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Success stories--horse keeping on VERRRY small acreage--tips please!

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  • Success stories--horse keeping on VERRRY small acreage--tips please!

    We recently moved to a new city and away from our longtime boarding situation at a dressage barn and bought a 3 acre place (as much as we could afford and was available in the area) and are in the process of fencing absolutely as much of it as we can for pasture--about 2.2 acres. We have 3 horses--one of whom is for sale but don't know for how long because of market conditions so we're basically looking at 3 on going. One is 23 yr old TB retired to trails but fiesty, 1 18month old ISR, and one dressage competition horse who has a LOT of energy.

    Horses are currently in a temporary pasture situation across the street in a slightly smaller area and even with trying to keep them off parts of it with hot wire, they have absolutely trashed it--creating huge mud pits. "Horse-keeping on Small Acreage" book says they can only be turned out about 4 hrs a day with that kind of horse per acre ratio but even with lots of trail riding,(we have 2500 acres of state-owned nature preserve behind us to ride in) I fear these guys will not do well standing in a stall for that long.

    We aren't even really planning on having much grazing because we know the current grass will be gone in a flash, and give them lots of hay now. Do we need to just grit our teeth and keep them in relatively small dirt paddocks with tons of hay while the grass recovers and only let them out to gallop buck and fart at will for a couple of hours? Yes, it would have been ideal to have 10 acres, but that wasn't in our budget and there are no boarding barns within 45 minutes so that really wasn't an option either.

    If any of you are successfully managing that many horses on that small of acreage, I would appreciate any guidance.

  • #2
    I have a friend who has small acreage. Are you going to set up any type of arena? They just turn out in the arena a lot to give the rest of their acreage a "rest", then a couple of hours a day or all day every other day for regular turn out.


    • #3
      Nope, they can be out longer. I have 4.5 acres...BUT...since it's heavy woods, rocks, ledge and all sorts of other fun topography...only about 1.5 acres is cleared. I keep 2 horses on it...they're out during all daylight hours unless the weather is horrid. Of course their main turnout is NOT a grass turnout...it'd never stay grass that small with two horses munching and packing it down wiith their feetsies.
      The trick is...creating a sacrifice/high traffic turnout area surrounding the barn. My main paddock is a 75 x 220 dirt paddock...graded at a slant for run off and all topsoil removed so if it gets wet it can't make mud. My horses are never standing in mud any deeper than 1-1.5" or so. It's more than big enough for them to gallop around in and act like morons if they feel like it. Attached to it is a 150 x 225 or so grass paddock. It's not fully fenced yet...topography issues right now...but I have round pen panels set up off the main paddock so they can go graze for an hour or two daily. I can move the panels around as they graze it down.
      Eventually I will have about 3 acres fenced in...it will still only have that 150 x 225 grass area though...the rest will either be open dirt paddock or wooded paddocks for shade. Many to most horse properties that aren't commercial here in CT look just like mine...little grass, dirt turnouts made for sacrifice/no mud and lots of wooded turnouts. They can easily and happily support multiple horses without keeping them in or risking mud as long as you take the time, effort, planning and a little extra money towards drainage will make a happy comfy low maintenance place for your 2-3 horses on that size acreage. I can easily keep up to 4-5 on my eventual 3 fenced acres. (my town allows my to keep 9! but that's pushing it IMO)
      For more info on your particular issue, check out this thread going on right now over on Off Course:
      You jump in the saddle,
      Hold onto the bridle!
      Jump in the line!


      • #4
        Unless you want your 2.2 acres to quickly become a mud pit, you really need to cordon off an area for a sacrifice paddock. It doesn't have to be that big--mine is 1/2 acre and is much bigger than it really needs to be. 1/4 acre would probably be fine for my 3 mares. Invest in good drainage/footing and really good fencing here, because that's where they'll spena a large part of their time. You can use the rest of your space for carefully-tended grass/foraging, allowing the horses access to it only when it's dry and the grass isn't overgrazed. You'll probably have to split up the grazing to let some rest.

        Make sure you have lots of hay--you won't be able to do more than supplement their diet with grass. Give them plenty of exercise and you may find that having them out 24/7 keeps them quite happy indeed.

