What should I be aware of when looking for grazing my horse?

A horse’s or pony’s pasture should be safe and secure, with adequate grazing, a fresh water supply and some form of shelter. Permanent pasture is the type most suitable for horses since they like old, established grasses with deep root systems rather than newly-sown lush grass which can cause digestive problems. Permanent pasture also has a good turf and tends to become trampled less easily than land that has been recently plowed. Water must be available at all times, either from a running source, a trough, or bucket. Some form of shelter is necessary too, even if it is only provided by a hedge or scattered trees; anything that can protect the animals from wind, rain, and pests can be categorized as a type of shelter. A horse or pony living outside all year round must have some form of permanent shelter.


How large of a pasture does my horse need?

A rough guide to a suitable area is a minimum of an acre per horse. Although horses are herd animals and enjoy each other’s company, it is best not to keep too many of them in a small area because it encourages worm infestations, depletes grass growth and inhibits the area for running. Preferably, grazing should be divided over two halves, and each half grazed alternately or rested, rather than grazing the whole area continually.


Is it suitable for horses to graze with sheep, cattle, or donkeys?

Horses do not suffer from any infestation of the worms that infect sheep or cattle and vice versa. Alternating grazing of a pasture will help to cut down on the number of worms in the pasture. Horses can eat cattle worms and cattle can eat horse worms without either suffering any consequences. Horses are, in some ways, very poor users of land; they don’t graze where they have urinated or defecated and tend to graze exclusively on the best areas of a field. Cattle and sheep graze more evenly and, by leveling out a horse’s pasture, can improve the field. Donkeys, on the other hand, can suffer from lungworms and may not show any visible symptoms.


What is the best type of fencing for horses?

Post-and-rail fencing is the ideal choice for horses, although it can get expensive and horses may chew it or rub against it or even push it down. Three rails are sufficient. The top should be at least four feet high, high enough to keep a horse from jumping it. The posts should be sunk two feet into the ground, with the top rail bolted–not nailed–to them. The bottom rail should be at least one foot above the ground to prevent a horse from getting a foot caught underneath it. To cut costs, the middle rail can be replaced by a single-strand, high-tensile wire, or electric fencing. A stud rail, a white PVC strip held under tension by two wires running through it, can alternatively replace the top rail. All three rails can be replaced by high tension wire or electric fencing; it is important that they are always pulled taut, because animals may get caught in them if they sag at all. Post-and-rails need to be treated regularly to prevent rotting. Hedges can be used as barriers, although horses often find gaps and push their way through. It is better to put fencing inside an existing hedge. For new fields, it is worth considering planting a shelter belt of trees or shrubs outside the post-and-rail fencing. It is important to go around the field and fence off any objects that a galloping horse might run into, such as electric or telephone pole support cables.


What else should a horse be provided with in a pasture?

A gate is required for the pasture, and should be at least 10 feet wide and as high as the fencing. It should not be situated in a corner of the field because horses being turned out there may be cornered and kicked by bullies. Don’t build a gate in hollows or wet ground because horses will congregate around it in the winter waiting to be fed and may make a mess. A few stone chippings in a gateway may deter such problems. If pumped water is available, an automatic galvanized water trough is useful. If not, water will have to be brought in (A horse drinks an average of about eight gallons a day). Wooden feed bowls can be fastened to the fence, but moveable bowls for feeding on the ground are better and lessen “poaching” of the ground if moved daily.


Should pasture have a shelter?

Horses and ponies that are in pasture all through the winter need a form of protection from the weather. A shelter should be at least as large as a box stall for a horse, and preferably a little larger; it should be open on the side facing away from the dominant wind. The doors should not be too small, or bullying horses may prevent others from entering or may corner them inside. For this reason, two doors–situated one at each end of a side–are preferable. A hard floor is essential because a horse cannot rest when standing in cold mud. Bedding will also encourage the horse to lie down.


How can a pasture be improved?

Pastures can be improved by resting them, by grazing with farm animals, by removing droppings, by cutting or spraying weeds, and by dressing with fertilizer. The amount of necessary improvement depends on the stocking rate and whether or not horses are permanently on the pasture. Harrowing with a chain harrow is very beneficial for fields because it breaks up and disperses piles of droppings and also pulls out any dead grass. Specific agricultural sprays should be used for individual weeds such as docks and thistles; general purpose weed-killers should not be used. Sprays should be applied directly, using a knapsack spray, and the manufacturer’s instructions in relation to keeping animals away from grazing following treatment should be strictly followed. Weeding produces better grazing in the fall. Nitrogen fertilizers are unnecessary and produce grass that is too lush for horses. Lime, slag, or potash may be needed to improve the soil. Many breeding farms apply lime to their paddocks to increase the alkalinity of the soil and to stimulate the growth of plants that provide calcium for bone growth.


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