Good Pasture for a Healthy Horse
As previously noted, good pasture is all your horse really needs. But good pasture often needs to be created and maintained in order to contain the nutrients necessary for a healthy horse. All too often, horses will be left to their own devices on pastures that appear to have plenty of grass; however, they have eaten all the grasses that are nutritious to horses and left other grasses and weeds. The horse will eventually eat these grasses if desperate, but they are unpalatable, non-nutritious, and sometimes unhealthy. A horse
subsisting on pasture only will need about three acres of healthy pasture during the growing season and supplemental hay through the winter.
The quality and quantity of grass you can grow is only as good as the soil upon which it is growing. Your local agricultural extension agent will advise you how to collect soil samples from your pasture, and he or she will analyze the samples for a nominal fee. This will tell you what fertilizer and conditioners must be added to your pasture to be a fertile environment for the kind of grasses you want to grow. A prime pasture is rich in:
Nitrogen. Nitrogen encourages grass growth. A good balance of nitrogen can double the quantity of grass in a pasture.
Phosphorus. Phosphorus promotes root development and gives grasses a sweet taste. This encourages horses to eat nutritious grasses that they might otherwise find unpalatable.
Potassium. Potassium helps grasses increase their natural resistance to drought and disease.
If you do not want to disturb an existing pasture, then the least you can do is to aerate the soil. This will loosen the soil and allow for existing grass and grass seedlings to take easier and more profitable root. Any fertilizer can be broadcast on top and allowed to leach into the ground. Horses should be kept off any fertilized area until after a couple of good rains.
It will take one growing season for grass to properly establish itself. If you can afford the time and space to start a brand new pasture, then the ground should be completely turned over with the fertilizer, and then raked smooth. You might try to enlist the services of your local farmer, who might have a cultivator which can do all these tasks, including drilling grass seed, in a single pass.
Which Grasses and Legumes to Encourage
Since weather and growth conditions vary in most places from year to year, you will want a mix of grasses in your pasture that thrive under different conditions and that mature at different rates. Tall fescue will thrive in wet or dry conditions and will stand up to a lot of horse traffic. Some other hardy perennials you can encourage are timothy, rye grass, wheatgrass, brome grass, bluegrass, and orchard grass. Orchard grass will not thrive in either excessively dry or wet conditions nor in an alkaline soil. Brome grass and wheatgrass can tolerate drought. All will lose digestible nutrients as they mature.
A pasture seeded entirely of legumes is impractical. Alfalfa and clover are very nutritious, but too rich and not hardy enough to exist alone in pasture. They should make up no more than 25 percent of a pasture.