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Minimum acreage for 3-4 horses?

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  • Minimum acreage for 3-4 horses?

    DH and I are in the wee beginnings of looking for a new home. One that is larger (shouldn't be hard we're at 800sq ft now!) and more ready for my equine children (9 acres of planted pine forest just isn't going to cut it without beaucoup $$$).

    So we've got a few we like the look of and meet the above requirements. However, I've got this notion that I must absolutely have no less than 10 acres. Not all will be used for pasture or riding space(we like having a yard). I would most likely have 3 horses, 4 absolute tops. In a perfect world, I'd have at least 2 pastures to swap the horses on to give the grass a chance to grow back. Chatted with my trainer, she thinks I'm losing out on some other properties that have less acreage and would be fine.

    So what say you, What is the minimum acreage you would want?

  • #2
    I think in a good grass growing area (like the MidAtlantic) it is recommended 1 acre per horse. This is pretty close to what I have and it is managable. The horses are off the pastures between 6-12 hours daily (depending on the season) and I do feed hay year round.

    My property is 7.5 acres and probably 5-6 acres are fenced. 5 horses is ideal for great grass, but I could do 6 horses if needed.


    • #3
      Assuming no run-ins with The Authorities over zoning you don't need much more than an acre or so for that many horses. You won't have a lot of turnout or "non-horsey" space. You will have to do more manual labor and figure out what to do with the manure production. There will be other issues. It could be done.

      Indeed, if you look at the "city planning" of the mid- to late 19th Century you'll see that lots of .1 acres were narrow and deep, with an alley in the middle. At the back of each lot there was a stable space. During many periods of human history horses were kept in even tighter spaces.

      The tighter the space the more the human has to work, though.

      Some folks like the "one horse/one acre" rule. If you can afford it, super. If you can't...???

      I don't guess that there's a "school" answer to this.

      Mangalarga Marchador: Uma Raça, Uma Paixão


      • #4
        What already said... You can do a lot on much less acreage. For me? I would want no less than 10 acres for 3~4 horses. Why? First I don't want to stall them - don't want to muck out stalls every day; I want a full size dressage arena so I can ride at home every day, I want a barn with tack room, grooming bay, and a couple of stalls for emergency, and I don't want the barn or arena to jam up to my house. After adding space to store round bales, horse trailer, tractor, lawn mower, numerous attachments, and additional open space for trailer to turn around, 10 acres becomes minimum.


        • #5
          I think it is hughly dependnat on geography

          When I was a kid, we had 3 or 4 horses (varied over time) on 4 acres, of which about 3.5 acre was pasture (not cross fenced except one sacrifice area). It worked out fine.

          More recently,we (my sister and I) had, at different times, 1,2,3, or 4 horses on 5 acres (about 4.5 for the horses), extensively cross fenced (6 separate paddocks or pastures) that worked fine too, though we had to use the sacrifice areas quite a bit to protect the pasture.

          Now I have 3-4 horses on about 12 acres of pasture (property is bigger than that, but not all fenced) also crossfenced. I feed a lot less hay, and I don't need to use the sacrifice area as much. But I have to walk a lot further to get them.

          Yes, I like 12 acres better than 4-5 acres, but 4-5 acres is perfectly manageable for 3-4 horses, at least in Southern NY ans Northern VA.

          chief feeder and mucker for Music, Spy, Belle and Tiara. Someone else is now feeding and mucking for Chief and Brain (both foxhunting now).


          • #6
            Zoning in our area of MD is minimum 2 acres, and at least 1 acre/horse. If you have good grass growing conditions, you can probably get by with rotating 3 2 acre pastures, but it will take intense management, probably a lot of supplementation with hay, and a good sized sacrifice area.

            As an example: I have 2 horses on a little over 3 acres, with about 2 of it being fenced pasture. Our soil is crap, hard pan acidic clay, so it takes a lot of work to keep grass growing. Easier during the growing season if I limit turnout and keep them in the sacrifice area at least 12h daily. Winter bascially destroys the smaller one that's more heavily treed and closest to the barn. The sacrifice area (55x120) is great for nights/inclement weather, but if I lock them up in there for more than 2-3 days, the dominant one gets grumpy and the submissive one starts to look like he's been through a war.

