out as best for us.

  5. I saw that post, somewhere on FB, about the study you referenced! That is kind of what I would have expected. Full time turn out has done wonders on Wes over the course of this past year and definitely turned the clock back on him a couple years!

    I hope you guys start thawing out soon up there!

  6. That's a great idea using the hay bags loose. :D