Equine Pasture Management
Many paddocks that are used for turn-out or grazing for horses are covered in
weeds, have barren areas and are also likely to be infested with parasites. This is
so common that the term “Horse sick” has been coined to describe badly managed
equestrian paddocks. Horse sick pasture may be due to insufficient land and
budgets, however it is more often caused by a lack of knowledge and the consequential poor management of the pasture.
Pasture in a poor state will not only
affect the health of the horses and
ponies using it but also a number of
; Reduce the value of the property or
land to which it is attached,
; Reduce the amount of palatable
feed grown from the pasture,
; The site will start to act as a source
for weeds, the seeds from which
will be blown across neighbouring
land which could result in
; If untidy and unkempt then this
can lead to trespass and fly-tipping.
; Over-grown areas can harbour
rabbit warrens causing an added
danger of hidden rabbit holes to
horse and owner alike.
The management of paddocks breaks down into 2 distinct areas, agriculture management and physical management. Dealing with the physical issues first,
these include fencing, water, hard-standing and shelter.
Many people are tempted to cut corners and costs on fencing and use the existing agricultural fencing
around the perimeter. This is usually barbed wire or sheep netting. Both of these, even with stand-off electric tape, can cause serious injuries to horses, to such a degree that the horse will need to be put
down. The preferred fencing type is usually post and rail, these can be sawn rails, split chestnut or
recycled plastic. Other alternatives are electric fencing, hedges and stone walls. Gates should be
secure and easy to operate both from horse back and in an emergency.
Mud and Manure
Excessive mud not only makes everything hard Water work but it can cause skin diseases and pulled All paddocks should have a
tendons. Gateways that are prone to becoming supply of water that the
water logged should be stoned and drained as horses can access whenever
should areas around water troughs. they require it. This can be from a piped source, either
Ideally manure heaps should not be located from a borehole or a
within the field but in purpose built areas where metered supply, or from a they can be rotated and composted before being natural watering point at a
used on local gardens or agricultural land. In any case you must ensure that any pond, stream or river.
run-off does not reach water courses or aquifers. If a heap is located within a field Whatever the source of you will notice the excessive nettle and dock growth that this causes due to the water, it should be checked nitrification of the area. on a daily basis for flow,
leaks, accessibility and pollution. Shelter The provision of field shelters and stables in relation to planning is a subject in its’ own right. If you wish to place a building of any sort on your land then you should consult the local planning authority or a planning consultant like Acorus. Other forms of shelter can be just as important. Trees, Hedges and walls as well as the topography can all provide a horse or pony with shelter from wind, sun and precipitation.
The agricultural issues relate to grazing management, soil fertility, weed control, drainage and sward management.
The over grazing of pasture is often the cause of poor pasture health. The BHS 2recommend that each horse should have / – 1 acre each. Even at these densities 3
pasture will still become “Horse Sick” if the following management practices are not
1. Pick the droppings from the field at least every week, but preferably daily.
2. Keep your horses wormed and vaccinated.
3. Ensure that the land is free draining; if water logging regularly occurs then
consider mole draining. If the land is low lying it may not be suitable for
4. Divide the land up into 3 or 4 paddocks so that you can turn out in 1 paddock
while resting, working on or grazing complimentary animals in the other
5. Follow an annual regime of pasture care similar to that shown below.
In addition, if you have got native breeds like Shetlands, which are particularly susceptible to laminitis or colic then small turnout areas will need to be fenced off to prevent over grazing.
If you want to reseed your pasture due to over grazing or change of use this is the best season to undertake the work. You can get specific equestrian mixes but if you are not over stocked then consider a conservation pasture mix.
Test the soil for nitrogen, phosphate, potassium and acidity.
Harrow to take out dead grass then fertilise depending upon the soil test undertaken and proposed management.
Monitor weed growth
Spray weeds before seed starts to form. If you do not want to spray, grazing with sheep for a short period can reduce the ragwort and dock issues.
If you wish to set land aside for hay-making then it should be rolled in order to push down unwanted stones.
Prepare for winter by ensuring that gateways and areas around water troughs are stoned to prevent poaching.
If you have wet areas consider mole drainage.
If there are brooks and ditches ensure they are cleared.
Check that any stand pipes are lagged to prevent bursts in winter frosts.
Harrow at the end of the growing period in dry weather to spread any missed dung and remove dead grass.
Any ragwort, docks or other weeds should be pulled when noticed, make sure that you get all of the root and remember that ragwort is biennial so you need to continue weed control over several years.
If topping to curb weed growth then top before seeds form.
If you have set land aside for hay-making then you need to judge the best time for cutting and baling depending on the weather and topgraphy.
In the spring and early summer you may find an oversupply of grass. Horses are notoriously fussy grazers and you may consider strip grazing larger paddocks.
Trim back hedges and tree growth after Christmas, this will have allowed the birds to get the berries and will be before they start nesting again.
Note that decent hedges and boundary trees are useful in providing year round shelter from wind and rain in exposed paddocks. Check the varieties used to ensure that they are not poisonous to livestock.
If grazing then ensure that droppings continue to be collected.
Restrict turn-out if possible to prevent damage to the pasture.