Horse Paddocks 101: What They Are And How They’re Used

Horse Paddocks

Horse Paddocks 101 – Everything You Need To Know

Horse terminology should have a dictionary of its own, and some words will sound foreign even to experienced equestrians. Whether or not you are familiar with the word “paddock” likely depends on your local vernacular, but can also depend on your preferred riding style and discipline. 

What is a horse paddock? A horse paddock is a fenced holding area, typically around 600 square feet or larger, used to confine a horse outdoors. Paddocks can be separate from a barn or may be attached to a horse stall to allow for on-demand turnout access. Paddocks can be used daily or can be used during specific circumstances such as a restricted diet or a quarantine due to illness.

Keep reading to learn more about the specifics of a paddock, including how it can be used and additional factors to consider if you are planning to build one.

Horse Paddock Basics

Most general guidelines state that an appropriately sized horse paddock should measure at least 600 square feet for a single horse. This is something to keep in mind with considering how many acres of land to get for your horses. The paddock can be of any shape – I’ve seen them shaped as a square, a rectangle, a circle, and even odd shapes that work with the plot of land in which it resides.

One advantage to having a rectangular paddock is that the horse can easily canter from end to end, providing an opportunity for exercise that may not be available if the paddock was in the shape of a square.

Regardless of the specifics, though, a horse that would otherwise be unable to enjoy the outdoors will appreciate a paddock of any shape.

Paddocks can be used for a single horse or for multiple horses. Of course, if you are going to keep more than one horse in the enclosure, the paddock will need to be larger than if you were keeping a single horse.

At the barn where I used to ride, there was a large pasture where a herd of geldings were able to graze. Not all horses play well with others, however, and so there were a handful of square paddocks that shared a fence with the large outdoor riding arena.

Next to the square paddocks was a long rectangular paddock that housed two senior geldings who shared special dietary requirements. This setup was an efficient use of their land, allowing each horse’s needs to be individually met. 

Paddock Terminology – Paddock vs. Corral 

What one rider may call a “paddock”, another may call a “corral”. The terms are often used interchangeably, though there are some small distinctions between them.

Paddocks hold horses, while the term “corral” can be used for an enclosure that holds both horses and livestock, such as cattle. 

Therefore, on a ranch or by a cowboy, you will likely hear a pen referred to as a corral and not a paddock. A corral is often associated with a round pen as well, so while a square pen may be referred to as either a paddock or a corral, a round pen is more likely to be called the latter.

Despite these small distinctions, a paddock and a corral are the same thing. Perhaps the biggest factor in which term you use is your riding style. The term “corral” is most often used in the Western circuit, while the term “paddock” is most often used in the English discipline.

Aside from riding styles, there are also regional differences. In the West, you are more likely to hear a pen referred to as a corral. In the Northeast, you are more likely to hear a pen referred to as a paddock.

Aside from “corral”, other terms you may hear when referencing a paddock may be “enclosure”, “pen”, and “run”.

Two horses being separated by a paddock

When To Use A Horse Paddock

You may wonder why one would keep a horse in a paddock at all. Why not turn out a horse into a pasture and allow the animal more space?

While allowing a horse the freedom of a large pasture sounds ideal, in reality, there are several reasons that a horse may be confined in a paddock.

Paddocks May Be Used To Isolate A Bully Horse

No herd is complete without a pecking order. This pecking order will include a dominant horse, a horse that is on the lowest rung of the ladder, and every position in between.

If your dominant horse is displaying aggressive behavior and is putting your other horses at risk, she may need to be isolated. A paddock can give her the freedom of being outside and near the other horses without causing grief to the herd.

Using Paddocks To Protect Weaker Horses

Within a herd, there is sometimes a horse that is especially low on the totem pole. While this horse will typically want to stay with the rest of the herd, if she isn’t allowed to eat and is being picked on frequently, she may need to be isolated for her own protection.

I see this frequently with a group of three mares I know – the lowest mare frequently ends up in isolation for two reasons. The first is that the other mares do not allow her enough to eat. The second reason is that she has been internally injured after a particularly brutal kick by the dominant mare, which brings me to my next point:

Paddocks Can Be Used To Protect An Injured Horse

When a horse gets injured, he will often need to be confined so that he can heal. He may need to be separated from the rest of his herd, or he may need to be in a confined space so that he doesn’t worsen his injury through activity. Both of these issues can be resolved through the use of a paddock. 

Paddocks May Be Used To Restrict A Horse’s Diet

Because most paddocks are dry lots, a horse in an enclosure will only have access to the food that is provided to him. Paddocks can help horses with dietary restrictions because they allow intake to be monitored and closely controlled. 

Paddocks Can Be Used for Quarantining Horses

If you have a horse that is suddenly showing symptoms of illness, it would be wise to isolate him from the rest of the herd. Paddocks are a way to do this without completely separating the horses, which will lower stress on the animal.

Likewise, if you are introducing a new horse to your herd, you may want to quarantine the new arrival for a period of time, depending on where you acquired the horse.

I have a friend who has adopted more than ten horses from a kill pen. Because she doesn’t have the space for paddocks on her property, she often leaves the new arrivals in one of my empty pastures to quarantine and decompress before adding them to her own herd. If she had room for paddocks, this would be an ideal use for them.

Using Paddocks For Horse Breeding

Paddocks can also be handy when bringing a mare and a stallion together for breeding purposes. If using a paddock for this purpose, it is important that there is plenty of space for both of them. 

Considerations When Building A Paddock

If you are considering adding a paddock to your property, there are a few factors to consider:

  • Material – horse paddocks can be made from a variety of fencing materials, including wood fencing, wire horse fencing, PVC, metal pipe fencing, and even refurbished pallets. 
  • Irrigation – most paddocks are dry lots, but if you would like grass in your paddock, you will need to consider installing irrigation.
  • Slope – if your property is heavily sloped, you may need to configure your paddock so that there is at least some portion that is relatively flat or at just a small grade. 
  • Drainage – having adequate drainage is important in any type of enclosure used for animals. Standing water not only invites parasites but is not good for the horse’s hoof health. If you don’t have sufficient drainage in the area in which you would like to add a paddock, you will need to add a drain. 
  • Shelter – I prefer to erect a paddock around a tree or two. This provides shade from the sun and shelter from the rain (depending on the type of tree). It’s important to consider the comfort of your horse when installing a paddock, and protection from the elements will greatly affect that. 
  • Water access – of course, even if your horse is only spending a few hours a day in his paddock, you will need to ensure that he has access to fresh drinking water. It can be helpful to plan a paddock around an area that already has a hose bib or other water source. 

The Benefits Of A Horse Paddock

Whether you call it a paddock, a corral, or something else, having a small enclosure or two on your horse property can be immensely helpful, especially when you have more than one horse.

A paddock can be part of your horse’s daily routine or can be a resource that you use for emergencies or special circumstances (like vet or farrier visits). If you are fortunate to have the space for a paddock on your property, you will soon find that there are numerous purposes for which one can be used.

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Carmella Abel, Pro Horse Trainer

Hi! I’m Carmella

My husband and I started Equine Helper to share what we’ve learned about owning and caring for horses. I’ve spent my whole life around horses, and I currently own a POA named Tucker. You can learn more here.

Thank you for reading, and happy trails!

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