Healthy Horses Require Healthy Pastures

Photo Credit: Julie Allen

Photo Credit: Julie Allen

Someone once said that we owe our existence to six inches of soil and the fact that it rains. This is very true, and amazing to ponder. The soil in our pastures, and the grass it grows, are just as vital to the health of our horses.

The soil in our pastures contains all the nutrients and biology necessary for plant life. The nutrients that the grass pulls from the soil directly affect its growth and quality, and after it is consumed it also directly contributes nutrients to our horses. You can give your horse all the supplements you want to make up for deficiencies in your pasture, but nothing is better for a horse or more effective than good, healthy pasture.

Here are some steps you can take to create a healthy pasture:

Test Your Soil

The first step to take in improving the health of the soil in your pasture is to first find out how healthy it is to begin with. You can do this with a soil test. The results of the test will tell you two very important things – what the level of each nutrient is and what the pH of the soil is. While nutrients such as nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) are vital, just as important is the pH of the soil. A pH that is too low or too high can affect how nutrients travel in the soil and how available they are for the grass to take them up. If any of the nutrients need additions that can be as simple as adding fertilizer. Adjusting the pH can also be as simple as adding lime. Whatever needs to be done can only be truly known by starting with a soil test.

Spread Composted Manure

Manure from our horses is a constant battle for most of us. Every day more is added and what to do with it becomes more of a challenge. The best solution I have found is composting it, because having good compost to spread on my pasture is like putting money in my pocket, which is nice considering how much I spend on the hay the compost starts out as! Composting is more than just piling up the manure in one spot and waiting for it to break down. It involves monitoring temperature, turning it to expose the microbes to enough oxygen, and making sure it has enough moisture to complete the process. However, if properly composted, horse manure is one of the best soil amendments you can use, one that will not only add good nutrients but also improve the organic matter vital to the health of all the microbes, fungi, bacteria and other organisms in the soil that are just as vital to the grass as a good rain. 

Practice Good Grazing 

Practicing good grazing is just as important to the health of a pasture as making sure the soil has what it needs. The grass needs good soil in order to thrive, but it also needs to be treated well to avoid damaging its ability to use that healthy soil to be healthy itself. Some things involved in good grazing include never grazing grass below three inches; divide pastures and rotate horses through each division as grass is grazed down to three inches; when horses are removed from a pasture mow that pasture so all grass is at three inches; don’t let horses back into a pasture until the grass is six to eight inches tall; when the rainy season begins monitor the soil and pull horses off into a winter confinement area to avoid damaging the grass and the soil. 

Help is Available

Getting your pastures healthy to assure the health of your horse can be difficult, but there is help available. The best resource you have is us, YOUR Conservation District. We can help you with many free services such as soil testing, site visits to assess pasture health and technical advice about how to compost and graze properly. Fall is a great time to get started and a great time to get set up for the coming spring. And then it won’t be long until you not only have healthier soil and pastures, but a healthier horse as well.