When talking about the overall space required to keep a horse, there are some factors that we need to take into account. First of all, we have to consider the indoor size requirements for a horse (a barn or a shed), as well as the outdoor requirements (pasture). Moreover, we need to take into account the size of the horse.
Generally speaking, a regular-sized horse will need between 14 square feet (1.3 square meters) to 16 square feet (1.4 square meters) of space in the stall, while the pasture should be between 1.5 (6000 m2) acres to 2 acres (8100 m2) in size. If the horse is smaller, a pony, for instance, an 11-square foot (1 square meter) stall will be sufficient, while the pasture size could be reduced to 1 acre.
Before you decide to build your stall, however, always ensure that you’re well-aware of your local building codes. You wouldn’t want to build something only to find out that you have to tear everything down afterward. That’s not good for you, your wallet, or your horses. Plan ahead, inform yourself and build accordingly.
Not all pastures are the same.
You’ll notice that I recommended somewhere between 1.5 acres to 2 acres of pasture size per horse, but this largely depends on the quality of the pasture. Depending on where you live, the horse might not be able to get a nutritious meal out of 2 acres of pasture, in which case you might need twice as much space or even three times as much.
There is a caveat, though, and that’s hay. If you’re able to provide hay for your horse all-year-round, then it won’t depend on the pasture for food, and you won’t need as much space to begin with. Two acres of land is relatively enough for a horse to get good exercise, but it never hurts to have more.
In temperate locations with calm winters, a horse will do just fine on 2 to 3 acres of land food-wise, and it will have plenty of space to run around and keep in shape. However, in arid regions, horse owners might need as much as 30 acres of land in order to meet the nutritional needs of their horses.
Again, you should always have an ample supply of hay all-year-round. If that’s unobtainable for some reason, you can rely on the land to feed your horse, just as long as the pasture is large enough and lush enough.
What is a good pasture anyway?
The difference between a good pasture for a horse and one that’s not so good is represented by the amount of edibility. A great pasture should have a vegetative cover that’s around 70% edible. The owner should make sure that there aren’t any large patches of weed or bare ground, as that’s just wasted space on a pasture.
Also, keep in mind that a horse will graze faster and will meet its nutritional requirements quicker if it knows it has limited time to do so. This is what horse owners call short turnouts or stake-outs. While this might save time, remember that a horse’s digestive system needs to work constantly, so providing free access to hay at all times is highly recommended.
If you don’t want to run out of hay too fast, though, consider using a hay net in order to slow down the feeding process. The horse just needs to nibble on something constantly in order to allow its digestive system to go to work.
Different horses have different space requirements.
The breed of a horse doesn’t just influence its appearance and pulling power. It also dictates its nutritional requirements, as well as its need for exercise. It’s well-known in the equine world that hot-blooded horses need more food and more space for exercise when compared to cold-blooded horses, which are generally calmer and easier to keep.
In the case of draft horses, they are some of the largest around, which is why they need the largest stalls. Since they’re not very good at running and jumping, though, they don’t need a huge pasture, so that’s a plus.
Furthermore, if you own multiple horses, they will need less space per horse when compared to a single one. A good rule of thumb is to allocate two acres of land for the first horse and an additional acre for each of the other ones.
What is the bare minimum space required for a horse?
What I described so far are ideal scenarios, and surely you should do your best to strive for them. However, there are horse owners out there who keep their equines in more restrictive conditions. I’m not saying that their horses suffer, but they would probably be happier with a bit more space.
So what is the absolute bare minimum of space that you can keep your horse in? A tenth of an acre or 4,500 square feet is enough space to ensure free movement and exercise. Naturally, this space won’t be enough for a decent pasture, but it is just barely enough to get by if you want to use the space for exercise alone. These areas are often known as “dry lots,” an “exercise lots,” or a “stress lots.”
Making sure your stall is large enough for your horse.
If you intend to keep your horse in a stall, make sure that it has enough space to turn around and sleep. Yes, as I mentioned in my previous article about horse sleeping habits, a horse will need to lay down from time to time in order to achieve deep sleep. As a horse owner, it falls to you to figure out exactly how much space you should allocate for each equine.
Again, this is highly dependant on the horse’s size. A pony or a mini horse will do just fine with an 8 x 8-foot or 10 x 10-foot stall, while regular horses will need at least 12 x 12 feet.
If you intend to keep your horse in a shed, the shed should have around 100 x 100 feet of space. Moreover, if you need to keep more than one horse in the shed, consider adding an additional 20 feet per horse just to be on the safe side.
Horses are social animals, which means that they feel safer around other horses. They sleep better when they know there’s another horse around, and they might even be calmer and less stressed overall.
The amount of space that a horse needs for its nutrition and exercise will vary from horse to horse and from breed to breed. However, the numbers that I presented above should give you a good idea of how large your stall should be and how much space should you provide on a pasture.
Horses don’t fare well when they don’t exercise. However, you can make do with less land as long as you take the time to walk or ride your horses regularly. Substituting a pasture for ample amounts of hay can also work pretty well. All things considered, horse owners with less land can get by, but they do need to put in some extra effort for the horse’s benefit.
I hope this article has answered some of your most important questions about the space requirements of a horse. If you have any suggestions or you would like to share from your own experiences, feel free to get in touch.