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24/7 Turnout and Horse Fitness
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9/24/09 - Study shows that 24/7 turnout alone keeps horses at least as fit as riding!
The October 2009 issue of Equus reports that a study conducted at Virginia Intermont College has shown that "[t]wenty-four-hour turnout can do as much for a horse's fitness level as an hour of exercise under saddle every day." As if we didn't know that! :-) But it's nice to have it confirmed! This study originally appeared in the proceedings of the Equine Science Society 2009 meeting, Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, May 2009.
The research is based on 16 horses who were divided into three groups (after having fitness carefully evaluated and recorded). The first group was turned out in a relatively hilly 100 acre pasture 24/7. The second group was stalled during the day and turned out in small paddocks at night. The third group was stalled during the day and turned out in small paddocks at night, but ridden 1-2 hours a day 5 days a week.
At the end of 14 weeks, the horses were re-evaluated. The group 1 (24/7 turnout/no riding) horses were as fit as the group 3 (stalled but regular riding) horses. The pastured horses also had higher bone density than the stalled-but-ridden horses (and had developed that in just 14 weeks)! The group 2 horses (stalled 12/day and not worked) dropped fitness considerably.
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It's too bad they didn't do the same study using the Paddock Paradise model -- hopefully someone will in future! The key, according to the article, is the horses having enough room (not necessarily 100 acres!) to get up a head of steam and gallop occasionally. I "bag flag" my horses 3-4X a week (i.e., plastic baggie on the end of a dressage whip to get them going) and they enjoy tearing around like crazy people so much that when they see me w/ the bag they take off before I can tell them to! [See video at left.]
It's also too bad that they didn't compare 23/7 turnout horses who are ridden 5 days a week w/ the stalled/small paddock horses who were ridden 5 days a week. If the horses turned out and NOT ridden are as fit as those stalled and ridden, one wonders how much fitter those turned out AND ridden would be!
Most of us DO ride our horses, of course, but it's certainly reassuring to know that if you provide 24/7 turnout that encourages movement, they will maintain their fitness when we can't ride.
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, May 21 2010, 3:53 PM EDT
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