Turnoutgate

Another week, another big dramafest on horsey social media. We’re on a roll lately.

MRW the phone rings at work - GIF on Imgur

This time it was Dani Waldman née Goldstein (either revered or loathed for her trademark feathery hairstyle, which caused a lot of drama in and of itself for various reasons that I’m so tired of hearing about) when she casually mentioned in a comment that her horses never get turned out. The backlash was quick and furious, leading her to make a longer “statement”:

Hi guys! Wow…I certainly and inadvertently sparked a controversial topic today…first off, I love my horses, often more than I love myself! Secondly, no one is going to win this battle as we simply cannot ask the horses their opinion. Thirdly, cyber-hate only encourages us to stop listening to each other—and that doesn’t do anyone any good…(and telling me to be ashamed of myself is downright heartbreaking). Lastly, this is clearly a very debated topic…whether the risk of physical injury outweighs the risk of mental health for our wonderful animals. My decision to limit their uncontrolled movement is a strategic choice, made in consultation with my entire team of vets, farriers, chiropractors, nutritionists, and my own 20+ years of personal experience in the field. I will say, unequivocally, that an injured horse’s mental health suffers far more than one that isn’t turned out, and since our sport is inherently dangerous, limiting any unnecessary movement that could result in injury is paramount in my program. I will soon post a day in the life of my horses at home so you can see an in depth look at the great detail and attention that goes into caring for my horses, including the 3-5 times per day that they are outside of their box hand grazing or moving around for hours at a time!

I have to be honest, I think what surprised me most about this whole thing was that anyone was actually surprised by this at all. Regardless of how you feel about it, it really isn’t that uncommon for a lot of top dressage, hunter, and showjumping horses to get no turnout (or maybe an hour a day in a very small paddock). Especially in Europe. Maybe a lot of people didn’t know that?

Now, is that my ideal? No. I like for my horses to have lots of turnout. Granted, I have that luxury. We have big pastures and plenty of space. Other people aren’t so lucky. I know a lot of horses on the west coast that don’t get much if any turnout, and certainly not in a very large space. The same is true in many places in Europe or other areas where land is at a premium. I totally understand that not everyone keeps horses the same way I do, or has access to the same things, or thinks the same way, or has the same experiences. There are lots of different methods, lots of different types of horses, and people seem to make it work.

Presto’s QH friends think he’s batshit and they are 100% correct

I think in everyone’s ideal world horses would live outside 24/7 in a herd that they love and all would be sunshine and rainbows and happiness. This works for a lot of horses in a lot of places, but it doesn’t work for all of them or every climate or every place. I think we can all agree with that much at least. There is no such thing as “never” or “always” with horses. Generally as long as someone’s horse is happy and healthy, I really don’t have the desire to make it my business how their horse is cared for on a daily basis. There are many roads to Rome and not everyone’s looks the same as mine.

I did have a little bit of an issue with her reasoning though, I will say that. I think it’s hypocritical to ask horses to perform at the upper levels of sport, which certainly contains significant risk of injury, but then not turn them out because they might get injured. It seems a bit… selfish? You’re willing to risk the injury to use them for sport but not willing to risk the injury by allowing them to have any turnout? Especially to then say that stall rest from an injury is harder on them mentally – I mean, if that’s your theory then don’t jump them over huge fences and risk injury either. That reasoning falls very flat for me. It’s definitely great that they get time on the walker/treadmill, handgrazing, hacking, etc, that certainly helps so they do get to move around and aren’t just stuck in their stalls all the time. It’s not ideal maybe but a lot of horses live their lives that way, and her horses seem generally well-loved and well cared for otherwise. Granted it’s also a little sad to see her property tour with perfectly nice little paddocks that literally never have horses go out in them, just because she wants their every step to be controlled. She’s certainly not alone in her horsekeeping practices though, that’s for certain.

What are your thoughts? Were you surprised to hear that her horses never get turned out? How did you feel about her reasoning behind it?

25 thoughts on “Turnoutgate

  1. I grew up in stock breed land where it is very common for horses to never get turnout. They don’t want any scars from playing with other horses are scraping on a fence post or something. They want perfect coats, manes and tails. I think injury was a minor reason for those horses not getting turnout. So not surprising at all.
    For me, I think it’s pretty cruel to never allow your horse turnout. They are herd animals. I don’t care if you hand graze them all day long, it isn’t the same. It goes along with the year-round show season that now exists. Those horses don’t get a break unless they break. That’s sad.
    I agree it’s selfish to ask your horse to do a job that could cause career/life ending injuries, but you won’t let them gallop around in a paddock bc they also might get injured there.
    At the end of the day I’m sure her horses aren’t suffering, but I would never send my horses to a trainer that didn’t do any turnout and I’d never ride with someone who thought their horses’ soundness was more important than their natural inclinations and mental health.