        For the first 18 months on our place the mares lived in their 1/2 acre dirt paddock and out on grass in a 2-acre field only very sparingly. They did just fine, and now that we have another, larger pasture they think they've died and gone to heaven. But you can keep horses very well indeed on only a couple of acres.
        Click here before you buy.


        • Original Poster

          Thanks much MB,--I just discovered the thread you mentioned and it's been very helpful. I feel much better and while I have the guys with the backhoe here i will see what it would cost to bring in some additional sand/gravel for the round pen (20 meters wide) to improve drainage.

          I was planning to use that as a "sacrifice" paddock but really didn't think it was large enough. May have to rotate horses in and out but much better than standing in stalls and going completely mental on me. Wish we could quietly "annex" some of the state's land but darn it! the army corps of engineer folks police it pretty consistently since it is a wildlife preserve for the woodpecker and other such creatures. Lucky for us they allow riding on the trails!

          thanks again everyone for replying.


          • #6
            In your situation, the arrangement I like is for each horse to have an appx. 45' square corral (with good footing added). This is large enough to trot and buck, but not get going too fast and slip. All corrals open up directly to a corral height fenced arena on one long side, with a 10-12' gate each, so a horse can run in and out without hurting itself, or be locked out into the arena for the foolish running types. To do this, you must have good non-slip footing, no clay footing. By just opening and closing gates, you can rotate a horse into the arena for a few hours each while you are resting the grass in the pastures, or during mud season. Fence between corrals and arena has hotwire on top, and over the gates to stop dangerous playing over the fence, set so that when you open a gate and unhook that hotwire piece, it disconnects , but other corral fronts remain hot. I like this system because horses get enough exercise, you get a dual purpose arena, and the horses get used to things like the arena harrow going right by them, and paying attention under saddle with distractions.
            Comprehensive Equestrian Site Planning and Facility Design


            • #7
              I'm using about 1.5 - 1.75 acres for 3 horses (I have 2.25 acres total). I have 3 "pastures" for them, each a little more than 1/2 acre each. What hurts is that I cannot turn out all 3 together because for some odd reason, my SteadyEddy - babysitter QH has it in for a small gaited horse I acquired. The QH chases the yellow horse something fierce. So, I have to erect some more fencing to make some smaller areas within each 1/2 acre field.

              If your horses all get along, then make an area close to the barn as the sacrifice area. Use crushed limestone at barn/run-in entrances. It will pack down and allow drainage, while avoiding sinking mud pits. Use a hay bunk to keep hay off the ground - it will rot and create mud if you leave it on the ground.

              As someone else said - your other "fields" can be linked with 12' gates. I have this and I can open all 3 fields with the LARGE openings between each field and the horses can run around and kick up their heels if I let them. Otherwise, I rotate between the 3 fields and the small sacrifice area near the barn (run-in type barn).

              Be sure to put gates along straight lines whenever possible - no corners as the horses will crowd the corners and make getting in and out with a single horse VERY difficult.
              I have wood posts and woven wire mesh fencing - 5' high. Horses bounce off it.


              • #8
                I would be doing sand or pea gravel type gravel for some pens, then have the "bigger" pasture only be used on nice, dry days during the better parts of the year. I agree that a round pen would be nicer for exercise purposes as they can make circles rather than hard stops and turns in the corners. Also, could double for training purposes.


                • #9
                  Oh yep...connect paddock if and when possible! not only does it make moving them easier...it can create an "enclosed safety" zone, like having a perimeter fence. My property is set up so that current turnouts and eventually built turnouts and ring all connect. And for all of them there will be only one gate to the unfenced world outside. So it's like having a perimeter fence but my whole property doesn't have to be fenced and I don;t have to deal with a gated driveway.
                  Especially on small properties I've found roung pens to be a wonderful thing. Now I never use mine for training, but as moveable temporary paddocks, for cross fencing permanant paddocks, for making standing outside stalls...I just finished using it as a quarantine fencing. There's like a billion uses for easily portable solid fencing. I like it much better than tape and posts.
                  Another item to consider...you'll be using more hay than folks with tons of grass. The bulk of the forage your horses will eat will be hay and you'll need to store a lot of it. My mistake was not putting in a second large storage building when we first built. Now I lucked out in that my hay guy llives 10 minutes away and lets me go every other week to pick up what I need so I don't have to store much. And I'm putting up one of those tent garages for the tractor...but I'd have MUCH preferred to have had a real extra storage building.
                  You jump in the saddle,
                  Hold onto the bridle!
                  Jump in the line!


