The Management Dilemma: 24/7 Turnout. Are you in or out?

Kingsley in the field with his “friends”. Horse with many ailments. Often bullied and kicked by field “buddies” at a livery yard with no herd choices.

Sometimes I have this idea of having all horses (including sports horses) living out 24/7,  just being horses, playing nicely together, having no social issues, being brought in for when we ride them then freed again onto their paddocks, walking around with healthy guts, never colic, never weave from stress as they have plenty of space to roam about it and indulge in their motion and chewing instincts, never gain too much weight on rich grass, never lose weight etc etc, I am sure many of you will get the picture.

It seems like the perfect way to go isn’t it? Why argue with million years of evolution and keep horses under the roof, rugged up in 5 rug layers, in lycra hoodies, special no-dust bedding, hay straight from a hay steamer?


You know how certain instincts will always be present in any animal? We can stable horses 24/7 and only take them out when they are being ridden but we can never eradicate the need they feel to move their legs. It can manifest itself in box walking, lethargy, weaving, grumpiness, ulcers, mental issues etc We can feed most horses to our own idea of good diet both in content and in frequency but the need to chew for most hours of the day will always be there. It might show as crib biting, chewing on pieces of tack like reins or lunge line, playing with tongue through to ulcers again, colic, teeth problems.

There is of course what seems like a good middle ground – in at night out during a day or in for certain amount of time, then out the rest.

So what’s best for our horses? 

To me there is no one answer here. To the notion of 24/7 out for all horses I would say, when was the last time we revised Charles Darwin’s survival of the fittest theory? When was the last time we saw Mother Nature showing mercy to old and weak or ill?

Sure, horses can survive against many odds. Just look at this wild stallion with his leg broken – still alive and found a way to follow his herd…but is this what we want for our riding horses or companion horses? So they fight with their might to survive because that’s how they were designed to live?

broken leg
To read a story of this horse and see more photos visit:

I often see online owners mentioning how they find themselves being talked down to because of the way they keep their horse(s). Sometimes it’s because their horse wears a rug whilst all others are naked or comes in when it’s cold and wet. Perhaps that horse could live 24/7 outside indeed exactly like the stallion above “can”. Perhaps we should keep our old and ill horses out without much “modern” knowledge and help and let the natural ways decide about the condition our horse should be in?

I personally love seeing horses living as much outside as possible and can’t stand seeing 24/7 stabling no matter how well horses are treated otherwise. I can’t have respect for the latter no matter what as it shows basic misunderstanding of equine nature. However, I have what I would call a healthy respect for Nature and I know there isn’t a word “sorry” in her dictionary. Knowledge of each individual horse, of their health, social needs, nutritional needs, hoofcare needs is a must if we are to make an informed decision of their management routine.

Please share your views in comments. I have huge interest in “stable/field management” and would love to know what you think and how you keep your horses and why…

13 thoughts on “The Management Dilemma: 24/7 Turnout. Are you in or out?”

  1. We keep our horses on a dry-lot track on very small acreage. They have access to a large run-in barn at all times. Hay is put out 2x/day (always more than they can eat), and they are fed hard feed 2x/day if needed. They are allowed a few hours of turnout on grass daily when the grass is good (i.e. no drought). We keep them in if it’s muddy out, simply to save the land, but even then we rotate who is in the stalls and who is in the shed, so they have a bit more room and buddies available.

    They don’t all get along well, and the oldest one gets picked on more than his fair share, so we keep a close eye on him and try to give him time for peace and quiet. He can go out alone if he seems to need time to himself. It’s a day-by-day thing, which we can do because we keep them at home and monitor them closely.

  2. Oz lives out 24/7 in summer and comes in overnight in winter. Toying with leaving him out in winter, but it’ll be on a trial basis as he has to go into another herd. However, our “24/7/365” crowd does get to go into a big barn with hay and water on tap overnight, in winter. But they are in there in a big crowd, not confined to stalls and it’s really just a roof over their heads as 3 sides of the barn are open.
    Oz is at the bottom of the pecking order. He just wants to be friends with everyone, but that doesn’t always work out for him and occasionally they try to bully him. However, he and the herd leader are best buds (they are stabled next to each other and go out/come in together), and they actually play together without any malice. Ori keeps his eye on Oz and if any of the other horses give him grief, he goes between them.
    Right now I have to muzzle him because he’s out of work due to a bad leg, and on lush grass. Not a good combo.
    I would keep him in overnight, but he really doesn’t do well on his own and box walks incessantly. So out is better than in for him, if there is no other horse in.
    I don’t believe in turning out every horse 24/7. It depends on the individual. An old horse shouldn’t be forced to keep warm outside in freezing temperatures. Likewise a horse having trouble keeping weight on should have the aid of a rug to prevent burning too many calories.
    But it all depends on the horse.
    I’m all for not rugging, and I think some owners go completely overboard and their horses are way too warm. Education, rather than being talked down to, is the key.
    I wish rug manufacturers gave this simple guideline: If your horse is toasty warm under his rug while standing motionless in his stall — then it’s too hot.

    1. Thank you for sharing Silke, I find herd dynamics fascinating, especially the fact that there is no linear pecking order among horses. Interestingly, all horses I know that are rugged up are toasty warm under their rugs. Agree with education as many owners just want the best for their horses whatever their choices are.
      Good luck with winter turnout, would be interesting to know how your trial goes!

