Keeping a horse is a lot more than grooming, feeding, and riding. One of the most important parts of equine care is the place in which you keep your horse, whether that be a stable, an open field, or a paddock of some sort.
You have to remember that this is where your horse will be spending most of their time, as it is essentially their home. So you have to make sure that it is safe, comfortable, and has everything needed for your horse to thrive and be happy.
It might not seem like it at first, but there are actually many things to keep in mind when making sure the horse paddock is appropriate. From the grass and ground to the amount of space, to the type of enclosure, to the water supply and food, to the shelter available…It’s a whole lot of maintenance!
But don’t worry, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about horse paddocks so that you’re familiar with the basics and able to think about your own horse paddock. That way you can ensure your horse has the best space possible!
Let’s get right into it!
What Is A Horse Paddock?
Before we get into all the information and advice about horse paddocks, it might be worth clarifying exactly what a horse paddock is, just in case any newbies to the equine world read this!
A horse paddock is an enclosed area in which horses are held, usually adjacent to horse stalls. There are different types of paddocks, with some being non-grazable holding pens or exercise lots, which are usually smaller in size and bare, and some being larger and full of grass, as a place for pasture.
They are, put simply, an enclosed area dedicated to horses, and in this article, we will be looking at paddocks designed for your horse to rest and spend the time, grazing and living life. So it’s like the outdoor bigger version of stalls.
How Big Should The Grazing Area Be?
The first thing you need to know about paddocks, especially those for grazing, is how much space is needed. It is quite a common question, with people always wondering how much space a horse actually needs, and should have. How much land is needed?
As a general rule, the answer is a minimum of one acre per horse.
However, it’s not as simple as that.
The exact amount of land needed can vary depending on many different factors. Things such as the size of the horse, the quality of the grazing, whether your horse is out all the time or stabled part of the time…they must all be taken into account when deciding how much land your paddock needs.
So instead of simply adhering to “1 acre per horse”, you need to study the specific needs of your horses and analyze the conditions of the location of your paddock. A one-acre paddock, generally, will be enough for a 64-inch to 68-inch horse. Especially if the horse has access to a stable as well, and the grass is food quality.
In this sort of scenario, the ideal system would be to divide the paddock into one side for winter, and one for summer. (Ideally, you would then also have an extra part of the paddock resting, and do rotations.)
During the winter you would stable the horse at night, and supplement the grass with some hay. Or, alternatively, you would create an all-weather turnout pen in front of the stables, and leave the grass area for the summer.
The above setup would work for one horse. Or alternatively, you could have two small ponies in there. But do you see how the size of the horse will affect the amount of land?
If you had a larger horse, then we would say that the one-acre setup mentioned above, would not be enough, especially if the horse is living out full time. Instead, we would recommend having between two to three acres.
Basically, we want to get across that land isn’t one size that fits all. The amount of land needed isn’t according to the number of horses, but to the type of horses and their size as well.
Not to mention that, if in doubt, it is better to have too much land, than too little. Trust us, horses would much rather have space to spare than feel cramped!
So just to recap, when you are figuring out how big your land/paddock needs to be, consider the following factors:
- The number of horses or ponies
- The breed and size of the horses
- The quality of the ground and grazing
- Whether the horses will be living out full time, or only part-time
- The management and logistics of the ground and paddock
Pasture Management – The Different Types
Learning how to manage the pasture of the paddock properly is one of the most important things, as it is all about learning how to utilize the grass and ground properly, in a balanced way, and about organizing the space so that it is convenient and practical to you and your horse’s needs.
There are many different ways in which you can design and manage the turnout, in order to get a good balance between what your horse needs, and what is convenient for you.
As a pro tip, we will say that it is always a good idea to create walkways or paths between the paddocks if you have several delimited areas so that you’re not having to walk through another horse’s paddock or field when getting to another.
But back to the pasture management. Here are some of the most common ways of managing the space in your paddock:
Herd grazing is considered to be one of the best pasture management options, as horses naturally live in herds out in the wild. However, this can cause some difficulties if the horses have different needs or schedules, and it makes it a bit of a nightmare when you have to go out and catch one horse because they will rarely want to leave the group behind!
There is also the risk of more injuries and behavior issues because all the horses are living together and bickering will, of course, happen amongst them.
This type of pasture management is especially good for young horses, and for horses that are retired and no longer have a set schedule to adhere to. Basically, it’s good for horses that are going to be left to their own devices.