                  • #10
                    Rule of thumb 1 acre per horse nothing less. So I have paddocks. Consider yourself lucky. Tons of hay. Actually 4 feedings per day. Which equals about 1 bale per day depending on horse. Just the way it is.

                    You can rest pasture but the minute you turn then out it will become mud. Because they will devour it all in short amount of time.

                    Good luck. Hay the only source to keep them fit.


                    • #11
                      OK, I can't find it yet but I bookmarked an awesome site that oferred diagroms to maximize small acreage. There was a perimeter fenced, and you placed hay in piles around the perimiter to encourage the horses to move around throughout the day. There were also like "quads" fenced inside the perimiter so you could alternate resting areas, and it was all connected with gates so you could occasionally leave it all open to allow them more room to get a good run going.
                      They also used pea gravel, sand, some rocky areas and shade and water placement to help naturally abrade the horses feet and encourage them to move around. It's not something I've ever seen around here, but is probably more popular out west where people need to keep their horses on dry land or in smaller pipe corral enclosures, but I wish I had seen it sooner because I would have borrowed some of the ideas.

                      As I have it now, I'm working with 5 horses (1 is a mini) on just over 5 acres, not all of which is fenced. I did a lot of work on the front end (testing soil, fertilizing, planting, allowing the seed to take and set for a year, irrigated pastures) so that I do have 2 lush green pastures, along with 2 less-green but not dirt lots either. Since it sounds like you're past that point, the next big tip I can give is even though it stinks, make sure you do daily or every couple of days pasture pick up or the manure will overwhelm you.

                      edited to add the site: http://www.herdsofhooves.com/Boarding.html
                      Last edited by meaty ogre; Oct. 21, 2008, 05:17 PM. Reason: found the website!


                      • #12
                        So far as "saving" your pastures...

                        Feed them hay first, then turn them out for a day. Bring them back to sacrifice area for hay. turn back out.

                        Or leave in sacrifice area over night. Rotate and change turn out fields every 21 days (or so I'm told). Pick pastures - DON'T DRAG small pastures because all you'll do is spread the ickiness. I've been dragging mine and I realized what a stupid thing it is...

                        The more you mow, the more you grow. Try to mow fields when not being used. It strengthens the grass and its roots.

                        The book "Horse Keeping on Small Acreage" Cherry Hill & Roger Klemish is very helpful about a number of things.

                        I have my round pen on GRASS in one of my fields. Yes, I can quarentine or separate horses that way. I do use it for "training" but not continuous round penning/lunging or riding.

                        I agree about hay storage facility. I have a multi-story bank barn. Hay is stored upstairs. Horses use ground floor for run-in. Goats have their come&go stall. In case of fire, no one is confined to the barn.


                        • #13
                          I have three horses on 4 acres. I have a 60x120 gravel paddock area with a run in attached to the barn. They are in that most of the time. I also have a 60 x 120 sand arena, fenced. They eat the grass around that when inside it. The rest of the property is all fenced off with electric fence and divided into two grass areas, They get about 4-6 hours a day grazing and I rotate them. I call them my riding lawnmowers. They are very neat and don't bother the house at all. I don't let them on the grass when it has rained as they tend to tear it up. They also have 4 apple trees that the eat from when the apples start to fall and think that is such a treat. I clean up the paddock and grass areas weekly and compost the manure. It is a bit of work but it does work. Oh, also in the run in, about 12 x30, I have rubber mats so I feed hay on the ground there and don't worry about sand colic. I don't start putting them in the barn at night until about January or unless its driving, cold rain from the south, which is what the run in is opened to.


                          • #14
                            Here in Southern CA, we don't have "pasture" but we do manage to keep horses happy on small acreages. I have four horses (two full-sized, two minis) on a two-acre field. The big horses come in to stall/paddocks at night and get turned out into the big field during the day. The minis live in a smallish mini-field with a stall & overhang shelter that they share. They get turned out in the big field for an hour or two after the big horses come in. I also keep a small irrigated grass paddock that I use as a treat for the horses (no more than an hour at a time, a few times a week). Because it's CA, the field is completely dead from about June - November; the rest of the year it has CA "weeds" growing that from a distance look like nice grass but in reality are just things for the horses to munch on and keep busy.

