Wednesday, 6 March 2013


If you have an all year grass kept horse, well done. After all the grooming, the winters of keeping an eye out for mud fever, keeping the grass good all year and then to top it all to keep the horse fit and not overweight with no sign of laminitis, I bet your horse looks happy and contented. Ten out of ten for perseverance.

Those who pay for grazing have to rely on others for grass management. Most of us don't realise that the UK is covered with re-sown grass fields which are very different from the old type meadows of the past. The fields nowadays have grass that make cows and sheep grow fat quickly so that farmers can get their stock to market. Rough grazing is very hard to come by but it is infinitely richer in nutrients than the rich green short grass we're used to seeing.

In a meadow there are a multitude of different grasses that can grow up to three foot or more in height such as perennial rye grass, meadow grass, creeping red fescue, soft rushes, sheep's fescue, tall fescue, timothy, cocksfoot, early rye grass and  many more. Then there are the natural clovers and herbs such as yarrow, dandelion, chicory ,comfrey, burnet etc. In addition to these, thistles and nettles, which we are often told to remove, should be kept in check but in my opinion should never be completely removed. Meadows containing wild flowers and all the aforementioned grasses and herbs were abundant in the UK only a few decades ago and would be great if helped back to that state.

Let us think for a minute on some of the horse-related diseases which come from grazing. Laminitis, perhaps the most common disease where the thick green grass does damage to the sensitive hoof. Grass sickness, the cause of which has not been established, kills hundreds of horses every year. Maybe the thick, lush green grass, and/or the tons of non-organic fertilizers which are used every year and have been for decades has something to do with it.

We've changed the very nature of the soil itself with fertilizers, resowing and chemical feedstuffs for farm stock.

By bringing our fields back to meadows we can help the wild environment as much as our horses stomachs. I remember when there were hedgerows full of wild flora, before farmers got rid of  them to make bigger, more productive fields. I think we have to look to the past and the way things were done in a smaller more natural way.

The grass our horses are eating at the moment may be the very thing which is making them ill, overly fat and worst of all, killing them. Most horses will be naturally drawn to an unkempt hedgerow or verge, look at the types of wild flowers and grasses there, your horse is really telling you something.

Here are some things that maybe you could seed into your pasture which are great for your horse, or you could grow your own hedgerow. A lot of these plants are natural sources full of vitamins and minerals which your horse can feed itself on as and when it wants/needs them.

Rosehips, Hawthorn (make lovely hedges too), Brambles, Mint, Wild Garlic, Chammomile, Meadowsweet, Comfrey, Cow Parsley, Thistles, Burnet, Yarrow, Rosebay Willow Herb, Cleavers (must be kept in check), Nettles, Dandelions (one of the most nutrient-rich plants in the world! Containing more Vitamin A than carrots and vitamins B,C and D. Also provides potassium, sodium, phosphorus, zinc, magnesium and iron. Feeding the whole plant of roots, leaves and flower is a liver and kidney tonic, blood purifier and diuretic. They also like Birch, Hazel and Willow branches.
For treats try feeding them Chicory, Marrow or Corn on the cob for a change from the usual apples and carrots, always feed raw. Things like Parsnips, Cauliflour or Cauliflour leaves, Broccoli, Sprouts, Peas and Beans can be given in small amounts, see which ones your horse likes.

Then there's fruit which some horses adore but should really be fed as treats only, there's Cherries, Melon, Papaya, Mango and Pumpkin which are full of vitamins and also Dates, Prunes, Apricots and Grapes which should again only be fed as treats and can be given fresh or dried but make sure dried ones don't have added sugar. Lots of horses like bananas too but never feed to much of anything other than forage or the hindgut gets disrupted and can cause illness.

To encourage a meadow environment consider a few old time meadow flowers and herbs such as, Meadow crane's-bill and Hedgerow crane's-bill, Herb Robert, Bird's foot trefoil, Lucerne, Wild Raspberries, Lady's Mantle, Corn Flowers, Cowslips, Eyebright, Wild Thyme, Wild Marjoram, Wild Basil, Selfheal, Wood sage, Bellflowers, Colt's-foot, Daisy, Feverfew, Knapweed, Parsley, Wormwood, Evening Primrose to name but a few. With these, the full hedgerows and the long wild grasses mentioned earlier, your fields could resemble the wonderful meadows of old that will be full of nutrients, herbs and variety that your horses will love.

It is also a good idea to look into the 'Paddock Paradise' system where a 'track' is put up around a field (or fields) with different types of ground cover for help with barefoot horses and creates the movement a horse needs to ensure exercise, weight control and freedom of movement.

 We must also not forget to manage our pastures and make sure all toxic plants are pulled so that they don't take over the field. Ragwort should always be pulled, with gloves on, and burned. It is a very toxic plant and very invasive of pasture.