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Horse Pasture Planning and DesignHorse Pasture Planning
Article by Thomas L. Croce, Architects

Perhaps one of the most daunting tasks facing a new property owner planning to construct a new equestrian facility is the planning and layout of the property. In earlier articles I discuss “Designing for the Horse”,” Maintaining Good Air Quality”, “Fire Safe Design”, and “Stable Design”.  This article will focus on the proper planning and design of pastures and paddocks. A properly planed facility will not only make the most efficient use of the property, but will also facilitate efficient animal management, create a health environment, and promote proper pasture management and maintenance.
The first step in the planning process is to obtain an accurate site plan or aerial photograph including the following information, property lines, existing structures and roads, any specials features such as ponds, topographic information, and any zoning restrictions such as setbacks or easements. Once all the background information is assembled the planning process can begin.

Things to consider in Your Horse Pasture Plan:
1. The number of horses in each herd or group turned out together
2. The climate not only effects the growth rate of the grasses, but your location may require all weather paddock in lieu of pasture turn out.
3. The amount of your horse’s nutritional requirements provided through pasture forage.
4. Plan pastures to allow for field rotation and even grazing

Pasture & Horse Paddock Layout and Design
When considering the development of your property for pasture, one of the first major concerns is "How big do I make the pastures?" Pasture management is an art driven by biological science. You must consider your pasture as a grass crop, plant yield, forage species and fertility needs will NOT be constant and will vary with temperature, soil moisture, plant rest period, and the season of year. Therefore, flexibility will need to be built into any effective pasture design.
One of the first things to determine is your horse’s requirements from pasture forage. Horses require approximately 2% - 2 ½% of their body weight in feed per day. This typically is some combination of feed concentrates and forage: ie. hay and or pasture.
Let look at an example. An average horse weighs in at approximately 1,200 pound, ½ %  of their daily ration is in concentrates, and the remaining 2% comes from forage. That works out to 6 pounds of supplemental feed and 24 pounds of forage per day. An established pasture during the growing season should average approx. 900 pounds of forage per acre, 1 acre of good pasture will last one horse approximately 38days. Supplement the forage with 12 pounds of hay and one acre can supply forage for two hoses, or 1 horse for 76 days, etc.

12 Guidelines to Help in Your Horse Pasture Layout

Guideline #1: Design with flexibility in mind.
•Since horses needs and plant growth patterns change throughout the year, flexibility is a must requiring a constant balancing act between meeting your horse’s nutritional need and maintaining a health pasture.
•Plan pastures to allow for field rotation, the major cause of pasture deterioration is overgrazing - county extension agents are a great resource to assist in determining plant growth and yield rates
•Plan pastures to encourage even grazing – Pastures that are to large encourage spot areas of overgrazing, pasture deterioration and declining plant yields.

Guideline #2: Each paddock in a system should contain enough land to produce approximately the same amount of forage dry matter.
•Allowing for a consistent grazing and maintenance schedule.
•In varying soil types pasture size may need to vary due to the land's productive capabilities.

Guideline #3: Try to establish paddocks which will allow you to graze plant species which are similar in maturity
•Plants that are similar in maturity will promote even grazing

Guideline #4: Provide all weather paddocks in climates where pastures may be damaged by excessively wet or dry conditions.

•A mature pasture will help control erosion and stabilize the soil moisture levels. Grasses are very resilient as long as their root structure remains intact, horses feet can devastate the root structure in overly wet or dry conditions and once bare spots begin to develop it is very difficult to re-establish the pasture in these areas.

Guideline #5: When slopes are greater than 15 percent, fence paddocks so that livestock will graze on the contour
•Horses grazing patterns more readily conform to the contour rather than up and down the slope
•Soil erosion will be reduced by grazing on the contour.

Guideline #6: Establish lanes or walkways on the higher, drier soils
•Concentrated traffic will cause paths and bare ground
•Paths going up and down slopes will cause considerable erosion

Guideline #7: Limit the horse’s access to streams where banks are low
•Use gravel and/or geotextile cloth in these areas
•Fence so that the stream is not available for watering

Guideline #8: Plan pastures as close to square as possible
•A square pasture will require less fence than a rectangular one

Guideline #9: Do not create any corners will less than a 90 degree corner
•Corners with acute angles can allow timid horses to be cornered by more aggressive ones

Guideline #10: Fencing Types:
•There are numerous types of fencing available
•Rail fencing
•Wire fencing
•Diamond weave
•No climb
•Live stock

Guideline #11: Fencing should be appropriate to the type of horse

•Height 54 – 60 inches
•All Fencing should be highly visible
The type and height of fence will determine the size of the fence posts
•A 54” high 3 rail fence posts should be 30” in the ground
•A 54” or 60” 4 or 5 rail fence post should be 36” – 40” in the ground
•Fencing should also provide a visible barrier

Guideline #12: Fencing types to avoid
•High tensile wire, they can be deadly to a horse running in a pasture
•Barbed wire
•Livestock fencing
•Field fence

The planning and design of a project is influenced by many factors. At times one or more of these considerations may be in conflict with each other. Through the critical evaluation of the many design options an architect with equine expertise will be able to help insure that your facility not only meets your needs, but helps you in accomplishing your equestrian goals.

Contact: Thomas L Croce Architects Inc.


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