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Horse Property Planning and Development

The Equicentral System Series Book 3


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Horse Property Planning and Development

Introduction

Building horse facilities is an expensive operation. Therefore, planning what you are going to have built, or build yourself, is an important first step. Time spent in the planning stage will help to save time and money later on. This book will help you to make the correct decisions and spend money on the right things. It is a guide, but make sure you do lots of other research as well; you can never have too much knowledge.

This book is about a practical approach to planning and building horse facilities. Remember - your ‘dream’ may be your horses’ ‘nightmare’. It is important that you learn as much as possible about horse behaviour before committing to any expensive projects. When planning and building any horse facilities, it is also good idea to talk to other people who have carried out similar projects and see what you can learn from them.

This book starts with extensive information about horse housing/holding facilities i.e. surfaced holding yards, shade/shelters and then stables. The next chapter covers fences and gates/gateways. After that comes riding arenas and training yards. Then it is on to the planning section of the book. The book includes information about The Equicentral System, a total equine management system that allows you to manage your horse/s, your land, the environment and your lifestyle in a sustainable way - a win-win situation all round.

Good planning leads to a beautiful horse property that is enjoyable for all.


Chapter 1: Horse housing/holding facilities

If you plan to practice good land management, then you need areas for holding horses. Horses naturally spend around 12–16 hours a day grazing. That means that if horses are on the land 24 hours a day, they are also standing around/playing etc. (‘loafing’) and sleeping for 8–12 hours a day. Without horse holding areas, these other behaviours are taking place on your precious pasture, which results in compacted soil and its associated problems – less biodiversity, less pasture/more weeds/soil erosion/mud/dust etc. Therefore, problems are being created for the future which will take time and money to fix.

If you want to practice good land management, then you need areas for holding horses.


Horse holding areas generally take the form of surfaced holding yards with shade/shelters and/or stables, with or without yards attached. In addition to reducing unnecessary hoof pressure and its resultant wear and tear on the land, these areas are also useful for giving individual horses supplementary feed and for tacking horses up for work etc.

The sorts of questions that you need to answer before you build or make changes to your existing horse housing/holding facilities are:

Surfaced holding yards

Surfaced holding yards are called various names in different parts of the world. In the US these areas are commonly called ‘dry lots’. In the UK they are sometimes called ‘turn out areas’, although they are still quite rare despite being desperately needed in such a wet climate. In Australia and New Zealand, like the UK, they have been slow to catch on to date. At Equiculture, we like and use the term ‘surfaced holding yards’.

Traditional horse properties have stables for horses, but these are not usually the best type of facility for keeping horses.

See The Equicentral System Series Book 1 – Horse Ownership Responsible Sustainable Ethical for a discussion about how and why stables evolved. See also the section Why stables? in this book.

Surfaced holding yards are vital in order to manage the grazing pressure that horses can inflict during dry or wet times of the year.


Surfaced holding yards are vital in order to manage the grazing pressure that horses can inflict during dry or wet times of the year. They also allow you to manage the pasture intake of horses at the times of the year when pasture is abundant, therefore saving some for later when it may not be growing as well or not at all, and when the horses need supplementary feed.

Surfaced holding yards allow you to manage these booms and slumps so that your horses do not end up obese or underweight and your land does not end up degraded. This strategy will help you to grow healthy ‘happy’ pasture.

Surfaced holding yards can be used to vastly reduce the amount of pressure your horses inflict on the land, without compromising their behaviour or necessarily reducing their time spent grazing. However, if you do need to reduce their time spent grazing, surfaced holding yards allow you to do this.

There are so many benefits to keeping horses off the land when they are not actually grazing. These include:

See The Equicentral System Series Book  2 - Healthy Land, Healthy Pasture, Healthy Horses for information about land/pasture and manure management.

Better mud management, in fact, mud should become a thing of the past.


Individual holding yards or one larger surfaced holding yard can be built for pairs or even groups of horses. If you have more than one herd to accommodate, this larger surfaced holding yard can be replicated for each herd.

A large surfaced holding yard can be integrated into a system of management whereby the paddocks are linked back to a central area to which horses can take themselves, see Appendix: The Equicentral System for information about our total land management system. Since these areas cost money to set up, it is worth considering how you can maximise their use; with a bit of extra thought and planning, a large surfaced holding yard can also be used for riding or for stock work – see the section Can this area be multipurpose?

