Spring pasture management – a guide for horse ownerst

Spring pasture management – a guide for horse owners

After a long and muddy winter, we can all start to look forward to lighter evenings and warmer weather. While your paddocks might not look their best now, they’ll benefit from a spring pasture management plan to get them back on track and free from weeds.

If your pasture contains patches of lush grass, keep an eye on how much your horse is eating. Weight gain increases the risk of your horse or pony developing laminitis.

Pasture management for horses

Good pasture management is key to keeping weeds down and making sure your horse has good-quality grazing all year round. In spring, we recommend considering the following:

  • Harrowing
  • Reseeding and rolling
  • Removing weeds and poisonous plants
  • Soil analysis
  • Fertilising

Harrowing

Harrowing helps to strip away dead grass, levels any uneven areas and removes weeds with shallow roots.

Don’t harrow near sycamore trees! If your pasture is surrounded by sycamore trees, we don’t recommend harrowing as this can help spread the seeds. Sycamore poisoning itself is primarily a concern in autumn, but you’ll need to consider the seeds within your year-round pasture management plan. Find out more about the signs of sycamore poisoning and Atypical Myopathy.

Harrowing is also a risk factor associated with grass sickness, so you may want to avoid it for this reason.

Reseeding and rolling

Reseeding and then rolling any bare or poached areas can help maximise your usable pasture. Spring is the best time to reseed, but you’ll need to avoid allowing your horse onto these areas until the new growth is 5-6 inches tall.

Removing weeds and poisonous plants

When it comes to controlling weeds and poisonous plants, you have three main options:

  • Digging weeds out by hand
  • Topping weeds
  • Treating weeds with herbicides

Digging weeds out by hand

Digging weeds out by hand is hard work! So, it’s only really feasible if you have a small pasture, with only a few weeds. Never leave piles of weeds in the pasture. Plants like ragwort become more palatable when dried so disposing of them securely is even more important.

Topping weeds

Topping your pasture stops weeds going to seed by removing the head of the plant. This isn’t recommended for ragwort as the tops will be left on the field. Remember that any perennial weeds (like ragwort!) will regrow.

Treating weeds with herbicides

If you have a serious infestation of poisonous plants you may have no option but to treat them with herbicides. Spot-spraying is the most effective way to treat docks and gorse.

You should always pull ragwort instead of treating it with herbicides. This is because the plant is much more palatable to horses when it’s dead and dry.

Purchase and application of herbicides is controlled, so you’ll have to employ a professional contractor. They will be able to recommend the best product for your pasture, and let you know how long to keep your horses off the land.

Soil analysis

Spring is one of the best times of year to carry out a soil analysis. Finding out the pH and nutrient levels is the first step before working out if your pasture actually needs any fertilisers adding.

Over-fertilising can cause excessive grass growth, which isn’t necessarily a good thing if you have laminitic horses or one that seems to live on fresh air! We recommend speaking to a professional before adding any fertiliser to your pasture, as you must comply with government guidelines and only fertilise at certain times of year.

Consider cross-grazing

If you’re friends with a local farmer, you could cross-graze your horse’s pasture with sheep or cattle. They both eat a lot of tough grasses and weeds that horses tend to avoid.

Sheep and cattle can also help to reduce the amount of rich grass available over the spring, which minimises the risks of your horse gaining excessive weight.

The lifecycle of equine parasites will be broken if they’re ingested by sheep or cattle. You’ll still need to keep your horse’s worming programme up to date, and make sure the sheep or cattle are regularly wormed too.

Give your paddocks some TLC in spring and you’ll thank yourself for the rest of the year. What goes into your annual ritual? Share your pasture management tips with us on Facebook.