Utilizing a sacrifice/exercise lot for your horse

Sacrifice lots can be used as an equine management tool to provide an area for exercise while protecting pasture areas.

No matter what size of horse farm, utilizing a sacrifice lot for your horse(s) is essential when making the most of resources. A sacrifice lot can simply be defined as a relatively small and non-grazable area that allows freedom of movement and/or exercise for a horse. This designated area is different from what may be termed as a turnout with the opportunity to graze or an unmanaged pasture that is used extensively or overgrazed. One goal of a sacrifice lot is to protect pastures in times of inclement weather. When considering pasture productivity, this area or lot can be utilized in many different ways including: routine maintenance of pastures such as clipping, dragging and fixing fence, keeping horses off of pastures when the ground is muddy, resting pasture areas for regrowth of vegetation and allowing pastures to rest during non-growing seasons such as winter. Additionally, a sacrifice lot may also serve the purpose of keeping horses in a secure area while barn stalls are being cleaned. The following is a list of key considerations when setting up a sacrifice lot.

  1. Site Location:  When selecting a site location, take into consideration the location to other buildings and accessibility to pastures. Avoid wetland areas or any area that is in close proximity to surface waters or wells. A level area is preferred to prevent potential runoff of sediment and nutrients. If possible, locate the sacrifice area in a south or east facing area. This will aid with drying out the area as North and West facing areas tend to be more shaded.
  2. Size of lot: Keep lot size to a minimum. Lot sizes vary dependent on the length of time and how they are used. The Midwest Plan Service Horse Facilities Handbook recommends providing at least 1,000 sq. ft. per horse for an exercise area.
  3. Amenities: appropriate fencing, shelter, ample room to feed hay and a water source.
  4. Maintenance: Provisions should be made to collect manure accumulations and runoff (Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development Manure Utilization Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices). Removing manure on a regular basis will aid with parasite and potentially odor control. Frequency of manure removal will depend on concentration of horses housed in the lot. Storm water collected from buildings in close proximity should be diverted away from the sacrifice lot. It is most ideal to have a vegetated filter strip or a thick stand of grasses such as pastures surrounding the sacrifice area to filter sediments and nutrients that potentially get washed away from the lot.
  5. Surface:  It will be difficult to maintain vegetative cover in a sacrifice lot. Therefore, providing an improved foundation such as sand, crushed rock or wood chips around high traffic areas may be beneficial when dealing with mud during wet weather.

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