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  2. I’ve seen lots of no turnout in my 30+ years of boarding but I’m not a fan. I think it’s good for them to get out there and do what they want and be a horse. Mine is currently out 24/7 and gets super cranky if he has to stay in for even an entire day.

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  3. I agree that this isn’t shocking, especially in upper levels of the sport. It’s why the exceptions get so much attention (Carl, Charlotte, etc.). It’s also why I tend to gravitate towards the horsekeeping ideals of the eventers, as their horses seem to have a more natural day to day routine. There is no one-size-fits-all, and for every Winsome Adante that lived out 24/7, there is one who wouldn’t thrive on that (though I do think part of horses who “dislike” turnout is that they’ve not been allowed to acclimate and/or it’s a deviation from their routine). Where she lost me was essentially saying it’s ok to risk injury serving the rider’s purpose but not in the pasture, serving the horse’s.

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  4. I used to live next door to a barn that’s primarily dressage, and down the street from a Saddlebred show barn.

    The dressage horses were “turned out” into tiny, I mean maybe 15’ x 20’, plain dirt pens. That was it for them other than being ridden. Once in a blue moon I would see one being hand-grazed on one of the meager patches of available grass.

    The irony of that situation is I’m in the Midwest and any horse-keeper who wants them has many acres of grass pastures. The dressage barn is landlocked into the middle of a bunch of houses, with a suburban neighborhood having grown up around it. They do have about 1 acre total of grass pasture (it’s a 30-horse barn), they just hardly EVER use it. A friend who boarded there briefly said you had to STAND and WATCH your horse every minute he was out if you wanted him to use it. I am not joking. So obviously that place heartily subscribes to Ms. Waldman’s theories of turnout.

    The Saddlebred barn, well, in driving by for the 19 years I’ve lived here and it existed (he sold out to a developer three years ago) I wouldn’t have even known horses lived there at ALL. One time in all those years – ONCE – I saw a horse outside in the pasture. They had one, it was a couple acres at least, but it was just empty grass. The horses simply never, ever went outdoors. Turned out into the indoor while stall being cleaned? Maybe. I have no idea. When they have those padded shoes on I think it’s simply not allowed.

    I hate all of that. I hate that many Western trainers don’t do any turnout, either. I didn’t realize a lot of show jumpers and presumably other show horses get no turnout, and that makes me sad, too. We ask these animals to do so much for us – it seems that the LEAST we can do is give them the time and space to just BE HORSES, stretch their legs and do what they want for a while!

    My lease boy loves his turnout time. He gets grouchy as hell on rainy or muddy days when he can’t go out in the pasture (bad feet and expensive shoes that can get sucked off). He also would not want to be on pasture board – he wants out, for sure, but after a couple hours he’s standing by the gate ready to come back in. I wouldn’t like to think about his mental state, however, if this gallant and giving and sweet soul never got to roll in soft grass again, chill with his buddy while swishing each other’s flies or eat his share of clover. It’s making me cry now, in fact.

    PS. I hate the feathers, too. Yuck. :/

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  5. I spot on agree with you. My horse spent the first 7 years of her life on 80+ acres. PERFECT. Unfortunately, I live in the city and only have access to small dirt turnout pens. Pasture is hard to come by around here because land is expensive and we’re either in winter or a drought for 9 months of the year. But you can bet I use those dirt paddocks whenever I can! She lives out in a small pen normally, so she’s basically only in a stall at a show, if even then.

    But I’m not surprised. So many “show people” think that keeping their horses locked up is “pampering” them, and maybe for some it is. But I can tell you, my horse would mentally go downhill SO fast if she had an “inside only” lifestyle. More so than a lot of horses I’ve met, she’s a very “outdoors” horse.

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  6. I think it’s awful that animals in zoos have more legal safeguards in place regarding how large their enclosure must be, enrichment etc than we have for horses/livestock. I think we need to rethink laws to enforce welfare. This doesn’t necessarily mean forced turnout but the idea that people can keep their horses in whatever miserable conditions they like bc they are classed as livestock is disgusting.

