How Many Horses Should You Have Per Acre? Reference Guide

How Many Horses Can You Keep on One Acre of Land?

Happy, healthy horses thrive on having adequate room to roam. Even horses that primarily live in stables require enough land for turnout and grazing. But how much land do you really need to keep a horse? This is an age-old topic that equestrians have been debating for centuries. 

So, how many horses should you have per acre? Traditionally, equine experts recommend between one to two acres of land for the first horse, with an additional acre for every other horse. Alternatively, some equestrians gauge land needs by weight estimating that you need between two to three acres per 1,000 pounds of horse.

While these are the traditional guidelines, there are many other factors that you must take into account when determining how much acreage you need for your horse. In fact, most equestrians and horse owners keep their horses on much smaller plots of land.

In this post, we will take a look at the traditional approach to the carrying capacity of land for horses. We will also talk through some of the factors you must consider when determining how many horses you can keep on your land. We hope this information will equip you to provide more effective care for your equine companions.

Traditional Approach to Carrying Capacity of Land for Horses

Over the years, the carrying capacity of land for horses has been a great dispute amongst equestrians and horse owners. While we know that horses generally thrive on more land, many horses are healthy and happy on minimal plots of land. 

As we mentioned previously, most equestrians recommend between one to two acres of land for your first horse. For each additional horse, they recommend adding another acre to your space. However, for smaller horses, this amount of land may not be necessary.

Another way of determining how many horses you can keep on your acreage is to estimate 1,000 pounds of horses for every two to three acres of land. This will provide you with adequate space for grazing, turnouts, and proper land management. 

While we all dream of having a large farm with hundreds of acres, this is not a reality for many of us. Fortunately, with proper management and oversight, you can successfully keep your horse on a smaller amount of acreage. 

Things to Consider When Determining How Much Land You Need

In more recent years, with acreage limitations in all parts of the country, equestrians have sought to better understand the needs of horses when it comes to land. Whether you are hoping to home your own horses or seeking to open a boarding barn and stable, there are some things you should consider when determining how much land you really need.

Is the Land for Exercise or Nutritional Needs?

As an equestrian, you are well aware of the varying needs of horses. This is perhaps the most important thing to consider when determining how much acreage you need for your horse. How will the land be used? Will your horse be using the land as a primary source of nutrition or is it simply supplemental? How do you plan to exercise your horse? Are you planning on organized forms of exercise each day or relying on turnouts for activity? 

If you are relying on the land as a primary source of nutrition for your horse, you must provide your horse with adequate acreage on which to gauge. On the other hand, if the purpose of the land is primarily for exercise, the amount of acreage is less important than how the space is designed.

Local Zoning Ordinances

How horse-friendly is the area in which you will keep your horses? In some areas of the country, there are zoning ordinances and limitations regarding how close horses can be kept to other homes or water sources. You must research these zoning ordinances as they may add additional acreage to your land requirements.

Quality of Land to Support Horses

While the land in some parts of the country is ideal for supporting horses, other areas that are known for their droughts may not be as well-suited. It is important to judge the quality of your land as you determine how many horses your acreage can support. If your land is less fertile or not as high of quality, you may need to account for additional acreage to support your horses.

Pasture Management & Rotation Plan

What is your plan for pasture management and rotation? More acreage will allow you to be a bit more lax in your management and rotation of the pasture. On the other hand, if your horses are kept on minimal acreage, you will need to be especially aware of how you maintain the land.  

What Breed Are Your Horses?

As you are well aware, not all horse breeds are equal! While some horse breeds thrive in smaller pastures, other horse breeds require much more space to remain happy and healthy. If you are looking for a home for your horses, it is important to research the unique requirements of their breed. On the other hand, if you are looking to purchase acreage on which to board horses, it is best to overestimate the amount of acreage you will need per horse. 

Challenges of Keeping Horses On Limited Acreage

While it is true that horses survive and thrive on limited acreage in almost every area of the country, some challenges accompany this approach. If you are planning to keep your horse on a limited amount of acreage, you must be prepared to address these challenges head-on. 

Overgrazed Pastures

Perhaps the greatest challenge of keeping your horses on limited acreage is overgrazing. When there is not ample space for your horses to graze, they will not be able to attain the full benefits of their time in the pasture. For this reason, it is always better to provide your horses with more acreage than to force an additional horse into your space.

If your pasture isn’t producing enough grass to sustain your horses, you can always feed your horses hay and grain. Hay can basically grass that has been cut and dried for storage. It can provide your horse with just about the same nutritional value that fresh grass would. To learn more about feeding your horses hay, check out my article How to Know If Your Hay is Bad: Essential Horse Hay Guide.

Manure Piles

Any equestrian will be quick to understand the challenges of manure piles. When you are keeping horses on a smaller plot of land, you will naturally have less space to accommodate your ever-growing pile of manure. 

