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Pasture Management

April 2021

Pasture for equine use serves many different purposes. It is a food source, exercise area and a secure environment to socialise and interact with other horses. Whether your horse lives out 24/7 or is turned out for a few hours a day, good pasture management is vital to your horse’s health. Horses are generally very selective grazers, and in combination with their size, eating habits and those that are wearing shoes, they can be quite destructive to the grassland! Therefore, as they can spend 16-18 hours eating per day investing time and resources into your pasture will have huge benefits in the long-term.

Four horses

Daily checks and routine jobs

  • Gates and boundaries are secure and fencing is in good repair
  • Adequate supply of fresh clean water
  • Remove droppings at least twice a week, or ideally every day, to help control parasite levels and prevent the development of unpalatable latrine areas, which develop into rough areas
  • Check for and remove any poisonous plants, rubbish or dangerous objects
  • Check for rabbit holes and badger setts – badgers are protected by law so areas surrounding their setts should be fenced off
  • Check horses for injuries and monitor weight closely.

Minimum Land Requirements

The BHS recommends a ratio of one horse per 0.4 - 0.6 hectares on permanent grazing (1- 1.5 acres per horse). However, this recommendation can only ever be a guide as there are many factors affecting this, such as:

  • Size and type of horse
  • Fat score/weight of horse
  • Length of time spent stabled or off the pasture
  • Time of year
  • Quality of the pasture and type of soil
  • Number of animals on the pasture
  • How well the pasture is managed and cared for

In all circumstances, we must take individual requirements into consideration. It is essential that horses have enough space to help reduce the chances of fighting where several animals are turned out together. Over-grazing, over-stocking and poor management can result in the pasture becoming ‘horse sick’, as shown in the image below. 


Alternative Grazing

Grass is a major contributor of calories in a horse’s diet so managing its intake is fundamental in maintaining good health and welfare. Consideration must be given to the changes in grass growth throughout the year especially where your horse’s diet may need restricting.


Using alternative grazing systems such as track systems, Equicentral systems or where possible the use of moorland or woodland can be of great benefit in managing your horses’ grass intake. Alternative grazing systems also encourage your horse to interact more with their environment and other horses in their herd, promoting natural foraging and social behaviours whilst also increasing your horse’s movement.


Downloadable Resources

Water Supply

It is important to ensure a constant supply of fresh clean water is available in the field. Be aware that the management of this can vary when it comes to summer and winter care. Water has a key role in your horse’s digestive system. If your horse doesn’t have access to any or enough water it can increase the risk of colic and dehydration.

There are some essential requirements that are applicable all year round:

  • Water containers must be large enough to provide a constant supply of water for all the horses in the field. Ensure plenty of water is available by checking regularly and topping water up frequently if the containers are not self-filling
  • Containers must be sturdy and free from sharp edges
  • The water supply must be easily accessible for both horse and keeper, checked daily, cleaned regularly and placed away from trees to avoid falling debris
  • If possible, position the water source away from the corners of the field to prevent horses being cornered by aggressive behaviour from other herd members.

Natural water supplies such as streams, rivers and ponds are often not suitable. Risks may include water contamination, water source drying up in hot weather, ingestion of sand (which can increase the risk of sand colic) and accidents due to an unsafe approach to the source. Where natural water supplies are available, ensure the following checks have been made before allowing your horse access: 

  • Pollution risk
  • Low water levels
  • Ease of access
  • Ensuring horses cannot wander/escape fields.

Where these risks are seen it is advised that the natural water source is fenced off and an alternative supply provided.


Water Trough
 This trough provides a plentiful supply of clean and fresh water. The container is free from sharp
edges and self-filling to ensure a constant supply.


Horses need access to shelter not just from the winter weather but also during the summer from the sun and flies. Shelter can either be man-made in the form of a field shelter or natural, for example trees or hedges (although deciduous trees will have obvious limitations!). Rugs also provide a degree of shelter for the horse. Horses, particularly cobs and native types, are well adapted to living outdoors all year round with the correct management methods. Field shelter specifications include:

  • Ideally large enough to safely accommodate all horses in the field
  • Depth of 3.65m (12ft) and width of 3m-3.65m (10ft-12ft). Extra width of 1.5m (5ft) should be added for each additional horse
  • Roofs – there should be a minimum clear space to the eaves of 60-90cm (2-3ft)
  • Sturdy construction
  • Situated on hard standing or at least a free draining site
  • Always seek planning permission from your local council before purchasing or erecting a permanent field shelter. Be aware in some areas permission may be required for temporary, moveable shelters.

Grazing horse 


Safe hedges for horses include hawthorn (also known as quickthorn) and hazel. A consideration is that some hedges grow thorns which could cause eye injuries to horses foraging in the hedgerows. Trees that are safe for horse pasture include ash, birch, poplar and willow.
Hedges that are poisonous to horses include privet, leylandii, broom, box and laurel (please note this list is not exhaustive). Be aware that The Hedgerows Regulations 1997 stipulate that in certain circumstances hedgerows must not be removed without first submitting a removal notice to the Local Planning Authority. The trees yew and laburnum are highly toxic.


For further information, contact the BHS Welfare Team on 02476 840 517 or


 Grassland Management


 Poisonous Plants

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