Why did I seldom, if ever, hear of these problems when I started owning horses 40 years ago?
Several factors are involved here:
1. Grazing was not so intensive back then, now there are more people but no more land, in fact there is less land available for grazing than 40 years ago because of urbanization and the takeover of land by vineyards and dairy farms. As Real Estate has increased in value our grazing areas have become smaller and smaller.
This means the vast majority of horse owners don’t have enough land to allow the grass to mature before it is grazed again. This is especially salient because of overstocking – it is just so easy to acquire more horses than you originally intended!
2. Due to this intensification, people tend to fertilise in order to make their small amount of land grow more grass. This alters the chemical composition of the soil and the grass. Usually not in a way that benefits the horse. In other words the mineral balances are thrown completely out of whack and stress is placed on the horse’s adrenal glands and kidneys, which have to deal with it.
3. Most people think of pasture management for horses the same way they would for other livestock, which they are trying to either fatten in the shortest time possible or produce as much milk as possible. Such animals are generally only kept a very short time – 2 – 7ish years before they are killed for meat or culled.
Horses require you to think differently with regard to pasture management in order to keep them calm, healthy and useful well into their 20’s!!! Generally exactly the opposite to how a livestock farmer would think which causes some lively discussions in some households!
4. Rye grasses and clovers are desired by farmers and virtually grow ‘by default’ these days in regions of the globe that enjoy a ‘;cool season’. We met some people a few years ago who used to make their living from growing cocksfoot seed. Unfortunately they went out of business when rye grass came into fashion.
*Interestingly, in Queensland, where clover hardly grows, there is a very low incidence of head flicking.
5. Equine junk food: People did not use commercially prepared hard feeds to the extent they do now. Some of these feeds are promoted to be ‘cool’ or ‘Low GI’, but when you actually take a look at the list of ingredients, you will find all sorts of things such as legumes, extruded rice or other grains, soy, kelp, maize, wheat by-products, molasses (yes even in low GI).
6. Constant harrowing of manure will also change the chemistry of both the soil and the forage because it is applying nitrogen – a little bit is OK but if you are doing it all the time, you will notice that your grass gets darker in colour and affects your horses more and more as time goes on.