                            I keep the horses in their paddocks during heavy rain; otherwise they are out every day. I can't worry about saving the field since this is their exercise area! (I use my neighbor's ring for riding and lunging). In California, we don't worry about rain from about March - November.

                            If I had more land, I"d use it, but I do just fine with my two acres for the horses (and another two acres for my husband and me). I don't consider the field as anything but a large turn out area, basically!
                            R.I.P. Ollie (2007-2010) You were small in stature but huge in spirit. You will never be forgotten.

                            Godspeed, Benjamin (1998-2014). A life well-lived. A horse well-loved.


                            • #15
                              I get so confused when people say that each horse needs an acre to survive. Maybe it is a geographical thing, because up here in NE there is not a lot of land to spare. A farm with that much space is definitely the minority. I have two horses and a pony living 24/7 in a paddock of about 75'x170'. My total acreage is 2 1/2 acres, which is mostly trees. I will tear down trees eventually, and add more turnout space. But for now they are FINE with what they have. Once or twice a week, I will bring my tb up to the backyard to munch on grass for a few hours. This set up seems to be the norm up here. Would I love for all of them to be in a pasture all day? Oh my God, yes! Are they very happy and content with the current set up? Oh my God, yes!


                              • #16
                                I agree that "one acre per horse" only applies, more than likely, to Kentucky Bluegrass country or some such. One acre per horse in the high desert would be totally insufficient. And in any case, it's only a factor when one is planning to feed only forage.
                                Click here before you buy.


                                • #17
                                  One horse per acre is a nice "rule of thumb" (and some places have made it a zoning rule) but it has no basis in fact. Or if it has one has never been cited, to my knowledge.

                                  You've had some good advice on establishing paddocks. Don't become a slave to geometry, however. There is nothing magic in 90 degree corners! Draw out your property on a piece of paper and play "what if" with layouts. As a rule, more rectangular is better than square for exercise purposes. Depending upon your property layout, you might find it beneficial to set up a central "paddock" with your watering and primary feeding system and then run each paddock from that central point. If you are in North Carolina then you can have a decent stand of grass for at least six months per year if you do it right. This means somewhat smaller individual area so you can rotate your stock.

                                  One place to get good ideas is your county extension office. They will have a wealth of publications on management practices optomized for your geographic location. I recommend Cherry's book but remember that what works in CA or KS or TX or FL or MN won't necessarily work for you in your county in NC. This is where Extension comes in.

                                  Good luck in your program.

                                  Mangalarga Marchador: Uma Raça, Uma Paixão


                                  • #18
                                    I keep 5 equines on 3.5 acres which also has our house on it. Two of the equines are mini's so they almost don't count.

                                    My point of view on managing my horses is this: the more I control their space, the more I need groomed pastures, the harder it will be on me and my horses. I can't do 6 hours of turnout then bring them in or stall them for 9 days because of two inches of rain.

                                    So, my pasture is mental health turnout & the nutrition value is "0". My horses are turned out 24/7 with hay available and twice daily concentrates given. The "wild hair up the ass kick out" factor is zero because they haven't been standing in a small pen or stall half the day waiting to be turned out.

                                    Horses are pretty flexible and can go either way- live happily in a controlled routine or hang out in a pasture waiting for the kitchen light to come on because that signals "feeding time". It comes down to how you want to enjoy your place.

                                    Good luck and your going to so enjoy having your horses at home!!


                                    • #19
                                      I recently had to keep my two TBs on small acreage. Plan on spending LOTS of time picking up manure or it will get really gross really fast.
                                      I know you want success stories, but I found that my two, even though they are 26 and 17 years old (not youngsters), just couldn't handle such a small turnout area. Even with lots of human-induced exercise, attention, free choice hay, and 24-hour turnout, they felt very confined and started having behavior problems, like attempting to get loose/bolting the gate. Despite our best efforts, some horses just can't take the lack of space. Keep that in mind.


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by Guilherme View Post
                                        One horse per acre is a nice "rule of thumb" (and some places have made it a zoning rule) but it has no basis in fact. Or if it has one has never been cited, to my knowledge.
                                        This comes from the UK where an acre is usually enough to feed a horse year round. There's plenty of rain and it rarely freezes, so grass grows non stop.
                                        PSSM / EPSM and Shivers Forum