Desirable Pasture Species

Why are these grasses considered ‘Horse friendly’

In a nutshell these are higher fibre, lower NSC (sugar) grasses.

They 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.

Some of the plants listed here are OK in small quantities (Yarrow, Plantain) but you would not want the plant to take over.

Therefore land which has been fertilised or limed to where the pH is higher than 6.2 will tend not to suit these grasses.

Crested Dog's Tail
crested dogstail

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.

Brown Top

A great grass for horses and ponies
Persists in low-fertility soil
Under 10% NSC
Tends to smother clover growth (good!)

Cocksfoot Grass

Sometimes referred to as Orchard Grass -
a hardy, drought-tolerant grass with deep roots.
No endophyte fungus.
Withstands close grazing.
Tolerant to pest attack, but can suffer fungal rust disease.
Once established competes well with rye-grass.

Yorkshire Fog
Yorkshire Fog

Doesn't mind wet conditions
Thrives on infertile and acidic soils
Good 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

Prairie Grass

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


Timothy Grass

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.

Sweet Vernal

Sweet Vernal

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)



You will most likely get some plantain growing anyway (without actually sowing it) and that is OK.

It is a plant that is comparatively high in NSC’s (sugar).

Anything with broadleaves tends to be high in NSC's as that is where sugar gets stored as starch.

This is why it is palatable and fattening.


Chicory flower

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.


Yarrow flowers

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.