Horses are wasteful, inefficient, and consequently uneconomical grazers. They, therefore, require a good deal of supervision when they are kept on grass. It is a mistake to think of a paddock as just a field where the horse can be kept safely without requiring too much attention. Whilst at grass he is permanently at risk from disease, injury, the weather, vandals, thieves, and himself. The field in which the horse is kept should be treated not only as a safe place but as a valuable source of food and the grass should be treated like any other crop.
If the field has well-drained, fertile soil producing a variety of grass and some clover, one acre will support one horse if the management of the grass is good. Horse paddocks are, unfortunately, seldom of high-quality grazing and it is more likely that one and a half acres will be required per horse.
A good horse paddock requires:
1. A good mixture of grasses and herbs. Basic pasture grasses include perennial ryegrass; cocksfoot; timothy. Palatable turf-forming grasses include creeping red fescue; crested dog’s tail; rough-stalked meadow grass on wetland; smooth-stalked meadow grass on dry land; brown top, for making turf only. Another very palatable grass is tall fescue, which is nutritious but forms no turf.
Desirable herbs include wild white clover; chicory; bur net; ribgrass; sheep’s parsley; yarrow; dandelion. Herbs can be introduced into a paddock by direct drilling, or the seed can be broadcast, harrowed, and rolled. They are best sown in July/August, and the paddock then left until the following spring, Morin April with the paddock left until August.
2. Sound fencing. Post and rail are best but expensive. Hedges can be satisfactory but are often insecure and require a lot of maintenance. Post and wire are just acceptable but are potentially dangerous; barbed wire is dangerous and unacceptable. Field gates must be secure and easy to use, particularly when one miscarrying bucket, or riding or leading a horse.
3. A water supply. The horse requires 36-45 liters (8-10 gal) of water a day. A running stream is ideal, provided that it has a tone or gravel bottom and is a clear, unpolluted watch. Brackish or stagnant pond water is of no value as horses will not ink it
The best system of supplying water is through a galvanized iron trough with a covered ball cock. It should be set into a concrete hard standing to prevent a bog from forming around it. It is also sensible to lag those parts of the supply pipes that are exposed, to prevent freezing in winter.
4. Shelter. A shelter is needed to protect from flies and the sun in the summer and cold wind, rain, and snow in the winter. A copse of trees or a thick, high hedge will provide some shelter but they are no substitute for a three-sided field shelter.
5. Drainage. A wet field requires drainage if it is to be at its most productive. Grass does not grow well in very wet conditions and horses cause a lot of damage on very wet ground.
6. Fertilizing. Grass, like any other crop, needs to be fed. In early March and again in mid-summer 1 to 2 bags of Frisson Regular(20,10:10) should be applied per acre. This will supply in the correct ratio the essential foods that the grass requires: nitrogen, phosphate, and potash. It will ensure continuous grass production throughout the growing season from May until about October.
The local officer of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will provide a soil analysis if provided with ten soil samples taken at a depth of about four inches, from various parts of the field. As a result of this analysis, he will be able to advise on the type of fertilizer that should be used and the quantity required. Three or four weeks should pass before horses are put out onto a newly fertilized field, allowing sufficient time for the ra to wash the fertilizer well into the ground.
7. Worm control. All horse paddocks suffer from worm infestation, which should be kept to a minimum by:
- (a)Worming the horses regularly with a proprietary brand of wormer. The veterinary surgeon will advise on the type that should he use.
- (b)Picking up the droppings daily or at least twice a week.
- (ac)Sharing the grazing with a few sheep or bullocks. The horse worm larvae are killed in the digestive tract of sheep or bullocks without causing them any harm.
- (d)Harrowing, exposes the worm larvae to sunlight and is a very effective way of destroying them.
- (e) Keeping horses in for forty-eight hours after they have been wormed. This ensures that worm-infested droppings are not expelled into the field.
8. Weed control. Heavy infestation of weeds discourages the growth of grass. Some, such as argot, are poisonous to horses. Docks and nettles are difficult to remove once they are reestablished; they are unsightly in a horse paddock and are assigned to bad husbandry. Allowing weeds to spread to other properties may constitute an offense under the Control of Weeds Act. Some weeds can be destroyed by spraying, but any poison in a horse paddock is a potential danger. The most effective way to dispose of argots, docks, and nettles is to pull them up and burn them; the best way to discourage other weeds is to encourage the growth of the grass.
9. Mowing, harrowing, and rolling. Horses are very selective grazers and will not feed around piles of droppings, where other horses regularly stale or where the grass has grown longhand gone to seed. To ensure that maximum use is made of the field it is necessary to ‘top’ it regularly, die to mow it lightly to remove the long or ranked grass. Grass clippings should never be fed to horses as they foment in the gut and cause very serious colic.
Harrowing is required to pull out dead vegetation and to aerate the soil. This should be done at the end of February each year. Rolling compresses the surface of the soil and packs the soil down around the roots of the grass to assist in healthy growth. Whenever possible grazing should be ‘rotated’, die divided into two or more areas with one part being rested for eight weeks torso, while the horses use another. This enables the grass to grow and ensures efficient grazing in a small area.
The term ‘horse sick’ is an expression used to describe a neglected paddock where the grass is over-grazed and there are patches of docks, nettles, and argot. The fencing is usually poor with makeshift water troughs and gates, and the addition of a few littered show jumps creates a scene of sordid neglect. Horse paddocks require a good deal of attention if they are to remain productive and credit to their owners.
The horse kept in grass requires:
1. Regular inspection. At least once a day he should be visited to ensure that he is well and has not sustained any injury. If he is wearing a New Zealand rug this may need to be adjusted.
3. Feeding. From October until about May, when the grass is not growing and there is little nutrition in what is left of the summer grass, the horse requires supplementary feeding. The type of food and the quantity depend on the type of work that he is required to do.
4. Attention to his feet. The feet require regular picking out and trimming. If he is shod then normal care of the shod foot will be necessary.
5. Grooming. If he is regularly ridden for enjoyment or competition he needs to be groomed and to have his mane and tail tidy. This will not be the thorough grooming that would be given to the stabled horse but sufficient to keep him looking clean, tidy, and cared for. It should be remembered that the natural oil found in the horse’s coat provides him with protection against cold and wet weather and should not be removed entirely. Some styles of the clip are suitable for the grass-kept horse, enabling him to be worked but leaving a sufficient coat on to give some protection for most of the year.
See more: Horse Fencing