A new piece of research from Hartpury College indicates that 20 minutes on a horsewalker provides a horse with the same amount of exercise as an hour’s turnout.
Project supervisor Hieke Brown said the findings could help horse owners tackle the issues they face when winter turnout becomes limited.
The study used a Trackener device — described as an equine “Fitbit” —to measure the heart rate and distance travelled of horses on the walker and in the field. Their level of voluntary exercise when they returned to their stables was also monitored.
The horses used in the study were used to being stabled for at least six hours a day and were familiar with both the walker and turnout routine.
Results showed no significant difference in the distance travelled by the horses during an hour of turnout or 20 minutes on the walker, or in the amount of voluntary activity once the horses returned to their stables.
Horses did demonstrate significantly higher heart rates during turnout than on the walker, due to short durations of trot and canter.
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Dr Brown said the study had been limited to “a short time period looking at an aspect of management” and had not considered the psychological benefits of time in the field
“The takeaway message very much applies to those situations where in winter there may be limited daylight for exercise or where turnout has become temporarily restricted or stopped because of ground conditions,” she said.
“Horses spending a short amount of time on a horsewalker is a good way to release some energy and get some additional exercise. It comes with the caveat that it is not a replacement for turnout from a psychological and health perspective.”
Dr Brown also stressed that the time spent on the walker had been restricted to 20 minutes to avoid a detrimental impact on the limbs from going round in circles.
“We know the use of horsewalkers is wide and varied but we determined 20 minutes was a timeframe that wasn’t overuse and was one owners were comfortable with,” she added.
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