A horse property usually benefits from having surfaced holding yards, even if there are stables already on the property. Stables are often too hot to use during summer (depending on the materials used to build them and the climate) and it is during the heat of the day that horses most need shade. At this time of day, horses like to stand around swishing their tail at flies and dozing, behaviour which causes compaction to your land over time. Surfaced holding yards can either be attached to the stable complex if you are building one, or be separate to them.

If the property has stables and the stables are used regularly, it makes sense to have outside yards attached directly to them if possible, as opposed to having them situated in a separate area. This will save a lot of time moving horses between the two and save doubling up on buildings i.e. building stables and shelters, because the surfaced holding yards will need a shelter. However, keep in mind that on a hot day, an enclosed stable may be too hot to retreat to (from an attached yard), so some outside shade may still be required. This could be something as simple as ‘shade sails’ attached to the roof of the building.

A horse property usually benefits from having surfaced holding yards, even if there are stables already on the property.


As mentioned before, stables are, in most cases, unnecessary and the same money can instead be put to better use building surfaced holding yards that with good shelter. This type of surfaced holding yard works well on its own, without the need for stables; stables alone, on the other hand are not ideal. These surfaced holding yards are then comfortable for horses to use at any time of the day throughout the year and vastly reduce the amount of wear and tear on the land.

Surfaced holding yards are invaluable in terms of land management and plenty of thought should go into their construction.

Holding yard size and shape

A common mistake is to make individual holding yards that are either too large or too small. If they are too large they are expensive to build and maintain i.e. more surface material and fencing is required and they use up too much space that could otherwise be dedicated to growing pasture. Keep in mind that unless horses are grazing and/or with other horses, they do not tend to move much at all, therefore providing them with a very large area (that is not under pasture) does not necessarily mean that they will get essential exercise. Horses do not understand the concept of ‘keeping fit’ and will only move if there is a reason (from their point of view) to move.

If the property has stables and the stables are used regularly, it makes sense to have outside yards attached directly to them if possible.


See The Equicentral System Series Book  2 - Healthy Land, Healthy Pasture, Healthy Horses

If surfaced holding yards are too small or narrow, the horse will be too confined and unable to roll safely or move around comfortably. In addition, if the horse is positioned next to another yarded horse, one horse can intimidate the other, even if there is a fence between them. This is because supplementary feed creates this behaviour in domestic horses, not because horses are aggressive just for the sake of it.

A good size to aim for with individual holding yards is between 50sq.m to 100sq.m per holding yard (60sq.yds. to 120sq.yds.). A surfaced holding yard can be roughly multiples of 50sq.m (60sq.yds.) per horse. The corners are best rounded off to avoid horses becoming trapped by other horses.

Keep in mind that feeding concentrate supplements to horses causes them to be more competitive than when they are simply grazing or eating hay. In the confines of a small area, even the best of friends can injure each other at feed times (see the Appendix: Feeding confined horses). If space and budget allows, a larger surfaced holding yard with individual holding yards attached directly to the outside gives the best of both worlds.

Think about what will be the optimum size for surfaced holding yards. A good size to aim for with individual holding yards is between 50sq.m to 100sq.m per holding yard (60sq.yds. to 120sq.yds.)


If you are also planning to use a riding arena or training yard as a surfaced holding yard, you will need to integrate the required size of both and go with whichever is larger. The corners can be easily rounded off by fixing a rail across each one.

If you are building (or already have) stables, keep in mind that long narrow yards, whilst not ideal, are sometimes unavoidable when they are attached to standard size stables. A possible option for surfaced holding yards that are attached to stables is to have one larger yard per two stables that two horses can use for part of each day/night on a rotational basis. If space and budget allows, have stables that are double the standard width, which then allows surfaced holding yards that are approximately 7m (24ft) wide. Yet another option if you are planning to build just four to six stables is to have them arranged in a U shape, giving more room around the outside for surfaced holding yards. Of course, if you are building surfaced holding yards instead of stables, you are then free to make them any size and shape you like.

A possible option for surfaced holding yards that are attached to stables is to have one larger yard per two stables that two horses can use for part of each day/night on a rotational basis.


Holding yard surface

The subsurface of surfaced holding yards can be permeable, but should preferably be impermeable, as this prevents the leaching of nutrients into any underground water (the water table). Compacted limestone will achieve this. In sensitive areas, for example near a watercourse, it may be necessary to lay a concrete base or use a rubber matting/concrete or limestone combination to prevent any leaching. If rubber mats are used, you will need to place absorbent bedding in one area of the surfaced holding yard to encourage urination and soak up urine; horses do not like to urinate on a hard surface as it then splashes on their legs. Other possibilities for a sub-surface are to compact the existing sub soil, after removing the topsoil, or excavate this sub soil and replace with layers of progressively finer material starting with rocks and ending up with fine gravel, compacting each layer as it is laid.

