Horses are better able to maintain fitness when turned out on large pasture, according to Patty Graham-Thiers, PhD, of Virginia Intermont College, Bristol, Va. She presented results of her recent study at the 2009 Equine Science Society Meeting, held May 29-31 in Keystone, Colo

In the project, researchers divided mature horses into three groups:

  • Full-time turnout on a 100 acre, hilly pasture;
  • Stalled during the day with light exercise five times per week; and
  • Stalled during the day, not exercised.

Groups 2 and 3 spent nights in half acre paddocks. After 14 weeks, the horses in both the pastured and exercised groups had lower heart rates, faster recovery, lower blood lactate levels, lower rectal temperature, and lower peak CO2 blood concentrations after an exercise test, indicating a greater level of fitness.

Additionally, only the pastured horses showed an increase in bone density over the course of the study.