            If you are comfortable with keeping them in over night in winter, and have a good sized sacrifice area, you'll probably have enough room for them to self-exercise and do some grazing, but you'll want to stay on top of soil chemistry, reseeding, and rotation to keep it from becoming a mud pit. And manure management for 3-4 horses is a daunting task on small acreage. With just 2, I have enough compost to completely cover 2 acres 2x yearly, plus keep all my neighbors in compost for their gardens. And I still always have a huge manure pile 'cooking'.
            Lowly Farm Hand with Delusions of Barn Biddieom.
            Witherun Farm


            • #7
              Around here our zoning states the we must have 5 acres for the first horse, and then one acre per horse after that. So that would be 7 acres for three horses, or 8 acres for four.

              Right now I have two horses and two sheep on a 7 acre property with about 5 acres of actual pasture once you subtract the yard, side paddock, and woods. I've only just now started feeding a very small amount of hay. Everyone was fat without it even in the middle of summer during the drought this year. However, my horses are easy keepers, my sheep are pets (so no additional calories needed for reproduction/lactation), and when I had my pasture tested this year, it had a relatively high RFV of 138.

              Personally, I wouldn't want to go any smaller than 7. But it certainly could be done.
              "In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn’t merely train him to be semi-human. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming part dog."
              -Edward Hoagland


              • Original Poster

                I'm definitely one that wants the horses out as much as possible and the less hay I have to feed the better (at least for the summer months, winter it's understandable). We are in a good grass growing area, so I have that working for me. I will double check, but I believe the zoning requires 1 or 1.5 acre per horse in the area where we are looking.

                I don't know where I got the number 10, but I definitely don't want to go less than 5 acres... The 2 current candidates are 14 and 5 acre lots, the 5 has the possibility of adding on(originally 101 acre farm).


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Heliodoro View Post
                  DH and I are in the wee beginnings of looking for a new home. One that is larger (shouldn't be hard we're at 800sq ft now!) and more ready for my equine children (9 acres of planted pine forest just isn't going to cut it without beaucoup $$$).

                  So we've got a few we like the look of and meet the above requirements. However, I've got this notion that I must absolutely have no less than 10 acres. Not all will be used for pasture or riding space(we like having a yard). I would most likely have 3 horses, 4 absolute tops. In a perfect world, I'd have at least 2 pastures to swap the horses on to give the grass a chance to grow back. Chatted with my trainer, she thinks I'm losing out on some other properties that have less acreage and would be fine.

                  So what say you, What is the minimum acreage you would want?
                  Check the zoning in the areas you are looking. Most communities in WNY have restrictions on the number of horses if you have less than 10 acres. I think East Aurora still only has restrictions at under 5 acres. Personally, if the zoing allows and the place has a good layout, you can easily keep that many horses on 5 or 6 acres.


                  Who mjust needs to find a full time job before I start seriously looking (as opposed to window shopping.


                  • #10
                    I have 3 horses, 6 acres and I wish I had 10 acres as they can be hard on the pasture, especially during the dry season. (We have a house, 50x50 barn and a full sized dressage arena and mini-forest with the rest in pasture). I think 10 acres would be smart.

                    Horses out dawn to dusk, in all night.
                    Last edited by Valentina_32926; Nov. 15, 2012, 04:13 PM.
                    Now in Kentucky


                    • #11
                      Second everyone's opinions that it's entirely dependent on the area and what you want. I just purchased 7 acres for three horses, only about 3 acres of those are fenced pastures. I have plans to bulldoze another 2ish acres in the coming years, but I see no hurry. Horses stay in stalls unless someone is home. So essentially inside during work hours and at night, out in evenings and all day weekends. It's a brand new situation, so I have yet to see how it actually works out, but it honestly looks like it'll do just fine. I have a 30'X40' barn and plans to put a decent arena in.


                      • #12
                        In the Northwest, but in the rainshadow, and on 7.5 acres, we have:

                        Approx 1 acre of house/guest house/garage/yard/garden

                        Approx 3 acres of fenced pasture

                        Approx 2 acres of non-fenced, but cleared land that COULD be fenced

                        Approx 1.5 acres with indoor, barn, roundpen, drylot, parking

                        This is totally sufficient for 4 horses, who live most of the day in the drylot, getting up to 12 hours of grazing per day in the summer, and could get even more year round if the fence-able land was finally fenced.

                        These fellas are fed hay year round as well and the pastures are managed IMPECCABLY so that they never have less than 3" of grass at any one time.


                        • #13
                          Forgot to add about farm tax exemption. You may want to look into that when deciding on acreage needed and what you will be doing with it.


