Horse turn out during winter

horse winter turnout

To turn out or not?

This winter just seems to be getting colder and colder, doesn’t it? We all know that when the weather’s fine, things are easier.  But these inclement conditions mean that one topic is definitely hot on the yard: what to do about turn out.  The following two things are a given: 

  • Horse owners want their horses to go out! But...
  • Yard owners or managers usually want to restrict or even stop turn out all together in an effort to protect the fields ready for the Spring when the grass will – believe it or not – actually reappear.

This issue seems to becoming overwhelmingly troublesome as the weather over the last few years has been incredibly wet.

What do the horse owners say in favour of turn out?

Horse owners invariably make the following points:

  • Routine.  Horses need to be kept as close as possible to their daily routine.  If turn out is restricted to, say 4 hours a day, and horses are spending more time than usual in their stable, they get grumpy.  They may start to bite!
  • Exercise.  If horses don’t get turned out they need to have some form of exercise each day they are not turned out.  For some yards this may be a problem as they don’t have a school in which to exercise them in and if the owner can’t get up during the daylight hours to hack, it means that the horse has been stood in a stable all day.
  • Natural environment.  Horses need to go out every day to their field as it’s where they belong regardless of the state of the fields.
  • Safety.  Horses need to be turned out to let off steam otherwise when they’re ridden it can compromise the rider’s safety.
  • Health.  It’s not good for a horse to be stuck in a stable all day as they get stiff and many stables can be dusty from the straw or shavings bedding
  • Costs. Owners effectively pay for all year round turn out so they are entitled to it come what may!

What do the yard owners/managers say in favour of restricted or no turn out?

  • Restricted. Horses get a ‘leg stretch’ at the very least and have ‘some’ time out in their field.  This varies massively by yard.  At some it’s 4 hours every day, at others it's turn out every other day whilst at other yards, horses can go out Monday - Friday but not Saturday and Sunday as most owners are able to exercise them at the weekend
  • Prevents injury.  Often there’s no grass in the fields, the horses don’t want to be out away and they just stand at the gate.  This means that the gateways get trashed and are often VERY muddy!  Also for yards that turn horses out together, this gathering at the gateway is a nightmare as it’s difficult to get a horse in/out of a field when they’re all gathered round.  More importantly this spot is prone to accidents as they get grumpy with each other and kick!
  • Prevents stress.  When there’s no grass in the fields or it’s not very tasty(!), horses do seem to be more unsettled, e.g. they fence walk or run round, which means they're stressing to some degree
  • Horse owner’s responsibility.  Horse owners do need to look after the field that they’ve be given for their horse so that the grass will be grass in the spring/summer
  • Co-operation.  Horse owners and yard owners/managers both need to work together to identify practical solutions even if they are temporary
  • Spare fields.  Fields are not always available even though they may be empty – often they’re being rested as they’ve already been over grazed!
  • Supply.  Fields full of grass cannot be magic’d out of thin air!
  • Field management. The more the fields are looked after, the longer they will last through the course of the year.

In summary

At our yard, the yard manager is at her wits end with owners and the weather!  By the sound of it, it’s got a bit heated in some areas as owners become insistent that ‘something’ is sorted out for their horse/pony!  I’m sure it’ll affect most of our audience in some shape or form.

What do you think?

We’d love to hear your views.  Please post them on our Facebook page at or e-mail us at and we’ll post your comments here!

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Kim Horton

Co-Founder of EQUUS and a keen equestrian, when Kim's not at her desk she's with her horse, Waldo.


  • Emma Humphrey posted on February 03 2015 at 04:02 PM

    Hi, I just found your article on the above – always an interesting one, and in my opinion, not a yes or no answer.

    Firstly let’s be sensible and look at each horses routine. Where my horses are stabled we are very lucky to ever have the need to leave them in. In summer they go out from about 8am and come in about 4pm. For those that are exercised regularly and properly we do not have fat horses. Our horses never run out of grass and each has individual turnout that is grazed in sections. In the winter they go out for less time and have a slice of hay out there. This keeps their routine as regular as possible and happy horses, and owners. The only time we may leave them in is if the snow is really bad or it is too slippery to get them to their field – but this is rare. When it does happen then they are quite happy to be in for a few days.

    Our turnout is not rutted and knee deep in mud at this time of year as paddocks have had additional land drains put in some years ago plus all horses are happy and brought in before they are getting bored or cold. There is only one or two horses using the same path so this keeps the churning-up to a minimum.

    Each horses needs should be looked at individually and in most cases, liveries get upset because livery managers do not communicate. Discuss with each owner what is best for their horse. It is always a fine balance to keep us all happy. But all I can say is my horses are very happy and that is reason they are still where they are after 3.5 years.

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