Daily turnout for horses compulsory by law: country leads the way on welfare

  • Horses should be given the opportunity to choose, is the message from a British rider working in Sweden, where the law states that daily turnout is a must.

    Melanie Swales lived in England and Scotland but is now in Sweden, where she works at a riding school, owns a horse and is studying equine welfare and management at university.

    She contacted H&H having read an article looking at the pros and cons of different turnout and stabling regimes.

    “Here in Sweden we have welfare regulations covering the management of equine care and needs,” she said. “One of these states that horses need to be turned out, outside, at least once every 24-hour period.”

    Although the rules do not state how long horses must be out, or give dimensions for the turnout area, they do say the horses must be allowed to move freely in their gait of choice.

    “So it has to be a big enough space for the horse to canter around in, and for a long enough time for it to choose,” Melanie said. “The regulations on horses’ needs are clear – they need to move around, should not be confined to a box for the whole day, and perhaps most important is that it is not simply about horses needing to be move, otherwise it would be enough to require them to be ridden or exercised by a human. The choice is the element that needs to be appreciated and should be considered in welfare, horse management and best practice.”

    Melanie said there are times horses will not move far from the field gate, and if they are not content in bad weather, they may come in earlier.

    “But at least they’ve got that choice,” she said.

    There is an exception for premises built before a certain date that do not have suitable turnout; horses kept in such places can be turned out in an indoor space such as an arena. There are also exceptions relating to horses on box rest or if weather conditions mean it is unsafe to turn out outside. But Melanie said this is rare.

    “At the riding school where I work, we turn our horses out in almost all weather conditions,” she said. “If needed they are rugged, or have studs, fly spray and fly masks. If the weather does not allow for reasons of safety or sense, we turn them out in the arena in groups, but this is an exception generated every now and again by winter storms and ice.

    “We sometimes have muddy, usually wildly satisfied with themselves, horses; occasional cuts and scrapes; we manage them, swapping groups if necessary, to ensure everyone is as content as possible. They play and they nibble on each other, they stand still, they sleep, and they get to do it every day even if repeat offenders need showering every day when they come in.”

    The turnout regulations are only to ensure horses have that choice to move; other rules cover the need to forage for themselves, and social contact with other horses.

    “The rules say we have to allow them opportunities for their natural behaviour,” she said. “They don’t have to be turned out on grass all the time; some people have areas with a special grit surface, but the needs to ‘search for food’, which is the direct translation, and for social contact, are covered.”

    Melanie said she is not aware of anyone being sanctioned for breaking the rules but that yards offering livery tend to sell themselves on the amount of turnout they offer, adding: “People get really outraged if someone only offers six hours’ turnout a day in winter”. The yard at which she keeps her horse has also built stables that allow horses physical contact with each other even when they are in.

    “You can even make an inside environment better for them, instead of thinking they have to be contained in their own little boxes,” she said.

    “It feels like there’s movement now, that people are thinking and questioning more, and it’s being discussed. We do have some horses that have to go out on their own as they play too wildly and injure themselves and others, so it’s not all black and white – but some things you need to fight for.

    “The important thing is the idea that it is important to provide the opportunity, after that it’s up to the horse what he chooses to do.”

    You might also be interested in:

    Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, is packed with all the latest news and reports, as well as interviews, specials, nostalgia, vet and training advice. Find how you can enjoy the magazine delivered to your door every week, plus options to upgrade your subscription to access our online service that brings you breaking news and reports as well as other benefits.

    You may like...