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Welcome to the Equestrian Outreach Managing Horse Pasture Page

Managing Horse Pasture Overview

Hay FieldMuch of the information found at this site reflects a growing world idea that natural is better than artificial. Now with new research showing a relationship between diseases such as laminitis and commercially produced fertilizer it is clear that careful and thoughtful pasture management goes hand in hand with maintaining safe productivity. (Click here for more information about the relationship to fertilizers and other agrichemicals and Laminitis)

Pasture for Forage: A major component of a horse's diet is forage (hay, grass or legumes). A horse weighing 1000 pounds will eat about 500 pounds of forage each month (3 tons per year!). If dry land pasture is the only source of forage, your horse will need about 28 acres worth of non-irrigated pasture a year. An irrigated pasture will grow more forage than dryland pasture, so less acreage is needed. The amount of irrigated pasture land needed for one horse is roughly 1 to 2 acres.
Pasture Requirements: Two acres of irrigated pasture are recommended per mature horse. One acre of pasture can provide adequate grazing but requires more pasture management. Manage your pasture as you would with any crop with soil testing, fertilizing, and managing manure. The horse will not eat trampled grass or grass with manure on it.
Island Grazing: Horses are inefficient or “island grazers” which means they pass over areas or islands of grass and will quickly overgraze smaller areas. Therefore a way to keep them off the pasture on a regular basis (like a stall) is needed to minimize overgrazing. The horse could be confined to the lot or barn and only allowed to graze for specified times lasting for only a few hours a day, thus reducing damage to the small pasture. Over-supplementing your horse with hay and grain will not prevent your horse from overgrazing
Divide Your Turnout into Individual Pasture: The grazing area should be divided into three (or more) equal size pastures. Portable electric fencing provides an efficient and economic way to partition your pasture. To allow for adequate growth, leave about 1/3 of the grass uneaten at any given time.
Rotate the Pastures: Rotational pastures are one key to using small acreage pasture space to the fullest potential. Allowing the pasture to recover for 3 or 4 weeks helps the pasture to stay healthy. Horse pasture requires water to be productive and is particularly important during the recovery period. Allow your horse to graze one pasture area down to 2 to 3 inches, then move the horses to the next pasture.  When the recovering pasture has grown to 6-8 inches it is ready for grazing again
Mowing is an Important Part of Pasture Management: While the pasture recovers, you should mow it, so that all plants are at equal height water. It minimizes the spread of weeds to help maintain higher quality forage. Mowing weeds before seed heads are produced limits the spread of weeds. Grass should be mowed to 3-4 inches. Mowing keeps the grass shorter, which horses prefer. The grass has less fiber, is higher in protein and more nutrients reside in the younger leaves and stems.
Manure Management: Removing manure to a separate area on a regular basis is the ideal way to control pests such as flies and internal parasites which both rely on the manure as part of their life cycle. By lightly covering manure with dirt the odor is eliminated and it quickly decomposes (Rots) into humus which is rich and desirable by product. Dragging the pasture helps to distribute any remaining manure as nutrients evenly. Dragging helps to uncover and destroy parasitic eggs and larvae by being exposing them to the hot sun. Dragging enables water and air to better penetrate the soil.
Seeding: No matter how well you manage your pasture, it will most likely thin. To help ensure your pasture continues to produce good grass, new quality forage seed should be spread every year. It is recommended re-seeding be done in the spring or fall. In the spring, wet conditions allow for germination and growth, but only if it is not too muddy. In the fall, there will be less weed pressure. Do not allow grazing on new grass seedlings for approximately 6-weeks after they have emerged. The types of grass that are uses depend on the your location but it is common to uses grass seeds like Bermuda or Bahia or some pasture mix, in the summer and Rye grass in the winter.

Colic Warning: Turning your horse out on green lush pasture before conditioning it (horse) to a change in diet is dangerous and may result in sickness (Colic) or in rare cases death. Start your horse out slowly by letting it graze for few minutes each day and gradually increase to a few hours each day.