Managing your horses fields is beneficial by reducing the chances of sickness, injury and feed costs. Grassland Management is not just looking at the soil analysis or quality and types of grasses but also maintaining a safe area for your horse to display natural behaviour and maintain your horses health. Horses can be quite destructive to the grassland and security of the field so it is an owners responsibility to maintain a nutritious and safe environment.
Once a paddock has been prepared for horses the maintenance and upkeep will be easier. The maintenance of the paddock should be consistent throughout the year.
All paddocks in use should be checked daily. Things to check are fencing and gateways for breakages. Water supply should be constant, clean and fresh. Poisonous plants should be removed and safely disposed of. Field Hazards such as rabbit holes and badger sets must be fenced off and rubbish and debris should be removed. Paddocks should also be regularly poo-picked, ideally everyday to help to control parasite levels.
Size of Land
There are recommendations for the amount of land each horse should have access to, however, there are a number of reasons that may affect this. Factors to consider are the size and weight of horse, health of the horse, time of year due to grass quality, number of horses in the field at one time and animals, the overall maintenance of the pasture. It is recommended 1 to 1.5 acres per horse but each individual will vary depending on the factors listed.
Managing Soil and Grass
A soil analysis is always the best way to measure the health of the soil. The analysis will determine the fertility and pH levels which will affect grass growth. Ideally the soil should be a neutral pH of 6 to 6.5. The more acidic the soil the less chance of quality grass growth and more chance of weeds. Once the analysis shows what the soil is deficient in, a fertilizer can be used to restore the essential levels of Nitrogen, Potassium and Phosphorus.
Weeds can be removed when in leaf, as they are vulnerable. Cross grazing is an effective way to remove the areas which horses do not graze such as areas of defecation and urination and areas of weeds. Most common animals for cross grazing are sheep or cattle. If you cannot cross graze, removing weeds by hand or spot spraying small areas will be effective. If you are spot spraying it is best to be done during a dry period just before it rains as plants absorb the moisture and then wilt. Horses and animals should be left off the grassland until after the weeds have wilted.
Usually by the end of the Winter season, the pastures are poached and bare. Going into Spring is the best time for maintenance and allowing your pasture to recover. Harrowing the field will be the next step to encouraging grass growth. The harrow will strip the moss, weeds and dead grass. It also aerates the ground and allows moisture to penetrate the ground. Be sure to poo-pick before harrowing to ensure you do not contaminate the entire paddock. If the paddock is looking bare in some areas it will be best to re-seed. You can overseed the paddock to introduce a variety f horse-friendly grasses to add variation in to their diet. The next step is to roll the field to flatten the ground and ensure the grass roots are secure. It is best to roll when the ground is softer to be more beneficial.
If you have access to a number of paddocks, rotation is the best method to allow each pasture to rest and recover and then cross graze to avoid rough grass areas or particularly luscious areas. Then rest that paddock again before allowing horses back onto it. If you only have one large paddock you can use temporary fencing to split into two or more depending on the size. This allows each section of the field to be rested.
For other information on grazing methods, read the article ‘Ways to Graze’.