      1. My horse shivers though if he doesn’t have enough rugs, even with his winter coat. I live in a very humid environment, so I’m not sure if that matters- it does make the cold feel colder. When he’s wet, he’s pathetic- he shivers all over and won’t let you touch him. I know that shivering is a natural reaction that helps them to get warm, but he also acts completely different, spookey and won’t let you touch him. It makes me feel bad for him to be out in the cold/rain without proper covers, but maybe I’m mistaken! The only way to get him to stop shivering was to add a fleece liner and have a waterproof blanket with a neck. I definitely watched the thermostat, though, and if it was going to be over 40 I took it off. (Again, our 40 feels like 20 or less, with the humidity the cold is COLD).

  3. I’m with you on being completely opposed to keeping a horse in 24/7. My friend rides saddlebreds and I HATE that they do that!!

    My horse is currently out 24/7. When I got him, he came from a huge field with 20 horses in it. He was at the bottom of the back, skinny, and picked on. He now is in a herd of only 3-5 horses, has gained confidence and is not picked on, and generally seems happy. For a while I thought I’d never want to move him into a stall, because it seems they are so much healthier out on pasture 24/7.

    However, you have the issues with keeping a good consistent weight on them- not too fat, not too skinny, which is hard when they are on pasture. I supplement his diet with feed, but considering its hard around here to find any pasture board where they also feed the horses, I have to go do it myself. I can do it okay right now because I’m in school, but when I graduate that would be a lot harder. And I can only go out there once a day, so he only gets fed once a day when sometimes he could use twice. There are also the issues of rain rot and other ailments that are more common in 24/7 turnout.

    Also, when I first got him he would tear up a stall if you left him in it! He was barely 4 then, and now, a year later, he’s much more calm. Now he hates for me to take him out. He likes his “stall” time. I took him to his first event where he had to be stalled for three days (granted, lots of walking and as much hay as possible), and he loved it. I think he would hate it if he was constantly in a stall, but I think as he’s getting older and more centered, he actually enjoys his stall time where hay is provided, doesn’t have to worry about other horses picking on him, and he can just feel safe and rest.

    So, I think this fall I’m going to move him to stall board when I can afford it. I think it comes down to listening to your horse, and he wasn’t ready until now. Now I think he’ll be a happier and healthier horse if he gets his ‘stall time.’ If he gets unhappy in the stall life, I’ll quickly switch him back out!

    1. Thank you for sharing Alchemy Eventing 🙂 The 24/7 in,is really one method of keeping horses that I can’t find a reason which I could logically approve of no matter how much I try. When I hear the horse’s value as a reason that doesn’t work for me either. There are many ways of providing out-time for such horses.

      Yes, many challenges to keeping a riding horse out 24/7, it’s interesting how your horse changed his preferences.
      I totally agree to listening to your horse and making adjustments as we go.

      1. I think it’s interesting too! He’s big on feeling secure, so I think sometimes he just likes his ‘alone’ time where he doesn’t have to worry about the herd. That’s just my theory, though. Could be wrong.

        And I know people quote the value of their horse as a reason, but when the horse dies of colic or is so sour you can’t handle them, then there goes the value! Not to mention, its just cruel. You’re only worrying about your investment and not the horse’s total well being 😦

      2. I had a horse with neurological problems and when he was feeling worse he would come to the gate the moment he spotted me coming to get him from the field. On his better days, I could tell he was content and was a little reluctant to leave the field. I do think some horses “like” the comfort of their stall/box. Perhaps it’s because they know there is food and shelter there that they don’t have to fight for with anyone?

        Good point re colic!

  4. I have ponies and even with an acre of pasture, 24/7 turnout would result in laminitis. The grass is just too rich for them. They have a large dry lot and limited turn out with muzzles depending on how rich the grass is. They only stay in stalls at a show. I prefer to give them as much space to move around in as possible but unfortunately they gain weight too easily and need the pasture restricted.

    1. Hello there! As per my current knowledge, I think that a combination of dry, non-grass turnout with restricted grazing time is the way forward. Great to have such option like you have.

  5. I am in a true dilemma! I have a 6 year old Welsh Section D, I have been informed by my vet that he is overweight so I have stopped feeding (Spring now anyway) and he has just one haynet. Now Spring is here some of the other horses are being turned out 24/7 – I would also like to do this however am concerned he will get even fatter! I have had two opinions, 1. He would be much better being turned out 24/7, he will eat what he wants and as he is walking around more it won’t matter as much as he is getting exercise. 2. Bring him in at night and weigh his hay – that way you know exactly what he is having and is being restricted which will bring his weight down.

    I am really torn between the two opinions as I can see both sides. I decided to go with opinion 1 and so since Saturday (it is now Wednesday) he has been turned out 24/7, however tonight I did think he gained quite a bit of weight (he certainly isn’t losing any!) so I am now thinking would he be better being brought in at night?

    I know I need to make a decision either way but which way do you think? I am really concerned about his weight and keen to keep it down, of course he is being exercised too to help manage the weight but it is the turnout or turnout dilemma I am concerned with!

    1. Hi Cheryl, I must say I am yet to see a Welsh cob/pony being “reasonable” about their grass intake 😀 😉 so I would go with Option 2 until his weight is down to a healthy level or find a way for him to be out but on restricted grazing? Sand paddock? Muzzle for some hours? Good luck! Wiola

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