    Ps I moved from the east coast to the west coast about 10 years ago and I never saw so many colics and behavioral issues with horses there as I have here. I equate A LOT of it with the lack of turnout, curbing of natural behaviors. I waited forever to own a horse on the west coast bc I couldn’t imagine owning a horse that got an hour or two of turnout in a tiny paddock. Luckily I found a lovely place where my horse is out 24 hours a day weather permitting, and we are both happy

    I just don’t think people should be legally allowed to make decisions on an animals living conditions based on their own selfish reasons and not what is in the best interest of the animal.

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  7. I worked at two arabian barns in TX when we lived there. Both of them did limited turnout on their show horses but they got SOME turnout. Even if just an hour they got turned out in a bigger than normal paddock. NOT with other horses unless they were school horses but they got out. Some of those horses were very expensive and they were practically bubble wrapped for turn out but they did go out. Was it perfect nope but better than not going out ever. At my current barn we dont have many huge pastures but there is a rotation so each horse gets out (if able) for at least most of the day or night. Some of these are also very expensive horses but they go out (on thier own if they must but horses are next to them). The only time they might not go out is if it is bad weather or really muddy (cause shoes). But for a fancy barn they try to do right by the horses. Even if they are up due to weather they try to get them out to hand walk or do something. I just cant imagine the boredom of being in a stall day in and out. Remus enjoys his turnout but also loves his stall. I dont know. I wonder how many vices pop up on horses pretty much kept in 24/7?? Interesting this whole discussion. Guess this is why I dont make the big bucks! 🙂

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  8. I am an enthusiastic proponent of what I call “the feral cow lifestyle”, i.e. full 24/7 turnout whenever possible. My horse has heaves, which I’m fairly certain was caused by his two years living in a super dusty and poorly ventilated barn. Once we moved out of that barn, he’s been on full turnout and I think that’s what kept the heaves at bay for years and has slowed the progression over the past several years.

    It’s definitely one thing to not do turnout for medical or space reasons, it’s another because you feel it’s “unnecessary movement”, which doesn’t even make sense. People have also found videos of her explaining why she has padded stalls because a horse injured herself kicking at the walls. It reeks of only caring about the horses as profit/glory machines, and not as living beings with mental and physical health needs.

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  9. Growing up in SoCal, turnout was not a thing. Unless you were mega rich and had the money to pay for land and water. Since moving to Oregon, I love that my horses can get turned out on grass with buddies. The barn I used to be at didn’t have much in the way of winter turnout (pastures would flood) but I tried to get my ponies out whenever I could, and would do arena turnout and would still ride outside. A couple of the other boarders wouldn’t turn out or ride outside in the winter and I swear some of their horses never saw daylight for months on end. To me that’s completely unacceptable. At the very least take them outside the barn/indoor arena and let them see the sun!

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  10. In TN where I live, it seems like most (at least what I’ve experienced with all the h/j and dressage barn) do the half and half (during the summer, inside with a fan and out at night and flipped in the winter—outside during the day and in at night). Which, IMO, seems to suit the horses well. I had to pasture board my last horse for about 6 months while I waited for the barn to have an available stall and he hated it—felt tired and grouchy all the time. He had a run in and other horses with him, but I think b/w the heat (no fan) and never feeling fully comfortable to really sleep, he was unhappy. However, on the contrary, especially with my current horse, turnout is necessary to keep him from getting tight and stocked up. If he’s in for even a day due to weather, he comes out so tight it takes half the ride to get him feeling like himself. On mornings like this morning where he came in after being out all night, he felt loose and ready to go as soon as I got on.

    I realize I’m lucky that most barns in my area have enough land where the horses have ample turnout, but I agree with the others that you can’t expect these horses to risk themselves for sport but now allow them turnout because of risk of injury. As long as the paddocks are safe (suitable fencing, etc), I would think horses could just as easily hurt themselves in a stall, colic, etc. There’s just no way to fully bubble wrap them and reduce all risk of injury.

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  11. I think you can “ask the horses” what they prefer. Ever see a mustang staying in a cave by choice? How many horses say NO to trailer loading? Horses with shelters who stand out in the rain and wind? Even if you discount animal communicators (who can ask directly and will give you the answer), when horses have a choice, they do not choose small confined spaces for extended periods of time. Some horse owners have limited turnout options and do all they can to maximize it. Others have nice options and set limits for their own convenience. I respect the first group and try not to associate with the second.

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  12. It’s cruel to not do turnout and especially aggrieving when you have the space available and still won’t do it. “We can’t ask the horses their opinion” – oh really? How about a stall + paddock situation? Show me the horse who never goes out to play, roll, or doze in the sun and I’ll agree that particular horse doesn’t need turnout.

