The best grass for horse grazing is often overlooked. Most grasses are aimed at producing rapid growth in farm animals, rather than quality growth for animals who are around a bit longer.
Farmers want their cows and sheep to grow quickly so they can profit by them. This rapid growth is not often in the interests of long term health in a horse, who hopefully lives a bit longer than the average farm animal. So the grasses used to raise cows and sheep should be different from those used for horses.
However, most pastures have been seeded with the grasses which aim at rapid growth. Using synthetic fertilisers and weed killers prevent the natural seeding of local grasses, which would be more in keeping with quality, but slower, growth.
Rapid growth has no benefit for animals, as it can lead to bone, teeth and hoof problems, just for a start. The grasses that promote rapid growth are those responsible for founder/laminitis in hardy horses and ponies who have evolved to do very well on spare vegetation.
Depending upon where you are in the world, indigenous grasses are better suited not only for your soil type, the underlying geology and the climate, but also tend to be favoured by grazing animals, given the choice.
Many horse grazing paddocks tend to be over grazed and are heavily reliant on synthetic fertilsers. A better way is to plant trees in the pasture. The ideal trees are deciduous, or those that shed a lot of leaves. This leaf litter rots down and naturally fertilsers the area. Rain water allows the nutrients to move slowly around a large area.
Because trees are deep rooted, they have access to a multitude of minerals that are deep in the soil. This is one reason why horses love to eat the bark off trees – they are after the minerals.
Not only do trees fertilise pastures, they provide much needed shelter for horses. You may need to protect them from any horse grazing on them as they grow.
It may take a little time to achieve the desired result, but once it is established, the pastures need no maintenance. Nature does it all for you.
If your paddock is on a slope, plant the trees on the higher ground, as the water will naturally travel down to the lower ground.
Good natural pasturalists will tell you pasture should contain at least 80 plants. ‘Weeds’ are deep rooted bringing up minerals that the more shallow rooted grasses can’t reach. Although these ‘weeds’ may not be grazed, they will die back, providing rich mineral content for next year’s grass. Many of the ‘weeds’ provide medicinal properties that horses enjoy as needed.
Buying good hay can be a problem in normal situations. Buying hay made from natural grasses may be impossible, at least at the moment. Do the best you can. Often people are persuaded to buy oaten hay or a monoculture hay, rather than hay made from a mixed pasture. They are afraid of ergot poisoning.
Ergots are more prone to flourishing in badly managed grasses, such as those which are heavily reliant on synthetic pesticides and fertilisers. Those pastures that are kept naturally tend to have higher immunity to disease.
You can check for ergot as they appear as small, dark, elongated grains. As ergot is a fungus, check for a sweet smelling hay, free of any obvious fungus. Some people say the only horses at risk are pregnant mares.
If your horse is affected by ergot poisoning then homeopathic treatment is very effective.