First let’s discuss “Turnout”, as there is a lot to consider. Quite simply it is where the horse is “turned out” into a field/paddock or on tracks for recreation/grazing/browsing and just being a horse.
“Turnout” will most likely be a large field where your horse runs in a herd. The herd will be either all mares/all geldings, although some yards offer mixed gender turnout.
Another possibility is “turnout” in individual paddocks. The big field is divided into smaller paddocks with temporary electric fencing and your horse lives there alone or perhaps with a buddy if you have more than one horse. You may also agree with another horse owner on the yard to share a paddock. Some yard owners will allocate 2 paddocks so that you can rotate them. Graze one, rest the other, then visa versa.
“Track systems” are becoming more and more popular world wide and we are now seeing more “Natural Livery Yards” in the Uk. “Tracks” mimic the way horses live and move naturally. (The humans that favour them are known as “trackies”!) Your horse will need to be “barefoot” to live on tracks. He/she will have a constant supply of “mixed meadow grass”, quality hay, situated at various stations around the tracks. A fresh water supply and free choice salt/mineral blocks too. There will be shelter by way of a “run in barn”, “field shelter” and/or a wooded area/trees. He/she will “live out” 24/7, year round. On tracks there will be different surfaces to wear the horse’s hooves, as nature intended. A sand rolling pit and/or pond would be a bonus. The credit for this forward thinking concept belongs to Jaime Jackson. His book “Paddock Paradise” makes engaging reading and explains it “straight from the horse’s mouth”.
Otherwise, “winter turnout” in traditional yards refers to the option of putting your horse in a field/paddock during the winter months. If you have previously kept your horse at home, it might come as a shock to you that very many livery yards impose 24/7 stabling throughout wet winter months. If you haven’t thought to ask the question, “Do you allow winter turnout”, you may be happily settled into the yard, before you find out there is none! You struggle through and make a promise to your horse that you will find a more “horse friendly” place, before the next season.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both fields and paddocks, then there is personal preference! It will be quite obvious to you as soon as you set foot at the yard, by the messy configuration of temporary electric fencing, if it is paddocks.
But don’t take anything for granted, ask the question!
It is more natural for the horse to run in a herd, to interact, groom each other etc. These are the positive sides to “field” life. However there is often too much grass in the spring or too little grass in the autumn, both of which can play havoc with their digestive system. Common illnesses may be triggered, that could otherwise have been prevented.
The paddock on the other hand, gives you the possibility of putting hay nets out for your horse. The roughage from a belly full of hay, rather than a belly full of grass (most likely fertilised) will reduce the risks of your horse suffering from such illnesses… laminitis, colic and ulcers etc.
“Track systems” offer the safest environment for your equine friend. The concept has taken into consideration all the horse needs to reach and maintain optimum health.
Your horse, your choice, or is it!?