Energy Flow

When it comes to horse property layout, it pays to consider the permaculture design approach because it aims to build systems that are easier to manage, more efficient and sustainable, whilst considering the health and wellbeing of all – people, horses, plants and the soil that sustains them. 

In this Part 4 of our Equine Permaculture Design Series, Mariette van den Berg explains another design tool that permaculture design consultants use when deciding where to place all the elements needed. This time, the aim being to capture energy to increase growth of your system. 

Key to permaculture is the wise husbandry of natural resources, in particular in terms of energy. In nature, where energy is cycled, living systems grow. This is why permaculture places an enormous emphasis on enhancing soil fertility through composting, thereby minimising the loss of energy in the system.

Likewise, the perennial edible landscape associated with permaculture, that includes food trees, fodder trees, pastures, herbs, etc. decrease the energy input required for food production for our horses, other grazing animals and ourselves.

This can be translated in the design concepts of our houses and properties with the aim to capture energy to increase the growth of our living systems, and set in place cycles, which eventually leads to greater energy and chores efficiency.

To accomplish this, we need to have a close look at the layouts of our horse properties. Permaculture uses zone and sector planning to help us identify what the best placement of elements is for our site. These design tools helps us select the location of the different elements, so that activities can be performed efficiently and sustainably.

In the previous article, we discussed zone planning, which is a system where the location of an element in a design is determined by:

  • How often we need to use the element.
  • How often we need to service the element.

Zones are abstract, conceptual boundaries around the home, which help us to work with distance to plan efficient energy use and are divided up into zones numbered 0 to 5, based their accessibility and frequency of use in relation to the location of the house.

The lowest number denotes the most frequently accessed areas, while the highest number indicates the areas least accessed.

(See the previous article in this series: Part 3 – Property Layout, which appeared in the August issue of Horses and People).

Sector analysis 

A site does not exist in isolation; it exists as part of a larger environment, where external energies, the elements of nature (e.g. wind, sun, etc.), which come from outside our system, also act on it. To plan for these energy systems in permaculture, we use a system of energy planning known as sector planning.

Sectors are a way of considering the external energies that move through a system and how we might best take steps to either utilise or counter such factors.

These external energies might be:

  • Prevailing wind direction,
  • Site orientation and aspect (north, south, east, west),
  • Winter/Summer sun paths,
  • Underlying geological make up (bed rock, clay or sandy soil types, etc.),
  • Frost pockets, and
  • Fire danger areas and so on.

Since these natural energies come into our system from outside, we can place elements in our design strategically to manage or take advantage of these incoming energies.

By placing plants, trees or structures in the appropriate areas, we can:

  • Block the incoming energy flow (e.g. a windbreak),
  • Channel the incoming energy for a specific use (e.g. redirecting water to a dam for later use), and
  • Open up areas to allow the energy to enter and/or flow more freely  (e.g. removing trees to let in more sunlight).

Blocking incoming energy flow

While we generally encourage external energies to enter our system, at times they can be destructive. In these cases, we aim to block the energy flow as much as possible to prevent any severe damage to our system.


Take, for example, the element wind! If you have a reasonably open block of land, you will have experienced the negative effects of wind (and horses also don’t seem to like it much as well). In particular, hot Summer winds, cold Winter winds, salty seaside breezes and damaging dusty winds all need to be restricted as much as possible in a design through the use of windbreaks. Windbreaks can be constructed using specifically resilient plants and trees, or by building protective man-made structures.


Another important element that we need to take in consideration in our design is the sun.

We will need to identify where the Summer sun and Winter sun shines as this is important for managing the harsh midday and afternoon Summer sun (north and west sun in southern hemisphere; south and west sun in northern hemisphere).

Planting trees and shrubs is a great way to help with shading, but the species you use will largely depend on your geographical location and climate. For example, deciduous trees can be planted around the house to block the sun in Summer, keeping the house cool.

In Winter, when the leaves fall, the low Winter sun can warm the house naturally. However, if you live in more tropical environment, you will use more evergreen trees.

