Probably the most important aspect of managing pastures is the time when you take your horses off the pasture. You can greatly improve the health and productivity of your pastures by creating and using a winter paddock or "sacrifice area" to confine your horses for this time period.

Fall tree

Fall is the time to get your horse property chore efficient and ready for winter.

In the winter, keeping horses off saturated, rain-soaked soils and dormant or frozen pasture plants is critical if you want to maintain a healthy pasture next summer. Soggy soils or dormant plants simply cannot survive continuous grazing and trampling in winter months. Horses are particularly hard on pastures -- the pounding of their hooves compacts the soil, which suffocates plant roots. In addition, when the soils are wet horse hooves act like plungers by loosening fine particles of topsoil to be washed away by rain.

A winter paddock is meant to be your horse's outdoor living quarters. Your horses should be confined to this area during the winter and early spring—plus during the summer before your pastures become overgrazed.

Here are some points to consider when creating and locating a winter paddocks:

  • Locate area on higher ground away from creeks, wetlands or other water bodies as well as from surface water flows.
  • For chore efficiency your winter paddock should be convenient to your barn, hay storage and manure compost to make it easy for you to care for your horse and maintain the area.
  • A good option is to have one paddock per horse, set up like a run off of each stall or shelter. This gives the horse free access to a clean, dry, convenient place to eat.
  • Size can vary from that of a generous box stall, 16 feet x 16 feet, to that of a long, narrow enclosure where the horse could actually run or play in his paddock. For that you might want something 20 or 30 feet wide by 100 feet in length. 
  • The amount of land you have available, the number of horses, their ages, temperaments and the amount of regular exercise they receive all play a role in determining the size you choose for your winter paddock.
  • Pick up manure every one to three days to help reduce your horse's parasite load as well as reducing flies and insects—and mud.
  • To reduce mud and improve drainage, use some type of footing at least in the high-traffic areas like around gates or in front of stalls. Popular choices are crushed rock (no larger than 5/8
  • inch) or coarse washed sand. Footing should be 3 to 6 inches deep.
  • Install rain gutters and downspouts on any roofs surrounding your winter paddock. This diverts clean rainwater away from your horse’s confinement area, thereby reducing mud. It also prevents manure and urine from being washed out of the paddock into surface waters. Divert clean rainwater to include a ditch, rain barrel or undisturbed area of your pasture or woods.
  • Choose the very safest fencing you can for your winter paddock. Whatever type of fencing you choose, you may want to reinforce it with some type of electric tape or hot wire as a psychological barrier. 
  • Be sure that building corners are safe and there are no protruding objects where a horse could get hurt like bolt ends, nails, boards, or the tops of metal T-posts. Watch out for the corners of roofs and the bottom edges of metal buildings. There should be no wires or cords hanging in the yard and absolutely no junk, garbage or machinery in the paddock.
  • Gates on fences need to be adequately sized for the types of truck deliveries you expect (such as gravel, hogfuel, hay, etc.)
  • Even though your horses can move around in their winter paddocks, they still need regular exercises. Plan for and maintain a regular exercise program for your horses.

A winter paddock is meant to be your horse's outdoor living quarters. Confine horses to this area during the winter and early spring—plus during the summer before your pastures become overgrazed.

By utilizing a winter paddock, you will be creating a healthier pasture. Healthier pastures mean greater pasture productivity and less money spent on supplemental feed. Healthy pastures have the added benefit of making happier, healthier horses, a prettier picture for you and your neighbors--and a cleaner environment for all.

Alayne