Benefits of 24/7 turnout for horses

Going from stabling my horse at night to her being in the field day and night has been fantastic for my horse’s mental and physical health. I can clearly tell she’s happier, and her body is already getting so much stronger. In this blog I’ll tell you all about the changes and differences I noticed in my horse when switching from turnout for a few hours per day to being in the field day and night. 

Horse riding in the French Pyrenees

Contact with other horses, sleeping and safety

As some of you might know, I have an Arabian mare and she is quite sensitive. Her entire life she has been stabled during the night. During this period of her life, she only had contact with other horses for a few hours per day. In the morning, evening and night, she was stabled by herself in a separate barn without any other horses. In the late morning and afternoon she was in a field with other horses. This certainly isn’t the worst situation for a horse to be in as she still gets contacts with others and gets to move around freely for at least five hours per day. Of course, I’ve always wanted her to have more time out in the field or pasture, however, that was simply not possible as she wasn’t mine yet, and it wasn’t for me to decide. She’s always been a good sleeper, and every morning in the stable she would be covered in shavings from sleeping laying down. Lots of horses have trouble sleeping laying down when they are in new environments or when something has changed in their situation. Given the fact that my horse had never moved before I was slightly worried about how well she would be able to sleep. If you’ve read my blog about our move to France, you’ll know that she already slept in a stable the first night that she arrived here. I was super happy to see that my horse felt safe and comfortable so quickly and was able to rest. The next night she had to sleep by herself in the field. For the first time and without any other horses in the same field. She was able to see and communicate with the horses nearby, but there is a 4 meter gap between them, meaning they couldn’t touch. I hoped it would make her feel safe enough to sleep. The first nights in the field she immediately slept, and I was so happy to see her adjusting so quickly. We have now been in France for a little bit over a month and she is the happiest I’ve ever seen her. She’s more playful and is gaining weight nicely after the move.

Horse in the French Pyrenees

Flat fields to the mountainous countryside

Moving from a country such as the Netherlands, where everything is very flat, to a country that has lots of hills and mountains, can be challenging for a trail riding horse. Even though I used to be a dressage rider and I did used to train my horse in dressage too, I don’t do that so much anymore. At the moment, the only reason I still occasionally do dressage with my horse is to build muscles that allow her to carry her self better during trail riding. With these exercises we mostly improve the way she carries her head and her back. While trail riding in the Netherlands, we have to work on this quite a lot. Due to the Netherlands being very flat, it’s hard to train muscles by only trail riding. Hill work is great to improve these muscles, and if there is no hills, dressage training helps. I still enjoy riding dressage a lot, but only if it benefits the horse as much as I enjoy it. The reason I stopped riding dressage was more because of the competition world than the actual dressage itself. Here in France, it’s very hilly and mountainous, as we are very close to the pyrenees. We don’t have an arena or a round pen here and I was slightly worried that my horse's muscles would not develop correctly after a few weeks of staying here. The opposite happened, and my horse actually developed better muscles then she had in the Netherlands. Her field here is on the side of the hill, which means she is walking up and down the hill throughout the day while grazing. This has helped tremendously with her back and hindquarter muscles. Having my horse in the field day and night ensures that she keeps developing these muscles. We of course still do dressage exercises while we’re out trail riding to ensure that she’s carrying her self properly and doesn’t get any injuries or soreness while on long trail rides. The fact that she’s able to move around freely day and nigh ensures that there’s less lactic acid buildup and she doesn’t get sore even after long rides.  Not having to ride in the arena anymore has really made my horse a lot happier. Almost all of the bad experiences that she’s had under saddle have taken place in an arena, and she lost the joy of riding because of it. Here, I feel like she’s really got that joy back. She used to be quite upset and grumpy while riding in arenas, as she’s had so many negative experiences in them. At some point, I thought that she might just not have any joy in dressage anymore. However, after moving here I’ve discovered that she’s still really enjoys dressage as long as we’re out on the field or on a trail rides. In just one month, she has started to carry her self much better than she’s ever done before. She’s happier in her own body and is able to swing her back more and is stronger in all gaits. 

Horse riding in the French Pyrenees

Horse happiness

The most important thing for any horse person is, of course, the happiness of their horse or pony. My horse and I have been through a few rough years. It hasn’t always been easy, but at the end of last year, I was finally able to buy her and give her the life that she deserves. She is a sensitive mare, and incredibly intelligent. She picks up on other people's energy very quickly, and can get very stressed and even aggressive when others are treating her the same way. Being here and being able to spend so much time with her has really improved her mental health. She’s so much happier being handled only by me and a handful of other people that are really respectful of her and treat her with a sensitive hand. She deserves this so much and I’m so glad that I’m finally able to provide this environment for her. I can see in her eyes that she has calmed down, and she is becoming so much more balanced, in her personality as well. She feels safe, and the fact that she often lays down with me in the afternoons shows that she is now so much more at peace then she ever was before. The freedom she has gotten from being in the fields all day and night has made her a calmer horse, and actually easier to ride. My horse has never been very difficult to ride, but has always been a very hot horse with lots of energy and a strong hind end. Meaning, lots of rearing. Since we’ve arrived here, she’s only reared once or twice in the entire month, and that was simply out of excitement. Overall, she is braver out on trails, more forward without being hot and a lot less tense in stressful situations.

Horses in the French Pyrenees
My Arabian and my pony.

Grazing, all day and all night

My horse has one true love, which is grazing. I like to believe that I come second. However, I am very sure that any other kind of food besides grass that comes second and I am on a solid third place. My horse always used to eat and graze very quickly, when she was still stabled for most of the day. I could tell she was stressed and always tried to eat as much as possible whenever she could. She actually gained weight a lot during this period and it was just overall a bad situation for her to be in. Whenever she got too chunky, her previous owners would put her in the paddock without any other horses, and with some hay instead of grass. This obviously wasn’t a solution, and whenever she would go back in the field, she’s gained weight very quickly, and she had been separated from the other horses for so long. It just wasn’t good for her mental or physical health. She often had colics when she was put back in the field after being on hay in the paddock for so long. Now she gets to be on grass all day and all night, and I was worried that she would keep grazing in the same stressful way as she did before. However, she actually is grazing a lot slower now and is taking lots of breaks during the day to nap, play and sleep laying down. In the last three years, I’ve never seen her take a break from grazing at any point during the hours that she was in the field. It makes me so happy to see that this change of situation has done her so much good and she is at a nice steady weight, slightly increasing from the condition she was in after transport.

Horses in the French Pyrenees
Up and down the field they go!

All in all, I am so extremely grateful that I get to finally give her the life she deserves, and to see her so happy. Those of you that have gone on horse riding holidays with me or know me personally, know that this horse means more to me than anything else. We mirror each other exactly. While I’ve also had that with other horses, it’s never been this precise. She completely copies how I’m feeling and I completely copy how she’s feeling. She even copies my bad moods when I barely  notice that I’m in a slightly less good mood then I was the day before. This means that when one of us is not feeling great, we both end up feeling absolutely terrible. Now, with my horse being so happy, I have also consistently been in a way better mood than I was when we were still in the Netherlands.  We of course also mirror each other when we do feel good, and I feel like we are currently stuck in a vicious cycle of incredibly good moods, ever since we arrived in France. Even though I wish I would’ve been able to move to France with my horse earlier, I am so happy that we eventually came to this point where she is happy and gets to live outside like all horses deserve!

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