I grew up riding at traditional hunter/jumper show facilities. Not fancy places, by any means, but farms that had had a lot of love, and strict schedules for the show ponies housed inside.
My horse(s) over the years were turned out a few hours a day. Some right after breakfast during the day. Usually in big grassy fields, and then brought back into the barn at night. Some were turned out at night with a few buddies and stayed inside under the fans during the day. Some in dirt fields. Some by themselves for maybe three hours.
Every horse is different, as is every boarding barn.
My horses were always well cared for. They were happy, which matters most. They were worked frequently and had a few hours a day to just “be a horse” with others in the herd during turn out.
I understand the mentality of this kind of schedule and why it works. There’s more control over injuries, diet, etc. when horses spend a good deal of their time in a box.
My Hanoverian mare, Belinda, spent the majority of her life in a stall before I purchased her. She’s black, so during show season, she was never turned out during the day for fear of bleaching out her coat. She was a broodmare for many years, so her turnout schedule was always very strict when she had a foal at her side. Her pregnancies lead to sweating and itching issues, which always seemed to get worse under the intense South Florida sun.
Even when she was turned out, it was always alone, for fear of injuries.
Fast forward to now. Belinda is boarded a facility where she’s turned out all night and all day with two buddies on five acres. They have plenty of shade under many massive, ancient oaks. They cool off in a pond near the front of the property. Belinda is kept in her stall twice a day for about an hour each time during her morning and evening feedings.
At first the transition to a “pasture board” like scenario was strange for her. She stayed close to the barn and only ventured to the farther ends of the pasture when she was following her pasture buddies. Now, I don’t think she can imagine it any other way.
My horse is happier when she is outside. She’s stalled enough — for vet visits, when we groom and tack up, etc. — not to lose her ground manners, but she’s always eager to be let go in the field.
Even under saddle, she is braver on trails and seems to enjoy working out of an arena more and more.
Her sweating and itching issues still persist, but are better now than they’ve been in years, thanks to some maintenance, but honestly because I think she’s happier and there’s less stress in her life. She has shoes, so there’s always the minor worry that she’ll throw one. She has yet to in a year of living in a pasture.
I am a firm believer that turn out is the best thing you can do for a horse. Especially with buddies. Horses are social animals, they deserve to have friends (if they want them!). I love to drive up the farm and find Belinda cantering about with the two geldings she lives with. Or standing ankle-deep in the pond next to them. Or grazing a few feet away, doing her own thing.
I remember thinking pasture board was such a strange concept. That it didn’t provide the horse with “enough” care. To see how happy Belinda is now has really changed my perspective. I’m never worried about her when I’m stuck at the office late (like right now). She’s happy with her friends. She’s being well cared for.