The reason we turn our horses out in to a paddock is to provide adequate grass for feed and enough space for healthy exercise and horse contentment. These are the basic needs that all horse owners need to consider.
By following these steps set out below you will ensure that your horse’s pasture is in the best possible condition and that he/she is provided with everything they need in the field.
Pasture Planning And Budgeting
The cost of maintaining good quality grass and grazing land in good heart is normally more than compensated for by an improved equine health, lower feed and vets bills and better horse performance. Where paddocks are over stocked, poorly managed and allowed to get out of control, the results can be disastrous.
A planned pasture maintenance programme with rest or break as part of the rotation is a key factor in good horse grass management. Choosing the right fertiliser is equally important.
Initial Field Care And Safety Checks Before Moving Horses On To New Pasture
It is important to check the field condition and if possible it’s history. What is the state of fertility, weed incidence, worm burden,drainage, poaching, lime status of soil and appearance of grass? Are the hedges and fencing satisfactory and is adequate clean drinking water available?
It is most important to make sure there are no poisonous weeds present. Ragwort, whether it is alive or dead can inflict incurable liver disease and ultimately a most painful death. Poisonous weeds should be pulled up/dug out and burned or carried away – or alternatively treated with an appropriate weed killer and the dead matter removed and safely disposed of.
A paddock needing weed control
If using a herbicide carefully follow the instructions. Always rest the field after applying chemicals until they have bio-degraded. If unsure about weed identification, seek further expert advice.
If the pasture is badly poached, it probably indicates poor drainage. Check the ditches after rain to see whether any drains present are running and look for wet spots and boggy areas.
Areas that need reseeding should be raked or harrowed and dressed by hand broadcasting direct drilling or injection with a good reputable horse paddock seeds mixture. Choose a mixture with up to 50% of two or three perennial ryegrasses, 25% creeping red fescues and cocksfoot if the land is dry. Use rough stalked meadow grass if it is wet.
How To Care For Your Horse’s Paddock
Seeding can be done from April to October providing adequate moisture and irrigation is available. A light dressing of fertiliser 2/3 weeks before sowing will help get quick establishment of the sward.
Ploughing and total re seeding should be avoided if at all possible, and only undertaken as a last resort.
Some horse owners also provide an area at one end or headland of a paddock – or a grazing strip with beneficial herbs such as fenugreek, vetch and comfrey. These can be a useful source of minerals, but it is generally more practical to supply these as a feed supplement or mineral block in the field.
Field Division Rest And Rotation
Horse pasture ideally needs to be divided into separate grazing areas. Electric fencing is a convenient and flexible means of splitting a paddock to get controlled grazing. Where convenient sized sufficient paddocks are available however, maintenance and resting periods should not be a problem.
It is important that pasture doesn’t become ‘horse sick’ and that stock rotation and field rest are practiced to avoid this.
Grazing Horses may be put out to graze on a fresh area once any fertiliser has been washed in. It is a good idea to worm horses before moving them onto fresh pasture, and also clear away any horse droppings. Worm infestation can seriously impair a horses health and temperament.
Assuming the initial care as above has been carried out, horses grazing with cattle or sheep affected by the same species of worm that afflict equines and cattle or sheep should really be left to graze and ‘clean up’ after the horses are taken out. Bovines also tend to graze less selectively than horses and graze off the rough area and weeds that horses tend to leave.Topping of rough grasses may otherwise be required.
Rest And Re-Growth
Spiked chain harrows should be used to spread any droppings and aerate the soil.Spreading the droppings exposes the worm eggs to weathering and helps kill them off by frost and heat exposure. This should be done in drying conditions. Grass heavily infested with moss however should not be harrowed as this spreads the spores.
A dressing of Iron Sulphate or moss herbicide may be advisable if the problem is severe. Extra fertiliser can be given at the start of any rest period. Harrowing in early spring can help remove dead matted grass from around the roots and subsequent rolling should improve tillering and the production of more leaves. Rolling may also be carried out to push in stones and level out poached areas, but should not be overdone.
Getting The Right Fertiliser Programme
Soil that is impoverished and nutrient deficient will not only produce little grass of poor quality, but will allow weeds to ‘compete’ with the grass for nutrients and risk inducing nutritional problems for the grazing animal.
It is certainly advisable and may be very important to know the fertility level of the pasture before deciding on what fertiliser to apply, and particularly the pH or lime status.
Ideally the pH should be between 6.25 and 6.75 (slightly acidic) and it is recommended that if possible you ask your local lime merchant to test the field and calculate the amount of any lime that may be required.
Failing that for us DIY exponents, there are various soil testing kits available or pH meters that will give a useful guide.
Alternatively soil samples can be taken and sent to a laboratory for analysis. The analysis report will normally give the pH and show the amount of Phosphorus (P), Potassium (K) and Magnesium (Mg) available.
Generally fields require a dressing of lime every 3/4 years unless on chalk/limestone areas. Soils that are low in Magnesium should be given Dolomitic Limestone. Calcified seaweed is also a useful source of lime and trace elements and is complimentary to fertilisers.
Whilst a proportion of clover can be beneficial in grazing pastures and helps build up the soils nitrogen reserves, too much clover can be too rich and cause digestive problems for horses and lead to an imbalance of soluble carbohydrates and the Calcium:Phosphate ratio of the herbage.
Preferably pasture (or hay) should not contain more than about 40% clover and preferably less. Where there is a danger, it is recommended Ammonia Sulphate 21%N be used. Providing nitrogen in this form and reducing the phosphate input will tend to inhibit the growth of clover. In the event of clover becoming a serious threat to horse health a suitable herbicide may be required.
Laminitis is a complex and serious disease of equines and manifests itself by painful inflammation of the fleshy laminae in the feet, which can be crippling and if not treated, fatal. The problem is generally the result of a build up of endotoxins by the micro-organisms of the gut, often as a result of ingesting too much soluble carbohydrate from an over-rich spring flush of grass but also by Calcium:Phosphorus imbalance.
Luxury uptake by the grass from excess nitrates i.e. quick acting chemical forms of Nitrogen) should be avoided. It is important therefore to use a balanced fertiliser, which contains no added quick acting nitrates.
Horses that are prone to laminitis should be kept off the grass during spring or only allowed restricted access.
The Stable Doctor
Advice is given without legal responsibility