Winter Turnout Dilemmas
Ok, so first a little background on my horses, I have a 22 year old AQHA gelding and a 16 year old APHA mare, both are in decent shape and are generally healthy (gelding could stand to lose a couple pounds, but not bad and has been battling thrush and a contracted heel for the last year or so), and grow full, thick, and fuzzy winter coats - no blankets. I usually go to the barn three nights a week and turn them both out overnight on those nights, my dilemma is whether or not that turnout schedule should be altered during the winter.
The BO told me that my gelding has been coming in stiff in the morning on the colder nights (20's and 30's degrees F), that the water freezes (don't think it's actually been doing that yet as it hasn't been cold enough for long enough periods), and there's nothing for them to eat in the pasture right now. They are fed grain and hay twice a day and it's a wooded pasture so they have cover from any wind and I don't leave them out if its wet/rainy. So I'm trying to decide if it's actually bad to continue with this, they always are excited and want to go out and I want them to be out as much as possible as long as it's not too muddy especially with his thrush issue, or to stop.
In the past, I've always let the BO completely run their turnout schedules, but I quit relying on that system and started taking matters into my own hands on the nights I'm there because I feel they weren't getting out enough. So I feel kinda stuck between a rock and a hard place. If I let her just turn them out days again I know they won't get as much time or solid time out as they are this way (and probably not on a totally regular basis), but I don't want to cause them any harm/extreme discomfort either. Would be so much simpler if I could rely on the BO with turnout, but she's always been pretty bad at getting horses out enough. Especially in the winter since everyone at my barn seems to think if it's under 50 degrees all the horses need to be bundled up with winter blankets in their stalls and the barn closed up tight.
My thoughts on the cold has always been that horses are much tougher than what most people give them credit for, and everything I've read says being turned out to move and walk around is better for stiff, possibly arthritic horses in the cold than being cooped up in a stall. Also, I've always thought that them not having a pasture full of grass doesn't automatically mean not leaving them out either, doesn't that basically equate to a dry lot turnout? The only issue I completely understand would be the water freezing, which I'm trying to find some ways to solve that. I mean this is southern Ohio, not Canada, we don't typically have too extreme of a winter.
So any opinions on what you guys would do, guidelines you usually follow? Advice is much appreciated!