Desirable Pasture Species
Unsuitable pasture will cause health, movement and/or behaviour issues in any horse.
The sort of pasture least likely to cause issues are…
Grasses growing on slightly acidic soils
Pasture on dry stony ground
Grasses grown with a long rotation IE: regenerative agriculture
Large variety of GRASSES
A lot of the advice people are given is to promote the health of the pasture – the consequences for the health of the horse being secondary – the two do not necessarily corelate. For instance horses grazing ‘healthy pasture’ are still very prone to laminitis, EMS, Head shaking, Tight muscles, behavioural issues….
The grasses listed here have not been selected for traits that promote rapid weight gain and milk production. They tend to grow more slowly than ‘high production’ rye-grasses/tall fescues for example. They also grow well on less fertile country. Land which has been fertilised or limed to where the pH is higher than 6.2 will tend not to suit these grasses.
Some of the plants listed here are OK in small quantities eg: Yarrow and Plantain but you would not want them to take over.
Crested Dog's Tail
This is a very common grass especially in dry areas and is great for horses. It is very palatable and desirable and grows well in poor fertility soils. Click on the image for a bigger picture.
*We are now including this grass in the ‘Recreational Horse Mix’ (for people with kids ponies or those who just want the quiet ride at the weekend), along with brown-top, yorkshire fog, and cocksfoot.
A great grass for horses and ponies
Persists in low-fertility soil
Under 10% NSC
Tends to smother clover growth (good!)
Sometimes referred to as Orchard Grass, this grass used to be the farmer’s main production grass before rye grass came along. Just be aware that it tends to make coarse, stalky hay. If you are intending to use it for grazing, I would not include it in a mix for horses prone to weight gain.
Doesn't mind wet conditions
Thrives on infertile and acidic soils
OK as part of a mix.
Dominates other species unless kept closely grazed.
Horses do not find the leaves of fog grass palatable due to their hairiness but they do love the seed heads.
It's not great for hay as it takes a lot more drying than other grasses.
Prairie grass is a large-leafed grass which grows well during winter and early spring, and tolerates drought - but only persists for about four years.
It does not tolerate waterlogged conditions, animal treading or acidic soil.
It does grow well on the eastern coasts of the North and South islands.
Grazing Gala brome is related and also desirable
In about 1720, American farmer Timothy Hanson began to promote this grass as a hay crop in North America, and it has kept his name ever since.
It is best suited for the moist, cooler conditions of South Island dairy pastures. Timothy has a distinctive bullrush-shaped seed head.. It is usually only included as part of a mix for Performance or Breeding as it is a higher sugar grass than the likes of Brown-Top and it doesn’t stand up to heavy trampling.
Makes great hay
Grows only on moist, heavy soils in cooler regions and is highly palatable to stock but is uncompetitive with other plants, so needs light grazing.
Not very drought tolerant. Excellent stock feed.
Smells ‘sweet’ but not meant to be very palatable to horses although our horses have eaten lots of sweet vernal hay no problem.
It is not a desirable grass as it contains ‘coumarin’ - in itself only harmful if the grass gets a mould on it which converts coumarin to ‘dicoumarol’ which inhibits normal blood clotting.
If you have it in your pasture just keep an eye out for any moulds that may develop over summer, (which you need to do on all the grasses anyway)
Poa - BlueGrass
Plantain along with other plants like chicory and yarrow are fine for the horses to ‘snack’ on (as when a few plants crop up in the paddock here and there) but not to ‘feast’ upon – which is what will happen if they are SOWN.
This is because they outcompete the grasses!
This happens because the plantain seeds are incredibly tiny. Even if you have only a handful of seeds in your mix, you are sowing zillions of these plants and given the right conditions they will quickly take over.
Plantain is one of those plants that is a Jekyll and Hyde – it contains phytochemicals that have possible health benefits BUT because it is highly palatable they will tend to feast on it rather than snack on it.
It has been scientifically established that plantain reduces nitrogen leaching from dairy pasture. It has the effect of increasing the volume of urine produced by the cows (by 40 litres/day) to excrete the excess nitrogen (they also say not all of it is excreted – alarmingly, some goes into the milk…) This is not an effect we want to see in our horses.
So no need to worry about it if you see a few plants but obviously it is not one you want to sow.
Advantages: High in minerals and drought resistant due to deep roots.
Disadvantages: Tends to be high in protein (nitrates) and is higher in potassium than grasses. Tends to take over.
It is considered a high performance finishing pasture for sheep, deer and cattle and is known to boost milk production in dairy cows. ie for rapid weight gain and milk production!
Therefore it is very similar to lucerne: it has benefits for some horses at some times. As a rule it is not suitable for ponies and recreational riding horses, however a small amount in the paddock is not going to be a problem for most horses.
Achillea millefolium contains several toxic compounds which can cause harm to horses that eat large quantities of this plant. These compounds can include glycoalkaloids (notably the glycoalkaloid achilline), monoterpenes, and lactones however it is seldom grazed in sufficient quantities for this to be a problem.
It is OK in small amounts.
This paddock has been sprayed out with a Broadleaf spray in spring to get rid of any clover, catsear and plantain. Doing this allows the grass to grow back vigorously as you can see. There has been no fertiliser applied, everything has been grown naturally over around 9 months.
At this stage most horses could graze it - quantity would have to be taken into account - especially for horses prone to EMS or Laminitis!
It would be best to graze for a short period only for these horses.
Now the grass has dried off and is able to be grazed.
The horses have spent all spring on their dry track on hay.
Putting them out on grass required careful introduction owing to the fact there is still some green below the dry.
They start with 10 mins, gradually increasing their time out over a few weeks before they can be out full time. I prefer to wait until it is totally dried out before giving them full time access.
Zephyr and Marshall Art out for around 20 minutes a day at this stage of growth. The grass is mature (seeded) but it is too green yet for full time grazing. Interestingly, rather than going straight for the green fresh grass, they prefer to nip off the seed heads.
Photo credits: Cathy Dee