New research from the University of Connecticut suggests that horses on pasture are generally undeterred by wintery conditions, walking roughly the same distance every day regardless of the weather.
For the study, the researchers chose four mares and five geldings who were used for the university riding program during the day and turned out in a .85-acre pasture with a small adjacent paddock area each night. Once a week for a year, researchers fitted each horse with a GPS unit to collect movement data over a 10-hour period.
They found that the average distance each horse traveled during the night was consistent---3.5 kilometers (a little more than two miles)---but the paths they took varied greatly. In the spring and summer months, the horses traveled throughout the larger paddock each night. During the winter, they traveled the same distance but stayed in a smaller area, close to the fence line and hay.
The researchers conclude that, “this information shows that turnout is still important for horses in all seasons, even in poor weather, if they are to maintain natural travel patterns.”
Reference: “Effect of season on travel patterns and hoof growth of domestic horses,” Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, July 2014
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #445, October 2014.