Contributed by: Valerie Mellema, Gray Horse Publishing
Having my horses at home or at least very close to my home is a dream that I’ve been working at recently. As I drive around our area and examine the property that is for sale, I’ve found myself trying to determine exactly how much land I need.
How much is the absolute minimum?
What’s too much?
Is there such a thing as too much land?
Are there any existing structures, fencing, etc.?
Of course, budget and property value and location are a factor too, but for the purpose of this article, let’s focus on the land.
Long Term Goals
I have a couple of scenarios that I’m considering personally. One is that I’m going to keep three horses for my family and, in theory, that’s all we’ll have. But horses tend to be like cookies, if you know what I mean. The other scenario is that I’ll continue to breed Thoroughbreds and grow my broodmare herd, for which we’ll need a pretty good amount of land. At the moment, I’m going with the three-horse scenario, but want to keep the door open for a few more.
I also know that I’ll need space for a barn. Although my horses are turned out 24/7, you always need a barn with a couple of stalls for whatever might come up and you need to contain them for whatever reason. Plus, there’s feed, hay and tack that need to be stored out of the elements.
I also know that since I jump, I’ll want an arena, which will also take away from the land that the horses have. An arena and a small barn will typically take up about half an acre to an acre depending on how large you decide to go.
Because my horses will be turned out 24/7, they will need ample amounts of grass. According to Mike Yoder of North Carolina State University, he recommends 2 acres for the first horse and 1 acre per each additional horse. This will help to avoid overgrazing your pasture and you can implement different management plans. Say you have one horse who just doesn’t play well with others, you can create paddocks according to your horse’s needs as well.
According to this strategy, so far, I’m at about needing a minimum of 5-6 acres for three horses, a barn and an arena.
If your pasture is only used for turnout, in theory you can house more horses on less land because you can rotate the horses between stalls and pastures, so this is something to consider if you have horses and don’t turn them all out at the same time.
Location and Quality
The actual state, county and city that you live in can also influence how much land you need. Some states have “stocking rates”. For instance, Colorado requires that you have 5 acres for 1 horse. Tennessee requires 2 acres per horse. The rule of thumb for Texas is 1 acre per horse, but in Fort Worth, for instance, requires 10,000 square feet of land per large animal and the animal must be kept 50 feet away from a regulated structure and with a quarter mile of the owners if the owner does not live on the property. Fortunately, in rural East Texas, I’m not too limited in where I can keep my horses.
The location and the landscape of the land is also a factor to consider. If the land is heavily wooded and grazing space is limited, you need more land per horse and you’ll likely have to feed more hay to compensate as well. A mix of pasture and trees can be beneficial as the trees help to provide natural cover, but too many trees and you can run into issues with pests like ticks as well.
They say that the smaller the land, the more work for the owner. This is due to the fact that small spaces typically require horses to be in stalls or small pastures that must be cleaned on a regular basis and therefore manure management also becomes an issue. With this in mind, for the three horses, I’m definitely looking at a minimum of 5 acres, preferably 10-15.
Valerie Mellema is the owner of Gray Horse Publishing & Marketing.
She has been in the equine industry for over 25 years and is a published author of multiple horse care books. She is also the owner of Mellema Thoroughbreds, a thoroughbred breeding farm. She shows her OTTB, Mistic Gray, in Hunter/Jumpers.
Visit her website atwww.grayhorsepublishing.com.