Calls to rethink turnout measures for horses to benefit their welfare *H&H Plus

  • More individuals and organisations are adding their voices to calls for horses to be turned out daily with companions to comply with the 3Fs – freedom, forage and friends. H&H finds out more...

    An Olympic gold medallist and a leading welfare charity have backed calls for owners to challenge how they keep their horses, especially in relation to turnout.

    H&H reported last week on the top welfare concerns as ranked by experts (news, 30 July), including whether horses are managed to suit owners, or themselves.

    May Robinson, a rider, instructor and former yard manager, has contacted UK equestrian associations to raise concerns over the number of horses still stabled 24 hours a day.

    “This is quite an apt time to talk about it,” she told H&H. “When the country was on lockdown, people were complaining about having to stay in – how do horses feel when they’re in a 12ft by 12ft box all the time?

    “There’s so much talk now, rightly, about mental health; I want to raise awareness of horses’ mental wellbeing, but sometimes I feel no one wants to listen.”

    Ms Robinson acknowledged that for some people, grazing is not available all winter, but urged owners and yard managers to consider sand pens or other turnout areas as an alternative.

    “Every horse, regardless of value or its job, should have three to four hours out a day, as a minimum,” she said. “They need to be able to roll and move about, and horse walkers are no substitute. People might say they haven’t got turnout but why keep your horse somewhere without the right facilities? There’s never an argument for keeping a horse in 24/7.”

    Ms Robinson said she hoped the message would have more clout coming from leading figures in the equestrian world.

    Dressage superstar Carl Hester has long been an advocate of turnout.

    “I have always ensured that my horses are turned out every day,” he told H&H. “It is so important for their mental wellbeing, and helps keep many challenges with health and training at bay and makes for a better, well-rounded athlete.

    “Horses need to be horses, regardless of what their job is, and it will always be an essential part of our management because we owe it to them.”

    World Horse Welfare chief executive Roly Owers said challenging the status quo of how horses are kept “goes right to the heart” of equestrianism’s social licence to operate (news, 5 September 2019).

    “The stabling – or rather over-stabling – of our horses is a highly relevant aspect,” he told H&H. “Just because we have looked after our horses in a certain way, even if it’s for decades, does not make this right, not least because our understanding of the needs of horses is constantly evolving.

    “A key consideration for overall welfare is horses’ mental wellbeing, which is as important as physical welfare. In considering this we should keep the concept of the 3Fs – freedom, forage and friends – very close. Changes are being made in the sport world, with plenty of examples of racehorses and grand prix dressage horses being allowed time in fields with equine company. But there are still far too many sport horses that only come out of their stables for exercise. This can equally be levelled at the leisure world, where limited turnout or individual paddocks are often the norm. Of course horses are individuals and we need to better understand their mental wellbeing in any regime, as one size certainly does not fit all, but we have to allow our horses to be horses.

    “There is plenty of room for improvement and everyone, in competition or leisure riding, should challenge themselves on whether they are truly giving their horses what they need to have good quality of life. It is after all about enabling our horses to thrive and not simply survive.”

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