Marion County Extension Program Director
Iowa State University Extension & Outreach
You provide your horse with feed, water and shelter from a storm. You pull burrs from his tail, give vaccinations and pick-out hooves. You sacrifice time and money to enjoy a ride down your favorite trail or see a child’s eyes light up when they mount a horse for the first time. Yet, there is another sacrifice you should consider for your horse – the Sacrifice Lot.
High-traffic areas around fences, gates, and barns are a common problem facing horse owners. Generally, it is not possible to keep horses off these areas and maintain any grass cover. So the question usually becomes how best to manage these smaller areas along with your pasture land. A designated sacrifice lot, sometimes called a dry lot, is a good solution.
First, there is no substitute for good pasture management. A sacrifice lot is used to protect pastures and improve grass growth during poor weather with excessively wet or dry conditions. Take advantage of your sacrifice lot when resting a pasture or doing pasture maintenance, like mowing, dragging or repairing fence. Consider these factors:
- Location, location, location: Avoid wet, poorly drained areas and if possible locate on higher ground with a south or east sun exposure to improve surface drying. Choose a level or limited slope area to reduce potential runoff. Added conservation practices like a vegetative filter strip around the sacrifice area will reduce sediment and nutrient loss.
- Keep your lot size to a minimum, but large enough to also serve as a turnout for exercise. Most lots will be 1000 square feet or larger. The Midwest Plan Service Horse Facilities Handbook (MWPS-60) offers additional planning guidelines.
- Improve water infiltration and limit muddy surface conditions - add sand, crushed rock or wood chips to high traffic areas near water, feed and shelter areas. Add geotextile fabric to improve usability of high-traffic areas and road ways.
- Remove manure on a regular basis to aid parasite and potential odor control. Collect and divert storm water from nearby buildings away from the sacrifice lot. Use downspout extenders, gravel trenches and low earthen berms.
For advice on soil and water management practices for your site, contact your local Soil Conservation District (USDA - Natural Resources and Conservation Service) office.
Make plans to sacrifice a small area of land for the good of your pastures, the environment and of course - your horse!