John Doyle Atkins, Santa Rosa County Extension
It’s a question that has been strongly debated for years: How much land does a horse need for grazing here in northwest Florida? The horse is a non-ruminant herbivore and a grazing animal. A horse requires a minimum level of forage in the diet to maintain normal digestive function. One and one-half acres to two acres of OPEN land per horse is recommended as the starting point to supply a horse’s forage needs. This open land does not include barns and arenas; this is purely open pasture. Many horse owners also need space to exercise their animals, and based on some studies, a minimum area of one-tenth (4500 square feet) of an acre of open land per horse is recommended. Be creative, sometimes a large fenced yard can be used.
Pasture should be established on a well-prepared seedbed that has been tilled and cleaned of weeds. Bahiagrass is the most common type of forage and is readily established by seed, but a person could also use bermudagrass sprigs to establish a pasture. To learn more about forages, planting protocol, and site selection for horses, see this University of Florida publication on Pasture and Forage Crops for Horses. Before disking the ground to prepare the seed bed, a soil test to determine pH and soil fertility should be done. Soil samples can be submitted to the University of Florida Soil lab. Click here to access the form that you need to submit with your soil sample. It’s always good to spread the lime a few months before you plant because it gives the lime time to react with the soil. Most soils here in northwest need liming, so factor that cost when you are establishing your pasture. To learn more about fertilizing and liming your pasture, see this University of Florida publication for general recommendations.
Look for future articles to learn more about suggested varieties based on various situations.
NOTE: How does a person figure out the acreage of their pasture? An acre is 43,560 square feet, or an area approximately 210 feet by 210 feet. To figure your pasture, divide its square footage by 43,560 and this will give you the acreage.