top of page

Turnout: The Secret Weapon for Equine Health?

Brace yourself, because I'm about to drop a bomb that might shake up your world. Turnout — yes, the seemingly simple act of letting your horse roam freely in a pasture— has been proven to be more effective for overall health than many structured training programs. I'm talking about musculoskeletal health, psychological well-being, digestive stability, hoof strength, and more. If that raises your blood pressure, good. It means you’re interested. Now, get with the research and find out why I'm so passionate about this topic.

Here's what you need to know about the game-changing benefits of turnout for your horse.

Improves Musculoskeletal Health

Turnout encourages horses to move freely, enhancing muscle tone and joint flexibility. This reduces the risk of injuries associated with repetitive movements during structured training (McGreevy & McLean, 2010). It can also help prevent musculoskeletal disorders such as arthritis and soft tissue injury (Nielsen, 2023).

Increases Psychological Health

Social interaction and natural behaviors like rolling and grazing are crucial for psychological health. Research shows that horses with regular turnout exhibit lower stress-related behaviors compared to those confined to stalls (Hartmann et al., 2012). This reduced stress contributes to a calmer mind and body during training sessions.

Promotoes Hoof Health

Ditching the shoes and opting for regular turnout on varied terrain strengthens hoof structure and promotes better circulation and growth (Bowker, 2012). This reduces the risk of common hoof issues like thrush and hoof cracks (Albonzo, et. al., 2024) and promotes prevention of common orthopaedic issues such as navicular, ringbone, sidebone, and more.

Improves Digestion

Turnout promotes natural grazing, leading to a more balanced digestive process. Ermers et. al. (2023) found that horses with regular turnout had a more stable gut microbiome, which reduced the risk of digestive issues like colic and gastric ulcers, common among stall-kept horses.

Improves General Fitness

Interestingly, horses on pasture turnout without structured exercise can achieve similar if not better fitness levels to those in exercise programs. Improvements in bone strength cardiovascular capacity have been noted (Graham-Thiers et. al., 2009). This is primarily due to the constant low-impact exercise that occurs during natural movement in the pasture.

Reduces Occurence Gastric Ulcers

Gastric ulcers are a significant concern with alarming statisticts of 70-90% of domestic horses afflicted (Vokes et. al., 2023). There is no more time to waste keeping horses stalled. These numbers are becoming epidemic. A study by Andrews et al. (2017) found that increased turnout is associated with improved buffering of gastric acid, reducing the likelihood of ulcer formation.

Improves Cartilage Synthesis (especially post surgically)

Research shows that exercise for post-operative horses improved cartilaginous repair compared to non-exercised horses (Toddhunter et. al., 1993). For more on the detriments of stall rest post-injury see my other blog here.

Bone Development

Turnout can positively impact bone development in growing horses. Graham-Thiers et. al., (2009) found that turning out growing horses full-time reduces the incidence of developmental orthopaedic diseases, emphasizing the importance of consistent, low-impact exercise for bone health.


Turnout isn't just a perk; it's a must-have for equine health and development. From stronger muscles and bones to fewer injuries, letting horses roam freely is a game-changer. Without regular turnout, we're not just missing out on benefits—it's a welfare issue.


Andrews, F. M., Nadeau, J. A., & Saxton, A. M. (2017). Relationship between gastric ulceration and the type of work performed in horses. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 58, 78-82.

Albanozzo, S., Borg, L., Camilleri, L., & Bowker, R.M. (2024). Hoof Capability of Barefoot-Kept Horses and Ponies Walking over Artificial Environments: An Anatomical and Radiological Study. Preprints.

Bowker, Robert & Isbell, Diane & Lancaster, Lisa & Leonhardt, Wayne. (2012). The Horse's foot as a Neurosensory Organ: How the Horse Perceives its Environment..

Ermers C, McGilchrist N, Fenner K, Wilson B, McGreevy P. The Fibre Requirements of Horses and the Consequences and Causes of Failure to Meet Them. Animals. 2023; 13(8):1414.

Elke Hartmann, Eva Søndergaard, Linda J. Keeling. (2012). Keeping horses in groups: A review. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, Volume 136, Issues 2–4, 2012, Pages 77-87, ISSN 0168-159.

Graham-Thiers, Patty & Bowen, L.. (2009). Improved Ability to Maintain Fitness in Horses During Large Pasture Turnout. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science - J EQUINE VET SCI. 29. 430-432. 10.1016/j.jevs.2009.04.127.

McGreevy, P., & McLean, A. (2010). Equitation Science. Wiley-Blackwell.

Nielsen, B.D. A Review of Three Decades of Research Dedicated to Making Equine Bones Stronger: Implications for Horses and Humans. Animals. 2023; 13(5):789.

Todhunter RJ, Minor RR, Wootton JA, Krook L, Burton-Wurster N, Lust G. Effects of exercise and polysulfated glycosaminoglycan on repair of articular cartilage defects in the equine carpus. J Orthop Res. 1993 Nov;11(6):782-95. doi: 10.1002/jor.1100110603. PMID: 8283322.

Vokes J, Lovett A, Sykes B. Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome: An Update on Current Knowledge. Animals (Basel). 2023 Apr 5;13(7):1261. doi: 10.3390/ani13071261. PMID: 37048517; PMCID: PMC10093336.


Thanks Elisse. Fabulous information for horse owners to think about.


Fantastic. Need to spread this information so stall huggers will stop locking their horses up. Mine have been free on acreage and shoeless for their whole lives

They are relaxed....Happy... Healthy.. I will never have them in stalls or small paddocks. They need to be HORSES not prisoners.

bottom of page