When people think of horses, they tend to think of rolling hills of luscious green grass and the word freedom. That’s all nice and well and some horse owners do have this utopia for this horses, but the reality is perfect land is hard to come by and not all horses thrive in that type of environment. Some would founder on too much grass. (See what founder means here.) Some hate rain and so on and so on. You get the idea. Different horses vary in their needs just like different dogs and people do.
When we were looking for our “farm,” we wanted to be close to the city. We both work in the city. We like the amenities the city has, like close grocery stores, doctors, hospitals, mechanics, etc. We knew acreage would be hard to find, but we were determined. We were incredibly blessed to find 4 acres literally around the corner from where we lived at the time. We had two horses at the time. We now have 3 horses and a donkey. Four acres is plenty of room for them all, if managed correctly!
What do they eat?
There was grass when we first built our horses’ paddock, but if you know anything about horses, then you know they’re pretty rough on the land, especially if it’s a small tract that they live on all the time. That grass turned to dirt within the month. So, what do they munch on all day if not grass? Hay. Lots and lots of hay. (Hay is dried grass if you didn’t know.) It fills their forage needs. It keeps their bellies full.
We have a farmer delivery it straight to us which cuts down on a middle man cost. We used to feed square bales in slow feeders. Now, we feed round bales in a large hay hut. We secure a net over the top so that they cannot engorge themselves. Most regulate how much they eat just like humans. They don’t eat when they’re full. Others…. don’t know when too stop (just like humans), so we just slow the process down a bit for them by using the net. Horses survive on forage. With good quality hay, that box is checked, even on our little acreage! You can also do rotational grazing where you seed one paddock and allow it to rest and grow grass while they are in another paddock. We plan to implement that when we are able to create more than one paddock. (We also supplement grain to those that need the extra calories.)
How do they exercise?
Horses need mental and physical stimulation. We used to board on 70 acres of grassy hills when we are in college. The horses were constantly back and forth across the fields, interacting (whether it was nice or naughty) with the other horses and filling their days with stimulation. It’s the same on our little 4 acres. All of that just happens within their paddock. They have their tracks, their roll holes, their feeding area, their waterer area, their run-in shed as shelter. They constantly go back and forth to these areas. They play and torment each other. To supplement this, we do groundwork or ride them. We don’t ask them to do more than they are capable, and it’s a great way to get their minds working even more. Horses are very different from dogs, but they are similar in that they will create “jobs” for themselves that are often bad habits if not giving directions into good outlets mentally and physically. An example of a bad habit that can be harmful to them is cribbing.
What about sanitation?
Cleaning up after your horses is extremely important on small acreage. We boarded at a barn on a small tract of land where the horses were in individual paddocks that were not cleaned. The land turned to a muddy, poop-filled mess that all the horses were constantly standing in. It wasn’t sanitary, safe or ideal. We don’t have a barn with stalls at our home, so the horses are out in their paddock 24/7. One day’s worth of poop fills the bed of our Kawasaki Mule up about 2 inches. That’s just one day’s worth. Imagine how unsanitary it would be if we just left it all in their paddock. It’d be unacceptable. Now what to do with it varies. Some people buy manure spreaders, and safely spread it on different areas. We are currently dumping ours into a large compost pile to fill a large hole on our property. The poop composts over and turns into incredibly rich soil. Ideally, we would churn it every so often with a tractor, but we don’t own a tractor yet so we let time do its thing. I’ve even heard of people putting it down for the local trash people to pick up. However you dispose of it, picking up your horses’ poop is imperative on small acreage. It’s a lot of work, but it can be fun! 6 Reasons Why I Like Picking Paddocks
What about shelter?
If you’re a horse person, then I guarantee you’ve dreamt about your dream barn. My dream barn was BIG and magnificent with beautiful stalls, a gorgeous tack room and a covered arena… Alas, I will never have that barn on our 4 acres, but that’s okay. There just isn’t the space. We do have a decent sized “arena,” complete with pecan trees as our obstacles. We decided to build our horses a run-in shelter instead of a full barn. It takes up less space. They put themselves in it when it’s raining or they want the shade and take themselves when they’re ready to. How they utilize it is totally up to them, and you’d be shocked how often they don’t use it. Sometimes I’ll look out, and they’ll all be huddled under some trees in the pouring rain instead of the completely dry area under the roof… Brilliant creatures sometimes. What matters is that shelter is available to them.
Another management idea for horses on small acreage is called paddock paradise. We haven’t tried it, but it’s something I would love to implement one day.
So there you have it. Take care of their basic needs, and horses can successfully live on small acreage. How do I know my horses are happy and healthy? Well, they’ll tell you if you listen, and our vet confirmed it. 😉