Think Outside the BOX when Designing your Pasture

When designing pastures most people tend to think inside “the box”. It is easier for humans to picture things in neat squares and rectangles but the layout of pastures can have a very real effect how the difficulty of maintaining your  fields and can also help to prevent overgrazing and erosion.

One thing to always consider when laying out your fields is the lay of the land. More than once I have seen people buy hilly property, build their dream house high on the hill and install a long impervious (asphalt) driveway that serves as the perfect conduit for large amounts of rain water runoff that flows directly into the pastures they have established on either side of the drive.

As we addressed in a previous blog, pasture access should be set up to allow for ease of work- but the terrain of your property is also important. If you have an area that has a steeper slope than the other parts of your property make sure that you allow that field to rest and recover longer than your other fields to always maintain some plant growth. Preferably with grass plants that have good deep and wide root systems.

Allow for stream buffers of at least 15-20 feet at the top of banks of any streams to help filter any erosive soil that might runoff into it. Avoid building run in sheds on slopes directly adjacent to streams because the temptation is to leave horses in those areas and it is difficult to maintain a sacrifice area directly uphill from a stream without having some erosion occur.

Perhaps the hardest thing for most people who build new facilities is to take the time to learn where the water flows and pools, what direction the winds come from and all the natural features of their new property before building anything onsite. What looks great on a drawing, even with topographic contours taken into account, can create problems in the real world. More than once I have seen people spend thousands of dollars to fence pastures that prove to be unusable in winter because they have a natural drainage swale* running through the middle of them. Or more unfathomable still they will put a gate into a field in the middle of a swale where the constant traffic going in and out of the field creates a perfectly compacted channel for the natural flow of water than already heads through there.

So … get out and walk your fields, take note of the brighter green areas that seem to always have fresher looking longer grass, try to see where the water flows when it rains (which is why buying property in the winter is always a good idea – see it at the worst not on a lovely spring day). When building fence try and follow the contour of the land and if there is a drainage swale think about leaving that swale outside your pastures. You may be able to justify any extra expense for the fence because of the future problems you will avoid.

Swale definition: a low place in a tract of land, usually moister and often having ranker vegetation than the adjacent higher land (

This website doesn’t apply to horses directly but it does offer some good advice on how to avoid fencing mistakes.

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Shelly Ingram

I am a third generation horsewoman; My father operated a 50 horse boarding and training facility in northern California, where he specialized in re-training spoiled horses. I was his demonstration rider and general assistant in all aspects of running the ranch. I went on to work for several major show and race horse trainers, eventually opening my own barn where I focused on Junior and Amateur riders. I have trained numerous champion horses and riders on all levels and in variety of disciplines. I have also worked as a journalist and have more than a decade of experience in land use planning.

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