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Paddock Design to Keep Your Horse Comfortable & Safe



paddockHow we stable/pasture our stock is a large percentage of our investment in our animals and can have a dramatic effect on their health and performance.

Paddock design is a special area of interest because we manufacture fence panels and feeder equipment, which has provided the opportunity to evaluate many conventional and some very unique equine properties. In the present era of humanity we have become so specialized in areas of life styles that sometimes we miss the “big picture”.

I have chosen to write about what my father taught me about taking care of horses more than a half a century ago. (My, how time flies when we are having fun.) His and his father’s philosophy was very simple – for a horse to be comfortable (key word) it needs to have adequate food, plenty of water, and needs to be able to “get out of the wind and stay dry”.

First, I will assume that you are feeding acceptable amounts of quality roughages, grain if you choose to, and free choice salt/mineral supplements. I recommend a separate feeding station for each of these parts of the total ration. The salt/mineral is best kept in non-metallic containers. I try to childproof these containers because your stock will have a tendency to tip them over wasting valuable product. Avoid putting large amounts out that will also be exposed to the weather elements, thereby reducing the quality. Feeding hay is changing about as fast as the weather changes this time of the year. I don’t expect hay prices to go down, not that it was ever cheap enough to waste. The only good thing about feeding hay on the ground is that it is the natural grazing position for the animal. There are some good hay feeders on the market that will allow your horse to feed in a natural grazing position and minimize the loss of valuable roughages. I recommend multiple feeding stations if you have more than two horses in a paddock. This can be accomplished, even in situations with very limited space, and provide for a comfortable and healthy paddock.

Second is your water, which in many cases is overlooked and the most misunderstood food source. I highly recommend having your water tested periodically to be sure it is safe for your animals. What you test for may vary depending upon your geographic location. Contact your local vet, university, feed store, farm service agency, well drilling company and other animal owners in your area to determine if there might be concerns about your water quality and/or history of any quality problems in your immediate area. Where you position your animals water supply can have either a positive or negative affect on your paddock flow. In an ideal scenario the watering location would be away from the feeding stations or housing to minimize husbandry issues and encourage traveling (exercise) for you animals.

You must also consider fencing. Many paddocks have wooden fencing, which horses love to crib on. The danger with this is that fencing is often nailed together. Once a horse chews through a fence post far enough, they can reach the nail, which is likely sharp and rusty. Ideally, you want to prevent your horse from cribbing on the fence at all, which you can do by covering the fence in anti-crib paint. You can also provide your horse with a purpose-built cribbing post with no nails. If you must use metal fastenings, use Bronze Hex Cap Screws that are blunt-ended and don’t rust. These can be swallowed relatively safely, unlike traditional nails.

And finally, we will discuss how to get our animals “out of the wind and keeping them dry”. Personally we avoid keeping our animals stalled, they stay out unless they require special attention such as a mare foaling during inclement weather or an injury that might require minimal movement. Even the new additions to the herd are placed in adjoining paddocks, having adequate accommodations. A horse that needs to be isolated for a period of time may be placed in a round pen that has some wind protection also. We utilize a combination of three sided shelters for housing, which are used by the horses a minimal amount of the time. If the horses aren’t feeding, drinking, or playing, most of their time is spent near wind breaks depending upon the time of the year. Berms are large mounds of dirt, built up in paddocks, that animals can use to shelter themselves from the winds and/or insects. A berm would be considered a luxury if you have the room in a paddock. I feel that corner wind shelters provide adequate wind protection plus they can help as a sound barrier, provide solid visual fencing for corners, and aid in giving your animals a location to deposit their manure, making paddock cleaning easier and thereby reducing fly and pest challenges. The construction and design of corner wind protection varies from region to region and depends upon components available in your area.

These are ideas that have worked well for our operation. The type of horse you are raising, the soil type, the number of animal units, and other factors that are too numerous to mention, need to be considered when designing a new complex or redesigning an existing one. A good place to start would be at the environmental service office in your area. Learn and understand what the guidelines are for your location and than you can make good decisions in designing a new or existing paddock.

May your equine partner fulfill the balance that we are seeking in life so we can keep our priorities in line; God, Family, Friends, and Animals!


Jim Kotschevar is the co-owner with his brother Mike of Service Equipment, manufacturers and distributors of Arena Fenceline products since 1992. Jim’s other experiences extend to raising horses and elk with his wife and family near Paynesville, MN to consulting in areas of risk management programs and facility design and management. Jim can be contacted at 320-250-3222.

[Written by Jim Kotschevar & published in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 1, Issue 4.]

Do you have advice or personal experience safely keeping several horses in a single paddock? If so, please comment below.

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