A sacrifice area is a small enclosure, often called a paddock, corral, or pen, meant to be your horse's outdoor living quarters. Technically it is called a sacrifice area because you are giving up use of that small portion of land as a grassy area to benefit your pasture. Horses should be confined in sacrifice areas to avoid overgrazing and especially in winter months when plants are dormant and soils are saturated.
In past posts I’ve talked about several aspects of setting up your horse’s sacrifice area, or paddock. One thing I’ve not discussed--and you’ve asked about--is size. What is the right size for your sacrifice area?
The size of a sacrifice area can vary greatly. It can be anything from that of a generous box stall, say 16 feet x 16 feet, to a long, narrow enclosure where your horse could actually trot or even gallop about to get some exercise. If you want your horse to be able to run or play an enclosure of about 20 or 30 feet wide by 100 feet in length is needed. There are also some interesting ideas around for “track” sacrifice areas–large, long corridors that circle the perimeter of a pasture or other area. The goal of a track sacrifice area is to encourage the horse(s) to move about more freely and to play or interact with each other. Other creative ideas include having smaller sacrifice areas along with a large turnout area that you rotate horses through. If your arena is fenced in, perhaps it can be used as a turnout area.
Here are some criteria to consider when designing the size of your sacrifice area:
The amount of land available. Living with horses on one or two acres requires greater creativity in designing paddocks. Paddocks may not be as big as you’d like or they may be a track or shaped to fit around a building. Whatever fits in and works for your situation.
The number of horses. If you have several horses you may decide to group some of them together, such as retired or young individuals or those not currently being ridden.
Their age, breed and temperaments. All this plays a part is sizing and setting up paddock size. Young horses or those not being ridden regularly generally need bigger paddocks so they can exercise themselves.
How much regular exercise your horses receive. If your horses all get regular exercise they may be fine with smaller enclosures. Otherwise, you may wish to set up a larger turnout area where they can run around for a few hours several times a week and work off excess steam.
Cost and chore efficiency. Remember that the bigger your sacrifice area, the more work you’ll have to maintain it (such as in picking up manure and putting down footing) and there will be more cost (such as for fencing or footing).
To give you some ideas I've included several photos as examples of different sizes for sacrifice areas.
In the past I’ve had rather large sacrifice areas–50 x 80 feet, 40 x 40 feet, and 24 x 40 feet. I’ve felt that it was a lot of work and time to maintain these larger areas and that our horses really didn’t use the big space. Mostly what they do is stand around, moving here or there a little bit. In our current location I decided to try smaller paddocks, 12 x 32 feet, along with using our arena or round pen for turnout when needed.
Using a sacrifice area confines manure and urine to a smaller area where you can have better control of it. Picking up the manure every one to three days will help reduce your horse's parasite load as well as reducing flies and insects. Regular removal of manure also greatly reduces the amount of mud that develops and it will prevent contaminated runoffs from reaching the surface waters in your area–a very important environmental concern.
I’ll talk more about manure management options as well as track paddocks in future blogs.