Not only can a large manure pile on a small plot of land prove an eyesore to both yourself and your neighbors, but it can also harbor parasites, flies, and other pests. Additionally, rainwater will cause your manure pile to release contaminants into the ground. With a greater plot of land, you can keep your manure pile far away from the areas of your farm that you frequent daily. 

Unsightly Mud Puddles

Mud puddles are another common nuisance of horse owners around the country. With a smaller plot of land, there are fewer opportunities to skirt around the mud puddles. This forces both humans and horses to walk through mud puddles, tracking mud and dirt throughout your farm. 

Limited Opportunities for Exercise

The last challenge of keeping your horses on limited acreage is that there are limited opportunities for exercise. With a smaller turnout area, horses do not have the freedom to exercise at will. Because of this, you must devote more of your time each day to intentional activities and outlets for exercise. 

Tips for Keeping Horses On Limited Acreage

Equestrians are a determined and stubborn bunch. We will find a way to make almost any arrangement work for both ourselves and our horses! What could be better than keeping your horse in your own backyard? 

If you determine that your acreage is adequate to support your horse, some tips can make this arrangement better suited for both humans and horses.

Fertilize and Rotate Pastures for Adequate Grazing

One of the best ways to combat overgrazing is to routinely test and fertilize your pastures. This will ensure that the soil quality is optimized, allowing the pasture to thrive. Additionally, by investing in temporary fencing, you can rotate your pastures. 

Although it may seem counterintuitive, research shows that allowing your horse to graze in a smaller pasture that is rotated routinely will optimize the production of your pastures.

Try Composting Manure to Eliminate Large Piles

Frustrated with the constantly growing manure pile behind your house? Try composting! Composting manure is a great way to manage large piles while also producing natural fertilizer for your pastures! To compost your manure pile, make sure the pile is twice as long at its base as it is high. This shape allows the manure to reach the ideal temperature for efficient composting.

Composting will require a bit of additional effort as you must maintain the proper conditions. However, it is the most effective and efficient way to manage large manure piles on small plots of land. 

Redesign Your Land to Accommodate for Proper Drainage

As we mentioned previously, one of the nuisances of small farms is large mud puddles caused by rain. However, this is not something that you must simply resign yourself to! Redesign your land to accommodate for proper draining following rain. Consider installing culverts or french drains to allow water to quickly leave high-traffic areas.

Additionally, consider renovating your farm to raise high-traffic areas using a combination of elevation, gravel, and other drainage methods. If you are unsure of how to best redesign your farm to provide proper drainage, it may be worthwhile to work with a landscaping expert in these efforts. 

Get Creative When Designing Turnouts for Exercise

We mentioned temporary fencing to allow for pasture rotation but they also allow you to provide creative solutions for turnouts! Create a track within your paddock that encourages activity and exercise. Incentivize your horses to work through the track by placing hay and water stations at regular intervals. 

In addition to daily turnouts, you will also have to prioritize intentional activity if you are keeping your horses on limited acreage. While riding is often the easiest way to ensure your horse is remaining active, there are a variety of other activities you can introduce into your horses’ routine. To learn more alternative ways to exercise your horse, read my article Easy Ways to Exercise a Horse: Step-By-Step Guide With Pictures.

In Conclusion

At the end of the day, the facts are simple: horses need space. Although the traditional recommendations state that each horse requires between one to two acres of land, we know that horses thrive on much smaller plots.

For personal use, horses thrive on limited acreage with some creative problem-solving on the part of their owners. However, if you are seeking to start a boarding barn and stable, it is best to accommodate for more acreage than necessary as this will appeal to horse owners. 

It is important that you also research local zoning ordinances and regulations in your area to ensure that you are not in violation of city code. Doing so will prevent great stress and frustration down the road.

Finally, as an equestrian and horse owner, you must seek to provide an optimal living situation for your equine companions. Although it may seem ideal to keep your horse outside your backdoor, this may not be an environment in which they will thrive. If you are curious about whether your acreage is well-suited for your horse, consult with an experienced equestrian for a second opinion.

When your horse has adequate space to graze and exercise, they will remain happy and healthy long into the future.

Related Questions

Do bigger horses require more land? Yes! The larger your horse is, the more acreage they will require. Bigger horses not only take up more physical space but also require more nutrients each day. Because of this, if you have a larger horse breed, you will need to provide them with perhaps more acreage than typically recommended. Most experts recommend an average of two to three acres of land per 1,000 pounds of horse.

Can horses survive by grazing on grass? In the wild, horses survive on a diet that is composed primarily of the grass they graze. However, it is unlikely that your horse has access to enough grass to avoid supplementation. For this reason, most equestrians supplement their horse’s diet with hay, grains, or other supplements.

Providing your horse with adequate turnout is just one way you care for their needs. To get a complete rundown on caring for horses, check out my article How to Care For A Horse: Ultimate Guide For Beginners.

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