This sub surface will usually require a top surface that is more horse friendly than the subsurface might be, and also needs to be able to cope with wet weather. Top surface materials can be various types of sand, sawdust, shavings, pine bark, shell grit, or fine gravel etc. Various types of rubber are also available that may be worth considering.

Top surface materials can be various types of sand, sawdust, shavings, pine bark, shell grit, or fine gravel etc.


When horses eat directly off sand, they inadvertently pick up grains of it along with the feed. The sand then collects in the gut and can lead to sand colic over time. Rubber mats create a better feeding area than sand so in this case, it can work well to partially surface a sand surfaced holding yard with rubber mats.

Yet another alternative is to use rubber for the whole surface of the yard. Either solid rubber ‘pavers’ or porous rubber ‘pavers’ can be used. These have various names as there are various manufacturers that produce them, you will need to do some homework and find out if they are available in your locality and if they will be cost effective and suitable for your climate etc.

Materials have different names from region to region, so ask around about what is available in your area. What you use will depend on factors such as your budget, the climate, the local availability of materials and the amount of shelter over the surfaced holding yard.

This is a porous rubber product used for the whole of the yard surface. In this case grass has been allowed to grow through it.


If you are building a riding arena or training yard that will also be used as a surfaced holding yard (as mentioned in the previous section), then whatever surface you decide on for that will also be fine for using as a surfaced holding yard, so let that take precedence (see the sections about surfaces in the relevant sections about riding arenas and training yards).

The surfaced holding yards should have a slight slope (2% to 4%) for surface runoff, but otherwise be fairly level, because horses should never be forced to stand on a significant slope for long periods of time. Horses can suffer from premature joint problems if kept in such conditions, because they have no sideways flexion in their leg joints; an evolutionary strategy to allow them to gallop over ‘rough’ surfaces. Remember - in the wild horses can move themselves if they are uncomfortable, whereas a domestic horse is unable to do this, so forcing them to stand on a slope is not good.

Runoff water from other areas should not be allowed to pass through the surfaced holding yards, so water collection tanks should be fitted to any shelters or stables and drainage channels should be installed around the surfaced holding yards to channel water around them, rather than through them.

A buffer zone of plants and bushes can be grown around the surfaced holding yard area and this vegetation will act as a filter for any runoff from the yards, whilst at the same time helping to retain the surface. ‘Sleepers’ or logs can also be used to help retain the surface, although vegetation can work just as well and is cheaper. Check that any plants are not poisonous; it is better if the horses cannot actually reach them even if they are safe to eat, because the horses will overgraze them and the plants will not be able to thrive.

Horses should never be forced to stand on a significant slope for long periods of time because they have no sideways flexion in their leg joints.


A buffer zone of plants and bushes can be grown around the surfaced holding yard area and this vegetation will act as a filter for any runoff from the yards.


Holding yard fences

All fences on a horse property should be strong and safe however, the smaller the area a horse is confined to, the more a horse comes into contact with the fence, and therefore this rule is especially true for fencing around surfaced holding yards.

Also the smaller the area horses are to be held in is, the higher and stronger the fence should be.

So, whereas a paddock fence can usually be 1.2m (3.9ft), a surfaced holding yard fence should usually be higher. A better height for surfaced holding yard fences is 1.4m (4.5ft) or higher. However, this is all very dependent on what you plan to do with your horses. Older, quieter horses are not as likely to challenge a fence as younger or insecure horses. If you are planning to hold a horse in a surfaced holding yard while, you take their companion for exercise for example, the surfaced holding yard may need a strong, high fence. Also, whereas a simple plain wire fence may be fine for a paddock, a more solid type of fence is usually required for a surfaced holding yard.

Whereas a simple plain wire fence may be fine for a paddock, a more solid type of fence is usually required for a surfaced holding yards.


See the section Fence types for more detailed information about each type of fencing mentioned below. In this section, the fence types are discussed with relevance to their suitability as a surfaced holding yard fence only.