Individual, Pair, Or Small Group Turnout
This is the most common type of pasture management used in countries such as the UK, and it can be very convenient. Basically, you have individual paddocks for each horse, or for pairs of horses, or small groups of horses at the largest. If horses are paired or in groups, it is because they have very similar grazing needs, and can be put together.
But the idea is that you can manage the individual grazing needs of each horse, paddock by paddock, to make life a little bit easier. Plus, it is also very convenient if the horses have different riding schedules or feeding times.
This is also a very popular option for those with aggressive horses that need to be “isolated” for their own safety, in order to avoid injuries or bad behavior with the other horses. Elite competition horses, for example, are usually kept in individual paddocks, so that there is no risk of another horse causing them injury during a disagreement or similar!
And if you’re worried about the horses feeling lonely, you can make sure that the paddocks are right next to each other, so that the horses can interact with each other over the fence.
Just as a warning though, horses that are placed into pair paddocks tend to develop a strong attachment for each other (which is normal considering they share their living space), and this can sometimes create separation anxiety if one is taken out without the other.
Natural Grazing Systems
Often considered to be the Paddock Paradise, natural grazing systems essentially take a wilder area of land, and they leave the horses to turn it into a comfortable and homely place.
This then encourages the horses to interact with the environment, they will create trails and paths depending on where they walk around the most, and they will choose their preferred spots.
You can encourage certain things with the placement of food and water, but it allows for more natural behavior, rather than having the horses simply stand in a boring and flat patch of land all day, where everything is perfectly organized.
The way this works is by simply choosing the area, and then placing fencing around it. It could be on a hill, with trees or even streams within the enclosed space, and you kind of let nature do its thing so that the horses are almost living in the wilderness, but within a space controlled by you.
Natural grazing systems can be as big or as small as you need, and you can get completely creative, introducing all sorts of elements and obstacles, and allowing for all sorts of natural environments to thrive.
Rotating Horse Paddocks
With rotating horse paddocks, the design essentially allows part of the land to rest and recover, while the other parts are being used by the horse or horses.
Usually, this is done by spitting the area into different parts, or by having several paddocks that you rotate between. This way, you will ensure that there is always a thriving piece of ground within your paddock setup, which you can move your horse to when the current area is looking bare.
The way this works is by regularly moving the horses from one area to the other. Once the grass is alarmingly low, you move the horse to a fresh area, and let the previous one recover, by letting it stay empty.
And it goes on and on, constantly having certain areas in use, and certain areas of the paddock empty and in recovery. Similar to how farming works!
If you don’t have a lot of available space, an alternative is to do this on a smaller scale, by having a winter paddock and a summer paddock. However, this means that each area has to last for an entire half a year, while the other recovers.
Starvation Paddocks And Strip Grazing
Also commonly known as diet paddocks, this system is one in which you can easily control the weight of the horse, and prevent issues such as laminitis.
It is also an especially useful system for when you need to reintroduce a horse to grass after the horse has spent a very long time stabled (like through the entirety of winter, or due to an injury). The design of this paddock system essentially allows the digestive system of the horse to slowly re-adjust to grazing.
The way it works is by creating an enclosed strip of grass within the paddock, so that the horse is grazing on it, and can’t access any other grass as of yet. (You can do this by installing electric fences, for example).
Once the strip of grass has been eaten, and you consider it the appropriate time, you move the fencing so that your horse can access the next strip of grass.
So essentially, you are sectioning off the amount of grass available to your horse at any given time, so that what your horse is able to eat is far more controlled by you. Without the sections, your horse would simply have all of the fresh and rich grass available to them, at all times!
Other alternatives to this method are to monitor the amount of hay that is put out at any given time or to limit the amount of time in which your horse is allowed to graze out on the grass. Usually, this is done by having the horses stabled, and letting them out to graze for certain periods of time during the day.
Other Ideas For Pasture Management
There are plenty of other systems and designs when it comes to pasture management, as long as it works for you and your horses, your imagination is the limit.
Some people like to introduce goats and sheep into the horse’s paddock or grazing area, as these balance out the type of grazing, so that the grass can recover easier when left to rest. However, some goats might start nibbling on your horse’s tail, so keep an eye out for that!
Maintenance For Grass And Paddocks
When left to graze on grass, horses can be quite picky, and they tend to always go for the fresh long grass, leaving behind any rough patches, and causing the field to become uneven.
They can also, over time, make the grass what is called “horse-sick”, as they can churn up and poach the ground. And of course, you don’t want the grass to become horse-sick, or else it might struggle to recover, and you might end up with no grass at all!
