Make the most of the natural shade available on your property. Trees, either in the paddock or along the edge of a fence line, can provide a cooler area for your horses to escape the blazing summer sun. Ideally, the branches should be pruned high enough for the horse to easily walk under, said Kathleen Crandell, PhD, a nutritionist with Kentucky Equine Research.
“Even a line of shorter trees can provide shade when the sun is lower in the sky, such as morning and evenings,” she said.
However, there can be downsides to using your trees as shade.
“Relying on trees to provide shade can be problematic for the plant’s root system,” said Kevin Janni, PhD, an extension engineer for the University of Minnesota. “Having one horse under a big tree is not an issue, but having 10 horses under a small tree could be a problem.”
Horse’s hooves create soil compaction, which can damage a tree’s root system. Continuous stomping at flies, pawing at the ground or wet, muddy conditions can affect overall tree health. Some horses have a tendency to chew or eat the bark.
“Fencing off the tree prevents animals from chewing on the bark,” he said.
In the beef industry, cattlemen plan for 20 to 30 square feet of shaded area per animal, Janni explained. Horses might need up to 40 square feet based on recommendations published in MidWest Plan Service. Packing too many animals into a space limits air flow and can leave some horses without access to shade.
“If any horses are consistently left out in the sun, then the natural shade options are too limiting,” Crandell said. “It may be beneficial to have lots of trees casting shade in the paddock so there is plenty of room for options for the more timid horses.”
Natural shade isn’t limited to trees. An existing barn or tall structure that is close to a horse’s pasture will provide some shade at certain times throughout the day. Adding an overhang to an existing structure can offer additional cool spots.