The Equicentral System Series

The whole set

Horse Ownership Responsible Sustainable Ethical

Healthy Land, Healthy Pasture, Healthy Horses

Horse Property Planning and Development

Other books by Equiculture

Buying a Horse Property

A Horse is a Horse - of Course

Horse Properties - A management guide

The Horse Riders Mechanic Series

Horse Rider’s Mechanic Workbook 1: Your Position

Horse Rider’s Mechanic Workbook 2: Your Balance

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Healthy Land, Healthy Pasture, Healthy Horses

The Equicentral System Series Book 2


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Healthy Land, Healthy Pasture, Healthy Horses

Chapter 1: Introduction

When you watch your horse graze, you are correct in thinking that this is the most natural way for your horse to feed itself. Millions of years of evolution have created this harmonious, symbiotic relationship between grazing animals (your horse) and plants. Plants also benefit from this relationship, just as the horse relies on plants for nutrients those plants rely on the action of grazing to promote growth and reproduction.

However, several factors, including the domestication of horses and the selective breeding and production of certain plant species, have created an imbalance in this once harmonious relationship.

Pasture is land used for grazing. Pasture usually consists mainly of grasses with legumes and other forbs (non-grass herbaceous plants).

Symbiotic relationship between grazing animals and pasture plants.


On the subject of horses and pasture, there are two real issues of concern for the modern horse owner; the first being how the nutritional changes associated with the new grasses have detrimentally affected the horse, and the second being the challenge that horse owners face to keep horses on relatively small areas of pasture, without causing overgrazing and land degradation.

What we are currently experiencing in the horse world is a growing epidemic. This epidemic has numerous causes and several symptoms, sometimes appearing to conflict with each other, but in reality adding to each other.

The issues include, in no particular order:

Once horse owners appreciate that the causes behind many of these issues are linked, and they understand the relationships between their horses, their pasture and the land on which they are kept, they are able to make informed decisions and make beneficial changes, which are often simple to implement.

Whilst many individual horse owners are oblivious for the need to change traditional practices, there is a growing awareness amongst the equine community that there needs to be a change. People are investing time and energy in trying to solve these issues. Horse owners seek information from various sources including the internet, their peers and role models. Some try out different systems to manage their horses and their weight, many of which are based on some form of restrictive feeding/grazing practices; although much of the current research shows that this stresses the horse and can actually have a detrimental effect. These restrictive practices tend to also put additional pressure on the land, leading to increased compaction, mud/dust, weeds and erosion- in other words unhealthy land. This not only has a negative effect on the land, but also on the image of the equine community in the eyes of other members of society. This in turn leads to bad feeling and ultimately legislative changes, which, when it comes to legislation on horse ownership, are on the increase. We have to be pro-active and not allow a situation to occur where this happens; we have to become responsible, sustainable and ethical horse owners.

To date, horse ownership has been less regulated than many other walks of life, but that is set to change. If we do not improve the way that we keep and manage our horses and land, then we risk having people who have little understanding about this way of life, regulate it for us. Even if you do not own your own land, you should be looking to the future and how you can make changes for the better that will protect your way of life, improve the welfare of your horse/s, protect the environment and safeguard horsekeeping for future generations, a true win-win situation.

Restrictive feeding practices tend to put additional pressure on the land, leading to increased compaction, mud/dust, weeds and erosion.


Chapter 2: Horses and pasture

The benefits of pasture

Pasture plants are a vital part of our ecosystem and make up a huge proportion of the earth's land surface, 40% of it in fact. Natural pasture is biodiverse and this means that it contains a large variety of species. A biodiverse pasture has many different plants suitable as forage, of which grass is the most prevalent and, probably, the most important. Grass is the most successful of all the plant families – there are over 10,000 species of grass plant worldwide and it provides the bulk of the feed for large grazing herbivores. Pasture has many benefits for horses, the land/environment and ultimately for you – the horse owner.

A biodiverse pasture has many different plants suitable as forage, of which grass is the most prevalent.


