Improving Grazing for Horses

Improving Grazing for Horses

Thursday, May 13, 2010

By Lois Macdonald, BGS.

Don't treat your horse like a human. Its well-adapted digestive system was designed for grazing fibrous grasses and plants. Investing time into researching what you put in your horse's mouth will never be wasted. 

This was the key message from the Managing Grazing for Horses workshop, organised by the British Grassland Society and held at World Horse Welfare, Norfolk. Sponsored by Oliver Seeds and Dow AgroSciences, the event challenged horse owners to think about what and how they feed their animals.

"Grass is not all the same," said BGS president Dr Dave Roberts. "Find out what type of grass you should be feeding your horse and explore the opportunities to improve your pasture." Understanding grass growth patterns and the factors that will determine its quality can only help a successful grazing system.  Dr Roberts suggested analysing the conditions you have to work with. "Dig a hole, look at and smell your soil.  This may highlight a drainage or compaction problem."  Soil is so important and although it's often ignored because the majority of it can't be seen, it remains a major influencing factor on grass growth and quality.

He pointed out that winter grazing affects the quality of grass in the spring when a horse would really benefit from it.  Grass growth will peak at April - May time, so manage grazing to compliment the grass's reproduction cycle and be aware of high sugar levels in the afternoon when sunlight levels are higher.  Treading also reduces production, so he advised, if possible, to keep exercise paddocks separate from grazing paddocks.

Dr Elizabeth O'Beirne-Ranelagh explained that owners must supply the animal with the right species of grass and equally remove harmful plants and weeds available to them, such as ragwort.  "Our domesticated horses of today still need a high fibre, low sugar diet, but they'll eat what is palatable not necessarily what is good for them," she said.  "You may also need to enforce restrictions of intake where necessary."

World Horse Welfare's Samantha Lewis explained that recording the horse's weight and condition scoring on a regular basis could help identify whether grassland management was working.  'However, it's important not to put your horse on a crash diet," she warned.   "Gradually introduce a new grazing plan."  The correct condition score has huge benefits to a horse's health and can prevent crippling diseases such as laminitis, common in overweight horses and ponies. 

Owners can implement different methods of grazing systems, such as strip grazing or offering them grass with a lower sugar content or sward height.  If you worry about mineral intake, mineral blocks or feeding supplements can be easily added to their diet.

For more information on the British Grassland Society or to be on the Horse Groups mailing list please contact the BGS office on 02476 696 600.




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