How many acres of land do I need for my horses?
While most people would like to believe that there is a simple answer to this question, the fact is it can be a complicated question to answer. I grew up in northern California where a close friend kept three horses on her 1 /2 acre of land. It worked for her because she fed her horses year round and lived down the street from a trail system that covered virtually our entire county and my father’s training stable where she had ready access to an indoor arena.
Not everyone is this lucky and it is not a combination that lends itself to healthy soil – because her paddocks were essentially just sacrifice areas. But it did work for the health of her horses because they could roam over a fair-sized area and also they got plenty of other exercise. This type of arrangement is common in the west where water is at a premium and horse can live healthily and happily in these situations.
But most horse people still have a vision of horses turned out on a green pasture where they can graze at their own pace. Because this is what horses are made to do, it is of course desirable for their physical and mental health to let them do it. What many people forget is that the grass they are grazing upon provides extra calories and this should be taken into consideration and their feeding rations adjusted accordingly. Many horses today receive only an hour or so of exercise 5 or 6 days a week and are turned out on grass pastures for 8-10 hours a day or night.
If you want to maintain that grass you need to take the plant’s cycle of growth into consideration as well. Grass should not be eaten down to low or overgrazed and pastures to “rest” or provide some type of rotation on your property. To do this you need to utilize your acreage wisely.
A general rule of thumb when it comes to stocking rate (the number of animals you can successfully keep on pastures) for horses is that you need 1 acre per horse or a more accurate assessment is 2 acres for the first horse and ½ – 1 acre for each additional horse after that. If you have three acres and three horses who can all go out together you will have a good opportunity of dividing your fields so that you can have the horses on each field for 7 days of 24 hour turnout or 14 days of 12 hour turn out. But when it comes to pasture – more is more – having too much pasture is ‘a good problem to have’.
If you need to keep your horses separate then you will need to get more creative… more about that next week.