Pasture management is essential to ensure high-quality pastures for your horses, but it can be challenging with constantly changing seasons and new horses. Setting up good management practices can reduce work long-term, preserve fields with larger numbers of horses, prevent overgrazing, and help maintain overall healthy, productive pastures.
Test Your Soil
Fertilization is key to high-quality grass because soil nutrients and pH differ from farm to farm and pasture to pasture. Soil testing allows you to see the current status of your soil and what nutrients are lacking. Most soil testing sites will give you a complete analysis of the soil nutrients and the dirt's pH (the measure of acidity). Once you’ve determined what is lacking in your soil, you’ll be able to select the right fertilizer for optimal growth.
Mow Your Pastures
It may seem counter-intuitive, but mowing your pasture can help the grass grow thicker. Mowing your pastures to the same height will also reduce weeds. Weeds can quickly overtake your fields and will compete with grass for space, nutrients, and water. If you have extensive weeds in your pastures, you may need to consider treating the weeds. Many weed treatments are most effective when used in the spring. Make sure to keep your horses off any fields that are being treated for weeds.
Consider establishing a regular mowing schedule to encourage grass growth and reduce weeds.
Rotational grazing gives your pasture a break and a chance to regrow—horses and livestock cause significant damage to fields. In addition to hooves packing down the soil, horses tend to graze the same areas repeatedly. Repeated grazing makes it difficult for plants to regrow well.
A good rotational grazing plan will depend on the number of horses in the pasture. It is best to rotate between four fields because this gives the plants enough time for rest and regrowth. It is recommended to turn out your horses when the grass is between 7-10 inches tall and move them to another pasture when it is about 3-4 inches tall.
When pastures are extremely wet or muddy, pasture damage is inevitable. During spring and your rainy season, consider making a sacrifice area. This area is a dry, smaller space away from your grazing area designed to prevent your horse from walking on your grass. By removing your horse from the pastures when they are more prone to damage, you can preserve your grass and ensure faster growth once things dry out again.
Seeding Your Pasture
Seeding your pasture can bring new plants into a well-grazed pasture. Consult your local feed store or veterinarian to determine the right seed choice for your geographic location. Some types of grasses grow better in different climates.
Horses should be removed from newly seeded pastures until the plants are at least 5-6 inches tall. This ensures the root system is well established and strong enough to handle grazing. Repeatedly allowing the new growth to grow to this height and mowing will help thicken the grass over time.