Horse paddocks are frequently viewed as “exercise yards,” particularly in and near urban areas, with varying attempts to use the designated land for feed production. In these situations, the general lack of attention to pasture composition and vigor leads to a greater reliance on purchased feed. Due to underfeeding or uncontrolled grazing, this inattention manifests itself in haphazard grazing systems, overfeeding, or excessive grazing pressures. Weeds, soil erosion, horse health issues, and an unfavorable environmental impact from dust, flies, weed transfer, and property appearance can all result from these circumstances. Smallholdings and agistment properties in and around urban areas are particularly affected. Many of these properties are leased, while others have absentee landowners and unsupervised agistment. Also, it is important for the owners to know how much land the horses need for them to survive. Good pasture management on small properties is particularly difficult, but it is possible, as many dairy farms have demonstrated. Horse nutritional needs are similar to those of other grazing animals on Australian farms, where improved and well-managed pastures provide the most cost-effective feed. A few horse owners have put their knowledge of proper grazing management, stocking rates, fertilizer use, species selection, and weed control to good use. Although these practices are not widely used, they have a lot of potential for improving pasture and land management, as evidenced by many horse owners’ interest in small properties.
The Need for a Horse-Friendly Environment
1. The Shelter
A stable or housing is not required for all horses. Some breeds with thick coats can live outside all year if they are protected from the prevailing winds, summer sun, and flies. Because donkeys lack waterproof coats, they will always require protection from the rain. Depending on the field environment and type of horse, the shelter can be natural, such as trees or hedges, or man-made, such as a field shelter. It is a need also to have safety precautions at a horse stable.
Where horses are of less hardy breeding, such as thoroughbreds, clipped, very young, or elderly, stable accommodation, housing, or other shelters may be required to protect them from the cold and damp or extreme heat. Any horse may require stabling on short notice if they become ill or injured, and plans should be made for this ahead of time.
2. The Pasture
The amount of pasture required per horse is determined by the type of grass, ground conditions, season, horse type, and degree of pasture management. If no additional feeding is provided, each horse requires approximately 0.5 to 1.0 hectares (or 1.25 to 2.5 acres) of suitable grazing.
A minimum of 0.2–0.4 hectares is required for each donkey (a half to one acre). When a horse is primarily housed and grazing areas are only used for occasional turnout, a smaller area may be sufficient.
To avoid overgrazing, aid worm control, maintain good drainage, and control weeds, a good pasture management program is required. This includes picking up droppings, rotating grazing areas, and, where possible, removing horses when the ground is very wet to prevent poaching and health problems caused by the horse’s feet breaking the pasture into wet muddy patches.
In muddy conditions, a horse needs a large, well-drained area in the pasture where he can stand and lie down, as well as be fed and watered.
Where horses are the only grazers, most horse pastures have a lot of weeds and rough grass. Grazing sheep or cattle in horse pastures should therefore be considered to improve sward quality and help reduce worm burden.
3. Poisonous plants and Dangerous objects
Fields should be kept free of dangerous objects and poisonous plants, such as yew and laburnum, which are extremely toxic to horses and should never be given access to them or their clippings.
Ragwort is toxic to horses and can cause fatal liver damage if consumed. Horses will eat cut ragwort as well as the live plant, so proper disposal is required. Because cut and pulled flowering ragwort plants can still set seed and ragwort has a 70% seed germination rate, proper disposal is critical. All ragwort species should be extracted or have the root base removed before incineration, controlled burning, or landfill disposal.
4. The Hedge Clippings and Cuttings
Hedge clippings should not be available to horses. Grass cuttings are not suitable for horses to eat, and horses should be kept away from them, as well as garden waste and cut fields.
Fences should be strong and high enough to prevent horses from escaping, with higher fences required for stallions, and designed, constructed, and maintained to avoid injury with no sharp projections.
Horses should be able to pass through gates easily and safely, and gates should be securely fastened to prevent injury and escape. Gates may need to be padlocked in some circumstances. Sheep and barbed wire are not ideal. In horse-filled fields, the wire should be stretched taut. When a plain wire is used, extra care should be taken to insure that it is visible to the horse.
5. The Horse and Pony Pastures Fence Height
The type of horses kept in the field will determine the fence height required. The British Horse Society recommends that fences be 1.25m (4ft) tall, with the following specifications:
- Horses: 1.08m to 1.38m (3ft 6inches to 4ft 6inches)
- Ponies: 1m to 1.3m (3ft 3inches to 4ft 3inches)
Lower rail (horses and ponies): 0.5m (1ft 6in) above ground
- Stallions: 1.38m to 1.8m (4ft 6inches to 6ftches)
A double fence line and feasibly an electric fence line along the top of the paddock rail may be required for stallions. This is to avoid aggression between paddock occupants and to keep the stallion contained within the designated area.
6. Stable Accommodation or Housing
When constructing or altering buildings to provide housing for horses, welfare considerations should be taken into account. Professional advice should be sought to ensure that the design is fit for its purpose cheval.
The horses’ safety and comfort are the primary considerations, along with the ease of access and adequate drainage and ventilation. Stabling can contribute to the rapid spread of disease, cause injury, and pose significant fire risks if it is poorly designed or managed.
All types of housing, including individual stables, stalls, and communal barns, are covered by the following.