Our grass is maturing and our horses are getting used to grazing at least an hour a day. Our goal is to be able to turn the horses out overnight for an 8 hour graze. When a horse spends any time on pasture whether for grazing or turnout, there are certain things we as managers should pay attention to so that our horses are safe and healthy.
Horse Management – Pasture Life
Part of the dream of having a horse is the visual satisfaction of seeing a horse peacefully grazing on a well-maintained pasture at your home. Pasturing a horse might be the most natural way to keep a horse, but unfortunately, it is out of reach for many and can be far from ideal from a horse’s viewpoint. For the best chance for success, start with a good pasture.
A good pasture has a stand of plants suitable for horses. The best kind of horse pasture is a well-drained grass mix with few weeds and NO poisonous weeds, trees or shrubs. If there is a good grass stand established, you have decent rainfall or access to irrigation, and you mow, harrow and reseed as necessary, you should be able to keep one horse on 2 acres of pasture during the growing season. However, arid ranchland with minimal browse plants can require 20 acres or more to support a single horse. To get a better idea of the specific stocking rate for your property, contact your county extension agent.
A pasture needs to be enclosed with safe fencing and gates. Pasture fences and gates should be at least 5 feet tall and well maintained to maximize the horses’ safety and minimize the liability of loose horses on public or private property. Using electric fencing in conjunction with conventional fencing decreases the wear and tear on fences and adds to security as long as the electric fence is checked daily to be sure it is working.
There should be no old dumps or farm equipment in a pasture; horses can easily get hurt on items hidden by tall grass.
There should be easy and safe access to free choice, good quality water. Natural sources should be running, not stagnant. Know the source of the water your horse drinks. If it contains agricultural runoff, it could be high in nitrates. A trough or automatic waterer should be kept clean and situated to minimize mud and to prevent a horse from being crowded into a corner or against a fence.
Pastures should be well drained with no bogs or stagnant water and preferably the soil should not be not sandy.
The pasture should provide shelter – either natural (trees, rocks or terrain) or man-made (shed or windbreak) to ward off sun, wind, cold precipitation, and insects.
There should be free choice salt and mineral blocks at all times.
Pros and cons of pasture life. See the book Horsekeeping on a Small Acreage.