This is why proper maintenance of the grass and the paddock is absolutely essential if you want to keep it healthy and in good quality long-term. So to help you out, here are some important things you need to know about grass and paddock maintenance!
Analyzing The Grass
One of the most important things you can do is analyze the grass of the paddock so that you are aware and sure of its quality.
This should also be done if the grass isn’t growing properly, or is taking longer to recover, so that you can know exactly what is wrong with it, and take the appropriate action to put a solution in place. Basically, you should know your grass in order to manage it to the best of your abilities.
If your horses are left to graze on grass, you need to keep an eye on that grass so that it isn’t completely destroyed. If horses over-graze on the same patch, the grass might not recover, meaning you then have no grass. Instead, you should make sure that grass is able to recover, and there are many different ways of doing this.
For example, you could have a rotation paddock, so that certain areas of grass are left empty to recover, before switching around.
However, there is also the other extreme: grass becoming overgrown. This usually happens when an area is left to recover for too long, and there is no maintenance involved. And this can be bad because poisonous plants and other hazards could begin to grow there!
So basically, you have to make sure to keep the grass maintained, in a healthy balance. Sometimes, introducing animals such as goats or sheep can help with this!
Maintenance Equipment You Should Use
This entire section is all about how paddocks need regular maintenance, and in order to do so, you need the right tools. So, of course, we’re going to talk about the equipment you should be using!
Obviously, the exact equipment that you use will completely depend on what you need, and the type of paddock that you have. However, as a general rule, every paddock owner should have wheelbarrows, weeding tools, and poop scoops.
If you have a lot of land, then instead of poop scoops you might want to use a manure vacuum, which is kind of like a ride-on mower, but for picking up all the horse poop. Trust us, it’s super useful!
For bigger maintenance that doesn’t need to be carried out as often, horse paddock owners will usually hire a farmer with the right tools, especially for topping, harrowing, and rolling.
As for weeding, that can be easily done with sprays, but you need to make sure that it is safe for horses, or that the horses are taken away until the place is safe for them again.
The one thing that you absolutely need to remember, is that there is no mowing involved in paddock maintenance. It is not safe for horses to eat grass cuttings, as they can eat excessive amounts of it, and the cut grass can also cause colic. Plus, why would you need to mow the grass when you have horses grazing on it anyway?
Managing Droppings (AKA, Picking Up The Poo)
We know it’s not fun, but you have to pick up horse poo, you can’t simply leave it there. Otherwise, it can cause dead patches of grass, and it could also increase the risk of an equine worm infestation. So yeah, pick the poo up!
If the paddock is small enough, you can simply go around and pick up all the poo with the help of a poop scoop and wheelbarrow. But if the paddock is larger, you might want to use a mechanical poo vacuum, so that the job is a lot faster.
Alternatively, if the horses are out on a large field, you could go over the poo with a tractor and harrow, breaking it up and spreading it around so that it dries in the sun really fast. That way it is no longer a health hazard!
Poisonous And Dangerous Plants
It is very important to regularly check on the grass and ground in your horse paddock, not only to make sure everything is running smoothly but also to check so that there are no poisonous plants growing anywhere!
When doing this, you should first look into what plants are common in your area, and then research whether or not they are poisonous or dangerous for horses.
We recommend creating a sort of black list of plants to look out for, and for you to do regular inspections around the entire area, to make sure none of them are growing where your horse might eat them.
However, you also need to make sure you dispose of any poisonous plants in the right way, so do plenty of research before taking action!
Walkways, Gateways, And More
Walkways and gateways, along with high-traffic areas, are all places that will become muddy and poached very quickly, as they are constantly walked on. Especially during the winter and during rainy weather! This can completely ruin that part of the ground, so we highly recommend considering the possibility of surfacing them.
You could add some sand, some grass mats, or even turn it into a hard surface.
If surfacing isn’t really an option for you, then at least make sure that these walkways and gateways are wide, and try to alternate the side that you and your horse walk on. That way, part of the ground will be able to recover, and then you switch sides. Otherwise, that ground will never ever recover, as it simply won’t get the chance to.
Turnout Pens For All Weather
All-weather turnout pens are incredibly convenient and beneficial, and they are something that we always recommend to those that are doubting whether to go for it or not.
They are amazing for areas that get very muddy, or for those that have limited space and want to be able to allow grass to recover for the summer. They are essentially a small enclosed area where the horse can walk around a little, which kind of acts like a patio for the stables or shelter.
