How Big Should Paddocks Be?

At the moment everyone is monitoring their horse`s weight, and looking at the spring grass (especially after today`s downpour!), but how do you find the balance between quantity of grass and paddock size?

The first thing that people think about when looking at restricting the horse or pony`s diet is strip grazing. This works by every couple of days giving the animal another strip of grass. The width given depends on the horse, quantity and quality of the grass, and time of year. However, it is important to ensure that the initial area that the horse has is big enough for him. It can be easy to break a paddock down into strips, and initially give the horse just one strip. In terms of quantity of grass, this is sufficient, but in terms of space, it is insufficient. Once strip grazing has been set up, it is usually a very economic way of ensuring your horse utilises all of his grass, and that his intake is limited.

Horses need space to cavort and let off steam, so you should ensure that the piece of land to be grazed allows the horse to have a good canter or buck without hitting the fence. Someone I know had problems with her mare in the winter as the mare was full of high spirits and kept having fun in the field, but her paddock wasn`t big enough. The mare was able to gallop half a dozen strides, before slamming on the handbrake and spinning around to gallop back. I`m sure you can imagine the twisting and turning effect on her body, and she was always injuring herself, be it a knock from a leg, or a slightly strained muscle. This made me think about the fields we had when we were young. The yard was on the side of the mountain, and we turned the horse`s out behind the yard and they would gallop up the hill, bucking in high spirits. However, we rarely had any injuries and I`ve recently realised why. The hill wore the horse`s out quickly, and the fact they were going in a straight line meant there were fewer twisting or turning injuries. So perhaps it`s worth thinking about the terrain your field is on, when considering how to divide it, as it will impact the space needed for your horse to let off steam.

If your allocated paddock at the livery yard is not big enough to divide, then it is worth limiting turnout time as opposed to restricting the grazing area, but then you have the problem of keeping the energy levels at a controllable level.

A friend of mine uses the Paradise Paddock setup for her fat ponies – here – and finds it provides enough space for her ponies to cavort and burn off energy, whilst encouraging them to move around naturally, thus mimicking their grazing style in the wild.

I guess that finding the balance between the quantity of grass available to your horse and their paddock size is an individual decision; dependent on the time of year, horse`s weight, type of grass, exercise routine and fitness. Even if your horse is on a strict diet he should still have some forage available to him so that his digestive system continues to function and he is not at risk of colic or stomach ulcers. In order to maintain the horse`s current weight you should aim to feed him between 2 and 2.5% of his body weight, and if you are trying to get him to lose weight it should be between 1.5 and 2% of his bodyweight. It is hard to estimate how much grass he has ingested during his turnout period, but I guess you need to extrapolate from the quantity of grass and the length of turn out.

I always feel that if you are concerned that your horse doesn`t have enough forage to keep him occupied overnight then soaking hay is a useful alternative as it washes away most of the nutrients, so you can afford to feed an extra kilo or so. Making the hay difficult to eat, by putting it in small holed haynets or even one haynet inside another, and in several different places around the stable or field, can help slow down his munching.

You often see ponies who are being strip grazed, and in a bare paddock, being supplemented by hay. This is because it has a lower nutritional level, as well as fewer carbohydrates, than fresh spring grass so is preferable by many owners, as the pony will be less at risk of laminitis.



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