About GrassCherokee at the beach

Grass - that all important fuel that keeps your horse going -
or does it?

How Grass Affects Horses
It is not that horses can’t eat any grass. Horses have evolved over millions of years as herbivores and a large part of their diet is meant to be grass. But there is an enormous difference between the grass in the diet of the healthy wild horse who wanders over vast areas nibbling and browsing a large variety of older grasses, bushes and trees and the grass in the diet of the average domestic horse who is confined to small areas and forced to eat the regrowth; or worse; the heavily fertilised, so-called ‘improved’ grasses meant for rapid weight-gain and milk production of livestock!!
Read more....
PIC: What a farmer would call ‘poor quality’ grass can be ideal for horses!


Points to Ponder

If you would like to be able to have your horses turned out on their pasture, you don’t want pasture that is too ‘rich’. 
The ‘poorer’ your pasture; meaning it is low in potassium and nitrogen and therefore won’t grow rapidly; the more hours of the day your horses can be out grazing. On this sort of pasture you will get little if any clover growth and the older style grasses will be happy.

You will only get this sort of pasture when the soils are on the acidic end of the spectrum. On this sort of grass you will compensate for the lower nutrient density with a daily feed containing the nutrients they need to be healthy, that they would have obtained had they been able to forage a variety of plants if they weren’t behind a fence.

On the other hand if you fertilise the land with anything, or harrow all the time, (sometimes is OK) you will encourage more rapid growth and for MOST horses it will not be as suitable.
The richer the grass the less time they can spend out there as they get too much per mouthful and are likely to eventually become grass-affected in some form or other!

This is when you need a Dry Lot option so that you can customize access to this ‘richer’ grass and feed hay the rest of the day.

It is ideal to think ‘long rotation’ for your horse’s grass – ie where it has been left to mature before grazing again. This will vary depending on where you live, for us it is at least 6 months!

Pasture that contains a good mixture of species preferably of the older or native varieties rather than high production grasses such as rye or tall fescue are ideal. 
Compare the diet of feral horses who commonly have over 50 species of plants to graze and browse - a far cry from the few we expect them be healthy on. The way around this is the daily feed containing the appropriate nutrition for the conditions and the purpose of the horse.

A question came up: Can you graze them on lush grass for short periods?
Yes you can but that would depend on the individual horse. Bear in mind that lush grass is not ideal forage for any horses. For non-grass affected horses short term exposure should be fine. If your horse is prone to being grass affected he would need to be monitored very closely.

Since hardly any of us have such vast idyllic pastures at our disposal we need to improvise. This can be done by creating a ‘mini-arid environment’ such as a Dry Lot or a Track for times when the grass is not suitable (whether due to seasons, stage of growth or when it is shut up for hay)

Having a Dry Lot as an option is a huge relief if you have horses prone to being Grass Affected. It enables you to tailor access to grass according to individual needs.

There is often some resistance to putting in a Dry Lot due to the perceived expense but put it this way, if your horse is constantly plagued laminitis, head flicking etc you really have no choice. It doesn’t take many vet bills to add up to the cost of a good Dry Lot.

There are economical (but not so permanent) options such as covering the grass with old carpet. Many people have done this to make an emergency Dry Lot especially for laminitic ponies.
Of course, this does mean thinking well ahead with your hay supplies!

Here are some ideas for Dry Lots and Tracks…



Merlot grazing perfect grass - look at her coat bloom!


Moulds & Myco-toxins

Symptoms of myco-toxin exposure and those of mineral imbalances can be similar and difficult to distinguish.
Both need to be addressed.

‘Myco’ is the Greek word for fungus so myco-toxins are ‘poisons or chemicals produced by fungi’.
Fungi or moulds produce myco-toxins when they are stressed by weather and moisture levels.

 Myco-toxins are potentially very harmful to all livestock including horses. Whilst the liver is very efficient at denaturing toxins, chronic or overwhelming assault will lead to various health problems especially when compounded by mineral imbalances.

Rye & Clover

Clover is the cause of a wide array of health and behaviour problems, some of them so common we think they are normal, some way more severe causing frustration, accidents, loss of confidence in people, and unnecessary suffering and euthanasia of horses.

Without a doubt, these pastures directly impact your safety, enjoyment and pocket!! I used to think that mycotoxins were the most serious problem with rye grass and clover. Now I realise that serious mineral imbalances inherent in Rye and Clover pastures cause even more trouble.


What does it mean when we ask what sort of grass is your horse grazing?

There are several aspects to this

1. Species:
- Is it predominantly rye-grass? The seed-heads are easy to recognise and if there are no seed-heads the back of the leaf is shiny. Rye-grass glints/shines in the sun see picture...

In NZ rye-grass grows everywhere. It is not easy to find pasture or hay with absolutely none. Luckily SOME rye-grass in your paddocks and/or hay is not a problem, the real problems with rye-grass are caused when it is dominant and has clover amongst it.

- Rye-grass, Tall fescue, Cocksfoot and even Timothy are classed as ‘high production grasses’, they are all OK as part of a mix.
Read “The Case Against Rye-Grass & Clover Pastures

- Is there a variety of different grasses? 
A mixture of different species is much more desirable than any kind of ‘mono-culture’.
- Are they cool season or warm season grasses? This is region and climate dependent. 
Cool season grasses like rye, cocksfoot, timothy & tall fescue, bromes & browntop, all grow in cool, temperate climates and regions of NZ and Australia and all of the UK while warm season grasses grow in warmer, sub-tropical regions and climates such as the northern half of the North Island of NZ, many parts of Australia and South Africa.
(They don’t grow anywhere in the UK>

- The reason you need to know if your horse is grazing warm season grasses is because they contain ‘oxalates’ which disturb calcium metabolism.

- The average potassium content of warm season grasses is between 1-2%, whereas the average potassium content of cool season grasses is 2-4% or higher if fertilised. 
This is to be considered when making decisions about hay and supplementary feeds.

Generally horses on warm season grasses tolerate the addition of Lucerne to their diets (not saying you can count on this) whereas horses on cool season grasses very rarely do.

- Kikuyu is an oxalate grass which grows in the northern regions of New Zealand. Australia and South Africa also have kikuyu grass along with other oxalate grasses including Setaria and Buffel, both of which are problematic due to their oxalate content.
- Paspalum is another problematic warm season grass which is also difficult to eradicate. The hanging seed-heads harbour little black ergots which resemble ‘mouse droppings’. These can affect the horses central nervous system. 
- The grass itself is not toxic, but the seed-heads are a problem when parasitized by the ergot fungus which can produce toxic ‘pyridine alkaloids’ (nasty chemicals) in the little ‘mouse-droppings’ that appear in late summer or autumn. The best strategy, although not easy to achieve, is to keep it grazed so it doesn’t go to seed. If you mow or slash Paspalum, it just produces smaller seed-heads on shorter stems!