Man-made structures can also be built around the house which take advantage of the sun’s low Winter angle and high Summer angle providing Summer shade and Winter sun.


Bushfires in Australia are frequent events during the hotter months of the year, due to Australia’s mostly hot, dry climate. However, bush fires are not only limited to Australia, they are also very common in North America and Canada. Fires impact extensive areas each year.

Where fire danger exists, the areas most prone to incoming fire should be identified and firebreaks should be placed in these areas in our designs. The aim is that we use elements and/or materials in our design that do not burn, such as roads, cleared areas, stony ground, concreted areas, stone walls, dams, marshes and waterways. These areas can also be planted with fire-resistant tree species and vegetation to create a shelter belt. Trees suitable for this purpose are evergreen (legumes) trees/shrubs and typically European deciduous trees, such as deciduous fruit and shade trees.


Another application of ‘blocking incoming energy’ is the screening of unwanted views. Trees, plants and structures can be built to provide additional privacy and block out unwanted views, while providing a more aesthetically pleasing alternative.

Channelling incoming energy flow

We should, of course, use energies that come in to our systems for our own benefit.


Water flowing into our horse properties, either from directly above as rain, from run-off coming from neighbouring properties, or collecting in an area, such as a flood prone area, can be redirected into lakes, dams, ponds, irrigation channels, swales and other water management systems, such as rain tanks for human and animal consumption.

Water can be captured at an elevated point on the site, and being elevated, it is a store of what they call ‘potential energy’ in physics. The water can then flow under gravity to perform work, such as irrigation or water supply.

Water flowing across a stream or river can be used to drive a hydroelectric generator to provide electricity or can have some of the flow diverted for irrigation purposes.


Wind can be captured to drive wind turbines or windmills, providing a source of free energy to the property, which we can utilise for our purposes. Cooling summer breezes can also help.


Sunlight can be harnessed in the generation of solar power, solar water heating, drying foodstuffs, and so on.

Opening areas to promote incoming energies

In some situations, we may have to intervene and purposely clear or open up an area on our property to allow natural energies to enter the system more easily.


If you are based in a colder climate, you may want to allow more sunlight into your area, especially during the Winter time.

If you have structures or trees blocking the light reaching your Zone 1, home/kitchen garden, for example, rather than relocate the garden, you can clear the area to allow more sunlight in. Where places are too shaded, you can thin out trees or branches to increase productivity from the available space.


Equally, we can clear an area to create a view of a pleasant outside area. If we have potentially stunning views of mountains, lakes and forests, or you may like to see your riding and horse facilities from your home, we will want to clear objects obstructing the view to take advantage of such a positive features in our site design.

Mapping the sectors

The key is observation!

In most cases, these natural energies will not be fully valued on a single visit to your property. A full year or more of information will be needed, as well as delving into longer time frame data and the memory of neighbours who are long-term residents of the area.

The best way towards gathering and collating information from your property information is to draw a circle and divide it into sectors and zones, placing the house at the centre. The sectors are the compass directions and the impacts of natural forces within these sectors, i.e. Summer and Winter sun, wind, fire hazards, such as bush, and wildlife (see diagram on opposite page).

Each sector indicates one of the external energies discussed above and is usually represented as a wedge shape, like a slice of a pie, radiating our from the centre of activity – the home. But, the focus can be moved to any other structure of place as necessary, such as your horse stables, shelters, arena or loafing areas.

Sector planning in our design allows us to manage the incoming wild energies moving through our property. By the strategic placement of elements in our design, we can block, channel or open up access to these natural energies to optimise the use of energy in our site.

Together, zone planning and sector planning cover the management of energy inside the site and external energies flowing through the property respectively.

Next month

Once we have completed our property zone and sector analysis, we can then consider one more factor in efficient energy planning, which is the concept of slope.

The contour of the land has a considerable impact on the design of the property, so this topic will be discussed next month in Part Five.

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