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  13. One decision I made, way back as a teenage riding student, is that I would not seriously compete in any discipline where even a minor fresh scrape or old scar mattered – to judges, and/or to everyone else. If I show in one of those disciplines for experience and to get another opinion, the judge may be looking at some missing hair in a spot or two. Because I decided that I want my horses to have long periods of daily turnout. I know others manage well on other schedules. but that’s how I want to do mine.

    But I don’t get into online discussions about it. There is rarely anything posted on social media that will change someone’s firm opinion (including mine 🙂 ).

    Just IMO, I don’t agree with trying to keep a horse’s hide unmarked. I don’t see the value in a an absence of scrapes, bumps, scars, etc. Just imo, even the most valuable horses need to have the same allowance granted to human children, that there are going to be some marks (fresh ones and old ones), and that’s part of being a horse. (Although I’m aware of a parent or two who doesn’t want their kids getting even minor bumps from playing.)

    My approach is that even my own most valuable horses can experience the risks of everyday life, just as we do while exercising, playing sport, cooking, etc. Good horsemanship in managing turnout is a preventative to most serious injuries. If things do go badly in spite of precautions, we will deal with it. Others may take a different point of view with their own horses. (Not that I have ever owned a valuable horse.)

    Where I used to live, there was a major annual event we all worked toward for the whole year. Lots of out-of-state competitors, national-caliber judges, etc. For a month beforehand I gave my horse firm instructions to behave himself in daily turnout, don’t bump into things and stay out of arguments with the other horses, in hopes of getting his gorgeous hide to the show without anything noticeable on it. It never failed, every year he went up the center line with some hair missing out of his long face marking. So I figured that at least the judge would know he was living a well-rounded horse life. lololol

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  14. Obviously moving to California was a huge adjustment in terms of turnout. I looked at a barn where the owner assured me that she “tries” to get “some” of the horses an hour of turnout once a week in the arena. I actually ended up buying a house with a further work commute to be able to board May at a barn with some kind of turnout. Is it multiple acres of lush pasture like in KY? No. Is it a large enough pen that May can move around in it and interact with her horsey neighbors? Yes. There’s a difference between doing the best you can in your situation, and making the decision to try and bubble wrap your horses.

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  15. This is such a widely debated topic. I prefer to see horses turned out 24/7 – whether that means a large paddock or on 100+ acres. The idea of keeping a horse stalled or on very limited turn out is sad to me, especially since motion is lotion when it comes to maintaining overall joint health and the ability to play/ interact with other horses is (mostly) beneficial. (I say mostly because not all horses enjoy other horses).

    I can understand that there are different options based on where you live and what you have available, but 12×12 (or even 16×16) permanent stalls are not a sustainable way to keep a horse. It’s not sustainable, or fair, to keep a horse in areas that limit their movement so greatly. I think part of that is that we, as humans, are always trying to maximize space. Instead of having an area that can maintain 10 horses on “larger” paddock lifestyles, we are cramming 30 in there who will now succumb to the standard 12×12 pens.

    And the reasoning that the horse is expensive (and therefore cannot get injured) is just ridiculous to me.

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  16. I grew up in Morgan/Saddlebred show horse land and they did not get turn out either – except a few who were able to have their shoes pulled over the winter. They would get some time out then. Honestly if her horses are cared for, healthy and do get out and move then I can’t really judge too harshly. But, horses still hurt them selves in stalls so ??

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  17. Yeah, I don’t think she alone deserves the criticism because so many others follow the same philosophy.

    But it’s a crap philosophy. If the risk of injury is the reason you don’t turnout, ride a motorcycle instead. It won’t care.

    I’m not saying that everyone needs 24/7 turnout in a big pasture, but even an hour or so in a paddock gives the horse time to “be a horse”.

    I certainly respect a person a little less if they have the turnout available but don’t want their horse to have uncontrolled movement.

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  18. Being in a very expensive area with not much land, it’s pretty common for horses here to have minimal turnout space. Add in the winter weather (rain, rain, more rain) and even if you had the land, you’d be lucky to use it year round without ruining it. I’ve got one of those tiny properties zoned for horses and I let it sit for vacant partly because I didn’t think it was fair to keep my 2 horses in a 60×120 gravel paddock most of the year. That being said, I’m revisiting it, because it’s actually perfect for the two round ponies I currently own. I’ve come to realize the turnout spaces I have are bigger (and drier) than what I find boarding locally in winter anyway. Part of the decision making has been influenced by owning equines that fit what I can provide – I wouldn’t dream of buying a super active 17hh TB who needs plenty of room to move and trying to make that work anywhere around here. A lazy anitsocial Welsh Cob who can’t have grazing? Sure, let’s do it 🙂
    I can’t quite wrap my head around no turnout at all, ever, but I know it’s common practice. I wouldn’t choose it for mine, but I’m open to hearing why it works for some. Agree with everyone though – the above rationale, or ‘because it’s convenient’ isn’t going to convince me it’s OK.

