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Extension > Agriculture > Livestock > Horse > Nutrition and forages > Pasture site planning

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Pasture site planning

Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota

Establishing a horse pasture takes time, patience, and resources. When establishing a horse pasture, site planning is very important (along with soil fertility, seedbed preparation, species selection, weed control, and grazing management). Planning ahead is an important step to take to ensure your pasture is successful and productive for years to come.

Topography and Geography of Your Pasture.

Individual pastures should not include steeply sloping hillsides, wet lands, soil types that vary greatly; or paddocks that are oriented up and down hillsides.

Environmental Concerns

Keep horses out of rivers, creeks, swamps, or wetlands. Horses can cause environmental damage, and wet areas are usually home to insects (biting flies and mosquitoes) and poisonous plants.

Pasture Size

Pastures should be large enough to handle your stocking rate, acreage layout, and grazing system. Rectangular shaped pastures tend to better suit horses as they encourage exercise. The stocking rate (how many horses your pasture can handle) averages 2 acres per horse, however, soils type, grazing management, and weather conditions can influence the stocking rate.

Sacrifice Paddock

Dry lots, or sacrifice paddocks, provide an opportunity to move horses off the pasture during wet, dry, or times of needed pasture rest. Sacrifice paddocks can vary in size but should provide a minimum of 400 square feet per horse. The size should be increased proportionally as the number of horses increase. Sacrifice paddocks usually include a shelter/shed, water source, and ample area to feed hay free choice.

Gate Placement and Fencing

Gates should be placed in corners closest to the direction of travel. Gates should be large enough to get equipment and several horses through at once. Avoid placing gates in low areas where water may pool. When selecting a fencing system(s), consider the BASIC rules; budget, appearance, safety, installation and containment.


Clean, fresh water is a requirement for horses. Place waterers in areas where filling and cleaning is convenient, and if possible, where multiple pastures have access

Safety and Common Sense

Design pastures that are safe, work with your pasture size and shape, and make sense for you, your horses, and your farm.

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