So kind of like a small outdoor garden for your horse, to be used when weather is bad or it’s winter so that the big field can recover.
They are incredibly convenient and can be very comfortable. Plus they are also very useful if you need your horse to stay a little more put, due to an injury or similar.
Turnout pens for all-weather are also super easy to build, as they can be done professionally or as a DIY project. And they are also incredibly versatile!
So not only do they serve as an enclosed space during winter and bad weather, but they are also great for allowing horses to take turns stretching their legs, or for practicing groundwork now and then. They can also simply be used as an extension to the stable yard or patio and can take any shape you need.
The only downside is that turnout pens don’t have grass in them, so you will have to supplement your horse with hay or other food, as they won’t be able to graze. Also, sometimes you might need planning permission, especially within official horse stables!
Fencing Options For Paddocks
The main trait of horse paddocks is that they are an enclosed outdoor space for horses, and as they are enclosed, they need to be fenced! And as you might guess, there are plenty of different fencing options when it comes to paddocks, with different factors to consider when choosing which one you choose.
The main reason for there being fencing is that you don’t want the horses to leave the paddock area, for their safety. So safety is the number one top priority when choosing the type of fencing.
One thing that you have to consider is the height of the fencing, as you don’t want your horses to jump over and escape! This will, of course, depend on the type of horses that you have, and their size. A pony, for example, would not be able to jump as high as a big horse.
The standard for paddock fencing is around 50 inches or so, but again, this is something that you will have to adjust depending on your horses. It’s always best for the fence to be too tall, rather than it to be too short, that’s for sure!
But let’s start talking about the different types of fencing, and what they’re all good for:
Post And Rail Fencing
This is by far the most common type of fencing for horse paddocks, and the one that tends to look the best (although it is also usually one of the pricier options!) It is essentially just several posts, usually wooden, with rails running between them to form the fencing.
Wood isn’t the only material used, although it is the most common and standard, some professionals have plastic alternatives available, safe for horses, and these are cheaper and require less maintenance.
As we’ve mentioned, this is one of the pricer options for fencing, but this depends on the number of posts, the number of rails, the material, the quality of the finish, and more. You can find plenty of affordable post and rail fencing options!
You can then also decorate the fencing, with some people choosing to paint them. But if you do so, make sure you are using non-toxic products, and that it remains safe for your horses!
Horse Wire And Mesh Fencing
Horse wire, and mesh that is specifically designed to be safe for horses, are great as a fencing option for paddocks. It is especially good for foals, small ponies, and paddocks where you also have other animals (like goats or sheep).
However, it is usually best if this type of fencing is used as an extra, along with another fencing system, such as an addition to the post and rail fencing.
If used by itself, then there will have to be more of it, but you will have to make sure that it is strong enough, and that the holes are the right holes. Otherwise, horses could get their hooves trapped in there!
Electric fencing is one of those love or hate, with some people having it as the go-to option, and others considering it as a last-resort kind of option. The way it works is through portable plastic posts that can be easily moved or re-adjusted, and tape or wire going in between them.
The tape, much as the name suggests, is electrified. It won’t actually hurt the horses, but it will be enough of a deterrent so that they don’t want to risk it and go anywhere near the fence, making it really effective.
As the posts are easy to move and portable, this type of fencing is very versatile and is great for creating temporary sectioning within a paddock. As for the charge, there are many different methods. Some will plug it into a yard electric, for it to be permanent, and some will use batteries or solar power.
So this type of fencing can be permanent, temporary, fixed, portable, or even a reinforcement on top of another type of fencing. The options are endless!
You can also have gateways, with protective handles so that you can open a door in the electric fencing with ease, and without electrocuting yourself!
Just beware that some horses can be daredevils, and instead of staying away from the fence, they might take their chances with it and brave the electrocution, so monitor your horse for the first few weeks in order to confirm the effectiveness of it!
Stud And Stallion Fencing
This kind of fencing is specifically designed for horses that are likely to “field hop”, aka escape their paddock to go into another horse’s one! This is most common amongst stallions, especially if they pick up the scent of a mare in heat nearby!
So this type of fencing is extra high, and extra sturdy, to prevent the horse from jumping over or escaping. Usually, there are also gaps or pathways in between the paddocks, so that if the horse does escape, it is trapped in between paddocks instead of going right into another horse’s one.
Other Types Of Fencing
There are many other types of paddock fencing other than the ones we have already mentioned. Stone walls are common, although usually, these are already in place before the paddock is formed.