Plain board fencing (post and rail) is a common type of fencing for surfaced holding yards, however the wood can splinter and cause injuries. Some types of wood splinter more easily than others, so do some research about the types of wood you have available to you before deciding. Treated pine posts and rails are usually cheaper than hardwood, but may be poisonous if horses chew them. Wooden fencing also tends to be high maintenance and can soon start to look unkempt unless regularly serviced. Electric fencing is not a good idea for surfaced holding yards as it can result in the horse/s not being able to move freely without fear of touching the fence.

Steel fences, made from recycled steel pipe or commercial livestock steel fence panels are a very suitable option for surfaced holding yard fences and are reasonably safe when two horses are positioned on either side of a fence in individual holding yards. Horses should be able to interact reasonably safely with one another over the fence, providing each horse has enough space to avoid unwanted attention.

Mesh fencing should only be used in surfaced holding yards if it is strong enough for horses and the gaps are small enough to prevent a hoof from getting caught. Generally speaking, a commercial horse mesh fence is fine in this situation, but other types of mesh – such as ‘dog fence’ or ‘ringlock’ are not.

Surfaced holding yard gates should swing both ways, should lie flat against fence when open, be free of any projections and be wide enough to get machinery into the surfaced holding yard for topping up the surface and any maintenance work. See the section Gates and gateways.

The subject of horses interacting over a fence is tricky; if horses start to play over a fence, they can get into serious trouble. Keeping horses together will prevent this scenario and horses usually cause less damage to each other than fences do to horses (ask any horse vet!).

If horses start to play over a fence, they can get into serious trouble.


Innovative additions to a surfaced holding yard

Scratching posts of various sizes and shapes can be positioned so that horses rub on them. This measure reduces wear and tear on fences.

There are various commercial types of scratching posts available and some that can be home-made.


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To make this contents list disappear move your curser away from it.

Contents

Horse Property Planning and Development

Introduction

Chapter 1: Horse housing/holding facilities

Surfaced holding yards

Holding yard size and shape

Holding yard surface

Holding yard fences

Innovative additions to a surfaced holding yard

Shade and shelter

Your climate

Shade and shelter building materials

Shade and shelter surface

Shade and shelter size

Innovative additions to a shade/shelter

Stables

Why stables?

Stable designs

Stable size

Stable roofs

Stable walls and partitions

Stable windows

Stable doors

Stable floors

Stable fittings

Other facilities

Chapter 2: Fences and gates

Fence and gateway safety

Fence visibility

Fence dimensions

Fence types

Fence posts

Droppers/battens/stays

Gates and gateways

Gates and gateway safety in particular

Gateway dimensions  

Gate types

Chapter 3: Riding arenas and training yards

Do you really need one?

Can this area be multi-purpose?

Riding arena, training yard or both?

Indoor or outdoor?

All-weather surface size and shape

Base and surface

Fencing your all-weather surface

All-weather surface lights

All-weather surface maintenance

Chapter 4: Horse facility planning

Making a plan

Building permits

Options for construction

The planning framework

The environmental factors

The horse welfare factors

Your budget

The ergonomic factors

The safety and security factors

The natural elements

The aesthetic factors

Planning horse property infrastructure

The house and garden

Property access

Horse facility positioning

Manure management planning

Water management planning

Vegetation planning

Appendix: The Equicentral System

How The Equicentral System works

The Equicentral System benefits

Horse health/welfare benefits

Time saving benefits

Cost saving benefits

Safety benefits

Land/environmental management benefits

Public perception benefits

Manure and parasitic worm management benefits

Implementing The Equicentral System

On your own land

On small areas of land

On large areas of land

In different climates

Using existing facilities

On land that you lease

On a livery yard

With single horses in ‘private paddocks’

Starting from scratch

Minimising laneways

Temporary laneways

Constructing a holding area

Constructing a shade/shelter

Fencing considerations

Management solutions

Feeding confined horses

Changing a horse/s to ‘ad-lib’ feeding

Ideas for extra exercise

Introducing horses to herd living

The Equicentral System - in conclusion

Further reading - A full list of our books

Recommended websites and books

Bibliography of scientific papers

Final thoughts

Horse Property Planning and Development


It does not matter if you are buying an established horse property, starting with a blank canvas or modifying a property you already own; a little forward planning can ensure that your dream becomes your property. Design plays a very important role in all our lives. Good design leads to better living and working spaces and it is therefore very important that we look at our property as a whole…

Hi there, we now have a brand new website - can you please go to www.equiculture.net - where you will receive - COMPLETELY FREE the 3 part  (¾ hour) video series called Horse Grazing Characteristics.