                          • #14
                            The quality of the land is probably as important as the raw acreage value for your comfort and productivity. I would certainly look at smaller parcels if the zoning is adequate. For example, if you can ride to public open space you need a lot less personal acreage; open and highly productive pasture is much more valuable than a larger parcel that has swampy areas or poor soils or is wooded. You're going to be looking for a property that fits you nicely, and at least in my experience, it's helpful to keep an open mind about what you'll trade off on.
                            If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats. - Lemony Snicket


                            • #15
                              I agree with poltroon. Quality of land is more important than actual space. And how you set it up is as important as anything else. The boarding barn I grew up at had 50+ horses on 5 acres. Most horses were stalled 12-18 hours a day, but it worked as well as it can with that many horses on that little space.

                              I have a 5 acre property that's high and dry (as far as PNW properties go, anyhow) and totally cleared. I've had anywhere from 2 to 10 horses here. We probably have 1 1/2-2 acres for the house/driveway/shop/barn/arena, and the remaining 3 acres fenced for the horses. The 5 horses I have now struggle with keeping their pastures trimmed down enough when things are growing and we still end up with a lot of mowing to do throughout the summer. In the winter, of course, everyone gets hay.

                              I don't rotate pastures and right now have 3 horses and a pony living in my bigger part (probably 2 acres of pasture) and 1 horse living in a 1/2 acre sized spot. I've got a couple of other paddocks and pens for times that I need to separate them, but rarely use them. I pick manure out of the smaller pens, but for the most part just use my harrow on the bigger paddock. All of my horses live out 24/7, FWIW.

                              I don't feed much hay in the summer.....only to my hard(er) keeping TB. The rest do fine on the pasture grass.

                              So I think 5 acres is "okay." But with that being said, I would much prefer 10 or 15 acres to what I've currently got. I'd like to have 2-3 additional larger turnouts. I'll ignore the fact that I would just buy more horses, and focus on the idea that I would keep the same number but spread them out more
                              Flying F Sport Horses
                              Horses in the NW


                              • #16
                                You are right. Be good to the land.
                                ... _. ._ .._. .._


                                • #17
                                  I have 7 acres, about four fenced for my horses. I have three horses and a pony, but I am leasing 30 acres next door. Maintaining the 30, even with bush hogging, is way more pleasant than keeping the four in the pasture I own. I would add a sacrifice area if I were to lose the lease on the 30 acres, and I'd have to build a barn and stall the horses. Right now, they are out 24/7. I feed very little hay - I think maybe 6 roundbales in the last year. I haven't put any out this season.


                                  • #18

                                    As I'm also in western NY, you are more than welcome to come and visit to see what 5 acres fenced and cross-fenced looks like. I'm located in Mendon to give you an idea of location.

                                    I've got a house (2646 sq ft), a barn and indoor (9300 or 9600 sq st), and outdoor arena area (~100' X 250'). Off the barn I have 2 sacrifice paddocks 110' x 110' and off each sacrifice paddock is a larger grass pasture. For these I just open stall doors and gates. Also one other smaller grass pasture that I have to walk the horses to and from. I do NOT have a front yard and the only area NOT fenced is my leach field.

                                    I've been here 22 yrs and have maintained 2-3 horses usually on the land by rotating pastures from one or the other large pastures on a regular basis and sometimes using the smaller grass pasture. I try to fertilize the large pastures spring and fall and I mow frequently, weekly sometimes in the spring.

                                    I have only kept 4 horses here in the winter so there was no use of the larger grass pastures. I honestly think that 3 horses were the max for the acreage but I haven't ever tried 4 so I don't know for certain.

                                    I'm not saying let's go kill all the stupid people...I'm just saying let's remove all the warning labels and let the problem sort itself out.


                                    • #19
                                      In my county I am required to have one acre per horse however you can have more IMO is you remove the manure on a regular basis and rotate pastures.
                                      RIP Sucha Smooth Whiskey
                                      May 17,2004 - March 29, 2010
                                      RIP San Lena Peppy
                                      May 3, 1991 - March 11, 2010


                                      • #20
                                        I have 6 acres (about 4 fenced for horses) in a completely wooded area- no grass whatsoever. I normally have 4 horses, but it has ranged from 2-6 while I've lived here. It's not ideal but I feed hay year round and they are perfectly content.
                                        "As soon as you're born you start dyin'
                                        So you might as well have a good time"