Some people also like using hedges, as these can be very effective (as long as they are dense enough), and they are a nice natural addition.
Types Of Fencing You Should NEVER Use
Lastly, we wanted to mention a few fencing options that should never ever be considered for a horse paddock, as they are not safe for horses.
Barbed wire is a big no, for obvious sharp reasons, along with broken fencing as there can be splinters that hurt the horses. Also, mesh and netting that hasn’t been specifically designed for horses, because this can be incredibly dangerous for them!
Water Options For The Horse Paddock
Something that is absolutely essential within your horse paddock, is easy access to safe and clean water so that your horses can drink whenever they need to.
Now, this can’t be just any water. It needs to be free-running fresh water, from a reliable source. Stagnant water is a big no unless it is going to be checked and changed every single day.
One of the most common water options for paddocks are water troughs that are connected to mains, and that can easily be filled with water. Some of them fill up automatically, which means there is always water there for the horse!
If you want something simple and cheap, then a large bucket can do the job. Just make sure you are filling it up every single day, and making sure it is fresh. Plus, you should put them somewhere safe, like in a tire, so that they aren’t tipped over by the horses or by the wind, as then all the water will be gone!
A common problem, with water, is freezing temperatures during the winter. So make sure you are checking it twice as often, and make sure it is left somewhere where the sun will hit it. There are also methods of insulating the bucket itself, to reduce the risk of the water freezing!
And during the summer, the problem is bugs. Make sure the bucket is placed in the shade (so that the water remains as cool as possible), and implement anti-bug solutions such as sprays.
Hay Options For The Horse Paddock
Another essential thing that all paddocks should have is food for your horse. If your paddock has grass for grazing, then that will probably be the main source of food for your horse, although you might need to supplement the diet with something else.
But during the winter, and in other types of paddocks, you will almost certainly need to have some hay available for your horse.
So, what are the hay options? Well, hay is pretty easy, and it can usually be put down on the ground. However, when placed on the ground, hay can very easily be blown away by the wind, or stepped on into the mud, and a lot of it ends up going to waste. This is why there are many other options for supplying hay to your horses.
Hay nets are quite a popular option, and they can be very effective as long as they are sheltered, and the net is safe so that your horse isn’t getting caught in them.
Other people prefer hay feeders or racks, which are the best for open fields or large areas. Hay feeders and racks can also be made out of many different materials, and there are plenty of designs, some of them even having incorporated roofs for shelter!
At the end of the day, what matters is that the hay is accessible, dry, and secure in one place so that your horse can go up to it and eat. The method you choose of supplying it is completely up to your own needs and preferences.
If your paddock is a large outdoor area such as a big field, and your horse spends large amounts of time out there, in all sorts of weather, then it is really important that you provide it with shelter. This will provide your horse with sufficient protection from rain, wind, sun, and other weather conditions so that your horse is safe and comfortable.
There are many different types of shelter that you can choose for your horse paddock, but you essentially have to choose between two main options:
Natural shelter is any non man-made structure that can provide your horse with shelter, so trees, hedges, and similar. This is why many people value lands that have trees and similar elements, as they are great for offering your horse shade, and shelter against wind or rain.
However, with natural shelters, it is important to check that they are safe and that there are no dangerous plants. With large trees, you should also check the branches, and maintain them, or else some might fall down and crash into your horse during storms.
Natural shelter is the cheapest type of shelter, because it’s already there and you simply have to do a little maintenance, and they look good because they’re part of the environment. However, they are not always effective!
The built shelter is all types of shelter that are man-made and created. There are many different types and designs, made from different materials, and with different specific purposes.
Some are designed to provide shade, some are for the wind, some are for the rain, others are for the cold, and some are for everything, all in one! Built shelters can also be either permanent or temporary, depending on what you need throughout the year.
It is recommended that, when building a shelter, you pay special attention to the surface, as it is often good to have a hard surface beneath the shelter, for stability. It is also important to make sure there is enough room for your horse, and sometimes for some hay and water too.
Some built shelters can essentially be full-on stables, but in the field, which are perfect for horses that stay out there during the winter, as they have somewhere warm and dry to take refuge if needed.
In conclusion, there are many different things to consider when creating the perfect paddock for your horse. From the amount of space to the design, to the management of the pasture, to the equipment needed for maintenance…along with the food, water, fencing, and much more!
Just make sure that you choose elements that are a balance between safe and comfortable for your horse, and convenient for you.