Good grazing is a very important part of your horse's diet. Here's how to keep your 'Doctor Green' in tip-top shape all year round.
Make sure your paddock management machinery has suitable tires. Tires with large ridges can really damage turf so always choose specific turf tires, which spread the machine's weight over a large surface area, and do little if any damage whilst still affording you sufficient grip to pull a harrow or aerator across your fields.
Over the course of a year, a large quantity of dead material can accumulate on the field surface. Annual harrowing will remove this natural debris allowing light, water and new seeds to reach the soil. Aeration is important after harrowing to facilitate the removal of methane and hydrogen sulphide and allow more oxygen to enter the soil.
Areas where horses congregate such as gateways and water troughs can be susceptible to damage. The best way to manage this is by using a plastic mesh-type product which can be pinned down and filled with topsoil then sown with a good quality grass mixture. This will reinforce vulnerable ground and will be virtually invisible once the grass has grown over it.
Pasture rotation is vital if you want to maintain a year round supply of grazing for your horse. This can be a problem if you only have one field but if possible you should devise a rotation plan for the year and stick to it.
It's important to give your grazing a helping hand by fertilising the fields. You can either buy a ready to use fertiliser or make your own from your horse's droppings. Collect up the manure and cover it with plastic tarpaulin. This will generate heat which will kill any worm eggs or larvae present in the manure. The finished compost should resemble soil. It can be spread in a thin layer on the field. Remember to allow at least four weeks before turning horses out after a field has been 'dressed' to allow time for the fertiliser to be watered into the soil.
Although night time turn out is best for horses during the summer months as there are no flies about to bother them, it's not good for grass. Grass does not photosynthesise at night which means that it doesn't grow as quickly as it does during daylight hours. This is not going to be a problem if you keep your horses inside during the day but if you graze 24/7, your pasture may suffer.
Use nature's help to manage your land wherever you can. Willow trees not only provide shelter, shade and pain relief when eaten they also remove water from the soil which is very useful if you have waterways cutting through your land. Hedges attract birds and predatory insects which will attack other species that bother horses and a pond will appeal to dragonflies. Wild garlic helps to deter flies too and will thrive in damp woodland areas.
If your land is prone to waterlogging, a system of drainage ditches will be essential. Although expensive to dig and maintain, effective drainage will allow you to turn your horses out in winter time and will prevent damage to your land in wetter periods.
When it comes to fencing options, post and rail is the best option with a strip of electric tape inside or along the top to prevent it being chewed. Hedging is good too although it takes more maintenance. A decent hedge provides shelter from the wind and rain as well as shade and also encourages insect eating birds and other wildlife to set up home there. Never use barbed wire or any sort of meshed or netted media to fence fields in which horses are turned out. Injuries sustained when a horse puts its foot through such fencing can be devastating.
Always dig up any ragwort that pops up and burn it. Docks and the like can be cut down to ground level and killed off by pouring a few salt pellets into the root. Buttercups will be removed by harrowing.