Missed the May online chat about Managing Horses on Small Acreages? Review the chat summary to see what others asked our experts.

Managing Horses on Small Acreage

HorseQuest Experts included:

  • Dr. Betsy Greene, University of Vermont
  • Dr. Krishona Martinson, University of Minnesota
  • Dr. Bob Mowrey, North Carolina State University
  • Dr. Ann Swinker, Penn State University

Get Prepared:

NOTE: This transcript is from an online, live chat. The major topics have been captured in the material below. If you have further questions, please search eXtension for more in-depth and detailed information.

May 2007 – Online Chat Summary


Q: I have been told that horses should not eat red maple leaves-especially if the leaves are wilted and acorns from some oaks. Is that true?

A: That is correct, wilted leaves are highly toxic. Horses should be denied further access to them. Prevention is best accomplished by maintaining a good feeding program and removing fallen branches, or leaves. In some cases you could temporarily fence out areas of the pasture that contain red maples. Try to avoid putting any trees or ornamentals in or near the pasture or fence lines.

Q: What trees would you recommend in a small pasture if you were planting for shade? I was considering elms, willows, cottonwoods. Would there be anything wrong with these?

A: Whatever you plant, you have to fence it off, or else the horses will chew the bark off and kill the plants. Do not plant trees in the cherry family. Wilted maple leaves can cause toxicity as well as green acorns from Oak.


Q: Regarding vaccinations, are there any other vaccinations than the ones listed which should be given? Are there any other diseases looming on the horizon which can be lessened with vaccinations?

A: Check with your vet to see what vaccinations are recommended for your area.

Q: I have a 20 acre farm, will I need a specific deworming schedule for the horses on the small acreage? I am concerned about increase exposure to parasite eggs due to the concentration of feces.

A: This depends on how many acres in individual pasture cells you are using and how concentrated the horse population is. Correct pasture management and rotation will limit access to parasites. Parasites are located within 2 inches of ground level. Grazing lower than 2 inches will reduce the growth reserves in the plant and will limit forage availability. Bottom line- don’t overgraze and you will see no additional parasite challenges.

Rotation of Pastures/Pasture Management

Q: How do I keep the horses from grazing one spot to the bare ground?

A: Horses are spot grazers by nature and they would rather continually graze immature plants instead of eating the mature plants. As a result spot grazing occurs. If you let pastures recover, they will be better. Horses love the luscious short, immature plants…and they won’t choose more mature stuff. That’s why they always go back to the new growth and graze it to the ground. Spot grazing can be limited by reducing the acreage accessible to the horse at any one given time by rotating to fresh pasture area. The overgrazed area will have a chance to recover and an opportunity to regrow. A rotation grazing system will reduce and hopefully eliminate spot grazing.

Q: We have two horses on 2.5 acres (that includes house and back yard) and our pasture looks terrible. Suggestions?

A: Limit their grazing time. You will need a dry lot or sacrifice area and use that as exercise or turn out. You would only need around 500 square feet per horse in this dry lot or paddock. You’ll have to supplement with hay–lower quality not moldy or dusty hay–“busy hay”.

Q: If I want to rotate horses on my pastures, what is the easiest way to do that without having to more build fence?

A: There is no way around it, use temporary electric fence. It is cheap and easy to move.

Q: Would you suggest electric wire or tape?

A: We use tape because it is more visible.

Q: Our pasture is in bad shape…overgrazed for sure…we have lots of weeds…what do you recommend we use to get rid of weeds…do we section off an area for them not to go on and then apply weed stuff?

A: We had a hugely overgrazed and weedy pasture when I was in WA. By resting it and clipping it the grass could out compete the weeds. Remember, all herbicides have a grazing restriction, as little as 7 days, up to 30 days+.

Q: Do you recommend feeding round bales over square bales?

A: It depends if the hay bales have been stored properly and were put up at the right moisture level. Sometimes in the “curing” process the inside center can be of a higher moisture content than the surrounding outside hay. You need heavy equipment to move those large round bales, as opposed to smaller, easily moved square bales.

Q: If we were to fence off an area and got good grass at some point, is there a point at which we NEED to mow, in other words, do we only let the grass get so high?

A: By clipping them, it keeps the grass in a growing phase…otherwise it will stop growing and you have defeated the rest… by cutting the pasture, it keeps it in the vegetative stage, a stage that is more easily consumed. It really does not stop growing, it just grows more slowly.

Q: Gophers – is it true that gophers will ‘hear’ hoof traffic and avoid pastures?

A: They will avoid high traffic areas and irrigated pastures.


Q: What is the preferable distance between fence posts when using woven wire and one electric wire around the top for fencing in two horses in a smaller lot?

A: Posts should be eight feet apart with regular woven wire

Q: Odd question but part of our pasture with fence using t posts and barbless wire, I have one horse that leans over to get the grass that is greener on the other side – could she knock it down?

A: Some horses may get entangled in the wire and get into trouble. If you can have a strand of hot or electric fence at the top, it will help with the leaning.


Q: I have a creek that runs through my small acreage farm, are there any issues I need to be aware of with regard to my horses having access to the creek?

A: Sometimes there are specific regulations as to whether you can allow your horses to drink from or travel through that creek. In NC there is no specific regulation unless it runs directly into a major tributary of a stream. However, best management practices recommend a 50 ft buffer zone on each side of the stream to filter nutrients from waste reaching the water. Most producers are fencing off streams in anticipation of future regulation.

Q: The creek on my property runs in to the Kentucky river about a mile down stream. Is there a place I can find out if any regulations exist or would apply to my property?

A: Contact your county extension agent

Q: What about a pond? Any concerns?

A: Same regulations exist for ponds as streams in most states. If the overflow goes directly into a major tributary, you should fence it out. If there is no fresh water inlet, there could be a potential for giardia or cryptospiridium issues.

Q: This question may not be limited to just small acreage, but any ideas or suggestions on how you can prevent horses from destroying the ground around an automatic field waterer?

A: Build an elevated pad with concrete or crush and run covered with screenings. Include at least an 8 foot area around the waterer, which will eliminate mud and solve the forage growth problem. If there is low land around the waterer, you may need to use high tech absorptive fiber product prior to laying down the stone.

Q: Would the same solution work for gate areas?

A: Yes it would work for gate areas.