Is a paddock right for you and your horse?
A paddock may seem like the simplest option for housing a horse, but there are still some key considerations.
If you already own a field you believe to be suitable, have it checked out by an equestrian friend. Then consider whether you are able to invest both the time and money in making the land a safe place for the horse and whether it is practical for your needs.
If you do not already own a paddock, you may consider leasing one from a local farmer or land owner. If you do, you should use an agricultural lease for private grazing to ensure you both parties are sufficiently protected.
There are numerous advantages to having your horse living on your doorstep.
A shorter commute makes riding less of a chore, and if ever the horse is injured or ill, you can be on hand immediately.
The money you save on livery costs could be used to buy a horse trailer, which can be used to access local bridleways, riding schools for hire, and shows, giving you greater freedom as to where you ride and what you do. Or you might consider setting up your own small livery yard on an informal basis, providing stabling for friends' horses.
A key consideration for many families in keeping a horse close is that the animal can become a part of the family in the same way as other pets.
Is your field suitable to become a paddock?
Some considerations you should make before putting a horse on a field include:
Is the field big enough? A horse typically needs at least one acre of space. But you also need to consider land management. A horse will graze an acre of land quickly. You should consider finding at least two acres so that half the space can be left to rest while the other half is in use.
Most horses do not take to a life alone. You may need to buy a companion horse or pony; one that does not mind being left in the field as you ride out. However, bear in mind that a companion horse requires worming, vaccinating, grooming and hoof trimming just like any other horse.
You may be able to borrow a companion horse on loan, or take in an older horse that requires care. You could share a field with a friend and agree to share workload and costs, provided your horse is happy to be left alone while they ride out. Or you could find an easy-going horse that is used to living out all year round without a companion. This narrows your search and you may have to sacrifice other wants from the horse, but it makes day to day care easier.
A steep hill is harder to access than flatter land, particularly in the winter months. A paddock situated at the bottom of a hill or alongside a river or stream is liable to flooding. You also do not want a paddock near a busy road, in case the horse breaks loose. A paddock framed by hedges will reduce on fencing costs, but do check there are no hidden gaps or barbed wire.
Try to avoid extremely boggy or sandy pastures. A wet field will make your horse susceptible to mud fever, cause them to cast their shoes, and makes them more liable to slipping and pulling ligaments; the grass in a sandy field will dry up in the hotter months and lose its nutrients.
Research plants that are poisonous to horses and walk around the field with pictures in hand. Most horse fields suffer from ragwort in summer, so you may need to buy weeding tools to keep the field in condition.
How do you get the paddock ready?
Most horses have a sense of boundary. However, be careful to ensure that fences and gates are well maintained. Cheap post-and-rail fencing will blow down in strong winds. Strong timber posts supported by electric fencing are secure and cost effective. You could use a full wooden fence, but this will be considerably more expensive. Do not, under any circumstances, use barbed wire as it can cause serious injury to your horse.
The simplest option is a self-filling trough, although they require plumbing and can be expensive. However, they may be your only option if there is no nearby tap. If you do have a tap, consider how far away it is and how you will transport the water. Wheeling water buckets in barrows may seem like a feasible option in spring, but is not attractive once winter arrives. Most taps and troughs freeze when the temperature drops below zero unless you insulate them properly. You could use a hose pipe, but you shouldn't leave it in the field. Otherwise, you can purchase some canisters and fill them at home: a time-consuming but viable option.
Some would say that a good, large hedge is adequate shelter for a horse, but it would take a strong, native breed that is accustomed to all-weather turnout to stomach this through the worst of weather. If you are ‘handy’, you might construct your own wooden shelter, but make sure it is checked by a professional before the horse arrives. Alternatively, these can be purchased, delivered and installed. You also may require a stable, if your horse is not suited to all year turnout. The building of a stable will cost considerably more than a shelter.
What do you need in addition to the paddock?
You will need an area of flat land with a secure place to tether the horse. This is necessary for vet and farrier visits, as well as being convenient for you when tacking up and grooming. This does not need to be expensive, large space but if you are leasing from someone you will need to seek their approval.
School or arena
You may choose to have an area to school your horse. A properly sanded ménage requires planning permission, however you can measure out your own 20x40 metre space of flat field to partition off as a schooling area. If you do this, ensure you have enough acreage elsewhere to compensate. You shouldn't turn out the horse into the school if there are obstacles on which your horse could injure itself. Keep the school separate to the paddock.
Be sure to have an area to store all your tack that is close by, as well as a food and hay storage area. At critical points in the year (such as the end of summer and the middle of winter), your horse will need their grazing supplemented with hay. A few bales of straw nearby are handy - you can throw straw over your ‘mud spots’ in the field to reduce the bog.
Hopefully these are not things that you will have to concern yourself about. However, in selecting land on which you'll keep your horse, look at the land surrounding it to ascertain whether there may be other potential issues in the future.
If there are other animals on nearby land, make sure that they are not fly grazing - that they have not been left without permission. Similarly, check that there has been no dumping.
Further useful information and documents
Livery might also be an option. We have an article on finding a good livery yard that you might read.
If you are looking for a companion horse, you should use an agreement to formalise the arrangement. Net Lawman offers both a horse care agreement template if you decide to take one on, and a horse loan agreement template if you borrow someone else's horse.