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  19. In the Bay Area, obviously turnout is a premium and I’d say a large percentage of the horses out here live in either box stalls with minimal (4-8 hours) turnout in smallish paddocks (24×24 to like 48×48 at most barns) or box stalls with paddocks (12×24 to 12×36 usually). That’s not to say there aren’t pasture board situations available but the ones in the actual Bay Area are unfortunate in one way or another, such as poor fencing, poor footing (hard ground with lots of squirrel holes ugh), poor care, or poor facilities attached. I have always chosen to board 45 minutes (no traffic, I never attempt the drive if there’s traffic because it’s easily 1.5 hours) away from my house for my horse to have a big paddock, and he’s currently at the ranch where he gets (real) pasture turnout, which again is super rare so I’m very lucky.

    On the other hand, when people COULD turnout but decide not to, I’ve been on both sides. Rico did do his check in turnout so between then and getting my Gold medal, he had limited turnout (still a big paddock though!) because I couldn’t afford to have him get hurt. It was only a year and a half and the moment I had my Gold, he was permanently on pasture turnout. But he was 18 and barely making it to the GP and had a previous pasture injury and I literally had no money (I was in grad school), so I felt my limitations were justified.

    TC however? He’s young, fairly hardy, and I now have the money to fully rehab him or retire him and buy myself another horse if necessary. So he gets turned out and lives in a giant paddock and I don’t cringe when he gallops around and acts like a horse. I’ve thought hard about full pasture life but mostly can’t find a barn that a) feeds their pasture horses enough to keep weight on him because he’s big, b) allows hind shoes, and c) has the facilities where I can do my sport. If I find a barn that has those things, he will move right in!

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    1. I can’t stand the “no hind shoes in turnout” rule! So now I have to choose between which is better for my horse, turnout or shoes? As a distance rider I can tell you how long my horse would last without hind shoes (it’s not long), I’ve tried the boot thing and it didn’t work for her, but to keep my horse sound and happy while being ridden I have to sacrifice turnout because someone else’s horse might get kicked? That seems unfair. The point of turnout is to let them be horses….and horses settle disputes with body language.

      The only situation I can understand is if the hind shoes have permanent studs, because yes, those will do lots of damage. But instead of banning that horse from turnout, maybe you could work a rotation so he gets out by himself…

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  20. I agree with you mostly. I try not to judge people if their horses seem to be healthy (physically and mentally) and happy. But I was surprised by the NEVER turned out statement. I’ve been in barns with limited turnout (before I knew better) and the horses went out only a few times a week for a short time. My horses were fine. Are they better getting more turnout? Yes. But they were fine. When we go on the road showing for a couple weeks at a time, there aren’t always paddocks at every show. So the horses don’t get turnout then. And they’re still okay.
    I prefer them to be out as much as they want to be (or is possible, whichever one’s afforded). I don’t think I’d want to be in a situation where they couldn’t get at least a few hours a day outside. But again, if the horses are happy and healthy, then it’s really not my business.

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  21. I’ve always lived in CA, in areas that really don’t have turnout option, let alone 24/7 pasture options. If there is a “turnout”, it’s usually dirt and tiny, a paddock really. I’ve had a few different types of horses, and the ones that were used to little turnout did fine. The ones that had 12 hrs out in a big field did fine too, but you could tell that they would want to stay out longer, if they could….although when it’s not grass season (Feb-mid May?) turnout loses its fun. More and more, I’m looking for barns that offer longer turnout on grass with buddies…super hard to find in CA.

    Because of how I’ve grown up, I probably have more sympathy for situations with limited turnout. I do find Dani’s justification to be flawed, but I appreciate that she at least has a program that helps the horses move around, even if it’s not turnout. Many don’t even do that.

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  22. Lack of turnout drives me insane. Here in the desert, it seems like what they call “turnout” is at most a few hours in a relatively small space and I’ve been fighting it since I brought a horse here. Found a place with grassy orchard turnout, then found out my girls can’t have grass. So they’re in a smallish dry lot, which is the best compromise I can find. I have no respect for Waldman’s philosophy, but that just means I’m not going to do it for myself. My horses are horses first. What they can give to me is secondary to what I need to give them, which includes some measure of freedom and recreation.

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