KEEPING HORSES AT GRASS ON SMALL AREAS
Many urban fringe horse owners keep their animals on small acreages. This is feasible provided meticulous management is given to:
- the pasture
- the feed requirements of the horse
- the control of worms
Rotational grazing must be practiced. For example, a two acre (0.8 ha) paddock should be divided in four. Test the soil and adjust any deficiencies. Look at the grass cover and make sure it is mostly palatable species with no more than 10% herbs (dandelions etc). If the pasture is very poor, upgrade it immediately, as it will take at least two years to improve. Seek advice from neighbours, nurserymen and agricultural advice centres. Pay close attention to removing droppings, topping, harrowing and fertilising. Yours is an intensive grass farming system! Pasture can be extended by the careful use of irrigation. Again, seek advice.
Grass kept horses can be worked as long as they are fed sufficiently once the grass has passed it's best. It is, however, difficult to obtain the same degree of fitness as a stabled horse because the diet cannot be fully controlled.
In winter, horses may lose condition due to sweating. Reduce the severity of the exercise.
A concentrate feed helps horses to work from grass. It provides the necessary nutrients to build and maintain muscle. If the horse is doing more than gentle hacking, a concentrate feed should be given.
Grass kept horses will be fine for slow, steady work but must not be expected to work hard and fast. They are also not fit for work on hard surfaces. Fitness can be built up with a sensible program of exercise. The sudden introduction of work requiring exertion is foolhardy as it will almost certainly lead to an injury.
Feed Requirements of the Horse
Although the horse is kept at grass, it is unlikely that a small plot of two acres (0.8 ha) will supply sufficient food. You must be prepared to supplement with both hay and concentrates when needed. By doing so, you will conserve the grazing. Keep a close eye on the condition of the horse so that you will know when to start supplementing the grass diet.
Control of Worms
Horses can pick up a staggering number of worms on small plots. A vigorous deworming program must be followed. Worms will never be completely eradicated but they can be controlled.
Worms do the greatest damage to the weakest animals. Horses must not be allowed to lose condition or become run down.
Worms do most damage by traveling through the arteries. The arteries that supply the intestines with blood (mesenteric arteries) are most commonly damaged. This type of worm activity can lead to colic or the fatal bursting of an artery.
Worm every eight weeks in summer and six weeks in winter. In late autumn and through winter worm against adult roundworms and strongyles and their larvae and also bots. In September and March dose only against adult roundworms and strongyles. Use a different dewormer each time to avoid resistance to one ingredient developing.
It is a good idea to keep one paddock purely as a free exercise area. No vegetation need grow there. The horse can be lunged (exercised at the end of a long rein) or allowed to move around at will. The horse can be kept here for part of the day to receive hay and concentrates and to relieve the grass from over grazing.
Layout of Paddocks
The best use of space is essential in a small area. A little bit of pre-planning can lead to efficient space management. For example, one field shelter could serve all four paddocks if the shelter was cleverly placed. Similarly, one trough could service two paddocks.
Avoid placing gates in corners as this will make the entrance awkward. In small paddocks, it is essential to 'bevel' all the corners. This is done by placing a rail across each corner. This stops horses running into the corners and being unable to get out. This should be done at the edges of any water troughs that project into the field.
Field Shelter and Other Buildings
You may need permission from your municipality to erect a shelter. This will also apply to tack or feed rooms, hay barns or stables. It may be possible to renovate existing outbuildings for one of the above purposes.
To sum up, keeping a horse on a small area requires close attention to detail to ensure that the horse and the land remain healthy. Restrict the horse's access to the grass and supplement with hay to stretch the grazing as much as possible.
General Management Practices
- The horse must be inspected DAILY. The horse should be caught, his feet should be picked out (the sole cleaned) and he should be looked over carefully for signs of injury or illness. The feet should also be examined in case they need trimming.
- The fences, gates, water supply and shelter must be checked daily. Look out for loose nails, broken rails, damaged shelters, faulty gate fasteners and blocked or empty troughs. Repair immediately.
- The paddock must be checked daily. Look at the condition of the grass and decide if there is enough grazing left. Ask a neighbouring farmer or your vet about the poisonous plants in your area and remove them. Check the field for holes from rabbits or wombats, etc. and fill them in. Galloping horses can break legs in these. Check the field for plastic bags (deadly if swallowed), tins, lengths of wire and bottles that may have been thrown or blown onto the field. Remove immediately.
- Teach the horse to come to your call. It will save you tramping about the paddock! Most horses will come to call if they are fed a piece of bread as a reward.
- Brush the horse off once a day if he is in work.
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