Keeping horses off rain-soaked or frozen pasture is critical if you want to maintain healthy grass plants. During the winter, plants stop growing and horses will continue to graze pastures down until little grass is left. Soon you’ll be left with bare spots that will turn to mud as soon as it starts to rain. Another reason to keep horses off pastures during the winter is to keep the soil from becoming compacted. When horses step on wet or soggy pastures, the soil is pressed down, squeezing out the space between soil particles and eliminating the pockets of air that allow roots to grow and water to penetrate. Finally, horse’s hooves, with or without shoes, can trample existing plants and dig up divots of dirt. And weeds usually are quick to move into these areas.
Instead of giving your horse access to the entire pasture during the winter and early spring, create a winter paddock or sacrifice area. A sacrifice area is a small enclosure such as a paddock, corral or pen that gives your horse a chance to get outside during the winter without damaging your pastures. It is called a sacrifice area because you are giving up the use of that small portion of land as a grassy area to benefit the rest of your pastures.
Choose a site that is slightly elevated with dry, well drained soil. Use gravel, hog fuel or stall mats to help keep the area mud free. Keep the area close to your barn to make moving the horses in and out easier. Sacrifice area should be at least 20 feet wide by 20 feet long. If you want to give your horse enough room to trot, you can extend the length to about 100 feet. Use safe fencing for your sacrifice area. Finally, make sure they have access to fresh water.
By limiting your horse to a sacrifice area during the winter months, you’ll have plenty of lush pasture for them to enjoy in the spring and summer.
Photo credit: Fairfax County Government