How Many Acres Per Horse?
Updated: Nov 25, 2019
How many acres per horse is standard? Are there laws on how many horses you can keep on a piece of land? These are questions that farm buyers ask me all the time. A quick Google search will tell you that 2 acres per horse–or 2 acres for the first horse and another acre for each additional horse–is ideal, but horses are kept on smaller acreage every day. Whether you are looking to buy a farm or you are considering bringing home a few more horses, there are a number of factors you need to consider when it comes to determining the right amount of acreage per horse.
Laws. I work with farm buyers in Maryland and Virginia and it is quite important to pay attention to the county and local laws. In some areas, there are defined limits on the number of horses you can have per acre. It is also very important to pay attention to the layout of a property because there are often laws in place about how far outbuildings and manure disposal need to be from homes and neighboring properties.
Management. Do your horses live outside or do they spend time in a stall? If you plan on keeping your horses outside, expect wear and tear on pastures and aim for more acreage per horse. Smaller acreage requires more intense management and you will find that you need to shuffle horses around, keep them inside when the pastures are wet, and frequently seed the fields. It is important to keep in mind that late winter/early spring is the best time to seed pastures and that this can be a costly endeavor since it can take years for grass to become established, particularly if there are horses on it. If you find you are struggling with muddy fence lines, many farm owners use woodchips to prevent the ground around the gates and fence lines from becoming too deep and washing away, but bedding from dirty stalls can work just as well and is far less expensive.
Location. I have kept horses in Maryland, Florida, and Wisconsin. Location makes a huge difference in what you can expect when it comes to pasture maintenance. In both Maryland and Virginia, the grass provides nutritional value to the extent that easy keepers may need little to no supplementary feed or hay for much of the year, but these areas also see a lot of precipitation. If you plan to keep your horses in smaller paddocks, there will be quite a lot of mud regardless of the turnout schedule. Grass is unlikely to grow well and you will need to supplement with hay and grain.
Breed. Speaking of easy keepers…there are a number of breeds that are able to put on weight just by looking at grass. I empathize with these horses. I also recognize that there are outliers in every breed, so age and the individual will effect your decision. Horses that are easy keepers tend to do well on smaller acreage. On the whole, this includes quarter horses, ponies, and draft breeds. As you might expect, thoroughbreds and older horses are generally not included on the list of easy keepers.
Time. There is no question that large farms require a lot of upkeep, but when it comes to horse care, smaller properties might be just as time consuming. Keeping horses out in large pastures where you don’t have to worry about stalling them, overgrazing the pasture, or supplementing their diets can save you a lot of time. You will need to take care of outbuildings, weeds, and fence lines, but your horses will require much less rigorous care. This is a great option for those of you with horses that suffer from gastrointestinal issues and for those of you who have day jobs. Horses that are turned out on smaller acreage and are stalled much of the time will require a lot more care and much stricter management.
Money. Firstly, you need to see what you can afford when it comes to purchasing a property. Many farm buyers find that USDA loans provide them with better rates. It is also important to crunch the numbers for hay, grain, bedding, seeding, and overall maintenance of the property. As you may have concluded by now, smaller acreage might cost less on the front end, but the maintenance costs can pile up quickly with the amount of wear horses will put on the property.
Generally speaking, 2 acres is the smallest amount of land on which you can keep horses for both practical reasons and for reasons surrounding zoning. Factor in the size and orientation of the house, barn, and other outbuildings, and some properties might be more user friendly than others. A thoughtfully designed 3-acre lot might be more manageable than a poorly designed 10-acre lot. The amount of acreage per horse is really determined on a case-by-case basis. It never hurts to reach out to local equestrians to get more information on the area and what issues you may encounter.