Benefits for horses

Pasture is an excellent feed source for most horses.


Grazing horses have their head down and are simultaneously draining their airways and breathing fresh air.


See The Equicentral System Series Book 1 – Horse Ownership Responsible Sustainable Ethical for more information about horse grazing behaviour.

Benefits for land and the environment

Pasture plants collect and hold water.


Benefits for horse owners

Pasture is a convenient and relatively cheap form of feed.


The importance of biodiversity

Pasture can be made up of one species type (a monoculture, which would only occur in a man-made situation), or many species living together (biodiversity). In nature, there is always a variety of species in any ecosystem – otherwise it would not be sustainable. In a natural ecosystem, there are many types of plants, animals and insects that live alongside each other and have symbiotic relationships with each other, meaning that they cannot survive without each other. Increasing biodiversity, therefore, is not just about taking care of grazing animals and the plants that they eat, but it is also about providing habitat for numerous beneficial creatures, including certain insects and insectivorous birds.

In nature, there is always a variety of species in any ecosystem – otherwise it would not be sustainable.


The problem with monocultures

Monocultures are prone to disease and pest invasion. When biodiversity is lacking, chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides have to be relied upon more and more, because certain pest insects and plants become dominant in the absence of their natural predators. The problem is that many of these chemicals, as well as causing damage to the environment, are becoming less effective as their overuse has caused resistance to build up in the plants and insects they aim to eradicate. As a result of this, there is now a lot of interest in looking at natural ways of controlling pest insects and plants.

The benefits of biodiversity

A good, biodiverse pasture provides a wide variety of plants, providing differing nutritional value to horses.


Increasing biodiversity

A well-managed horse property can do many things to increase biodiversity. By managing the grazing of your horses, for example, you can increase the organic mass on your land and increase the number of both plant and animal species.

Many beneficial insects live in healthy grassland and, by using chemicals such as parasitic worming pastes (anthelmintics) responsibly, you can reduce the damage to beneficial insects such as dung beetles (see the section Dung beetles and other insects) and earthworms. The same is true with herbicides; responsible usage means less damage to the environment. By planting trees and bushes, you can provide habitat for numerous animals, such as insectivorous birds and insectivorous bats, that will in turn help to control any pest species (see the section Trees and bushes as habitat for wildlife).

It will take time to establish a varied pasture, but eventually you should be aiming for a blend of grasses, legumes, medics, sedges and herbs etc. (see the section What to aim for for more information). Horses have evolved to eat a great variety of plants on a daily basis, they need variety in their diet and thrive on it – in the wild, horses have access to a huge variety of plants on a daily basis (see the section Pasture plants in their natural environment). In the naturally-living situation, horses do not seek a balanced diet every day; they instead seek that balance over the year, as different food sources become available at different times. Biodiverse pasture copies this behaviour as, throughout the seasons, different plants will be available within the grazing area

In the naturally-living situation, horses do not balance their diet every day; they instead seek that balance over the year, as different food sources become available at different times.


Pasture plants in their natural environment

Many pasture plants, in particular pasture grasses, have evolved to coexist with grazing animals, meaning that a symbiotic relationship exists between them and they each rely on each other for survival. Grazing animals obviously rely on plants mainly for food, but the plants rely on the grazing animals for various functions including reproduction, with their seeds being carried and scattered by the effects of grazing.

Grazing animals move across a landscape; either in a migratory fashion (most ruminants) or as part of a home range (equines).


The practice of set-stocking is common in the domestic situation.


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Healthy Land, Healthy Pasture, Healthy Horses


If you watch horses grazing pasture, you would think that they were made for each other. You would in fact be correct; millions of years of evolution have created a symbiotic relationship between equines (and other grazing animals) and grasslands. Our aim as horse owners and as custodians of the land should be to replicate that relationship on our land as closely as possible…

To make this contents list disappear move your curser away from it.


Contents

 Healthy Land, Healthy Pasture, Healthy Horses

Chapter 1: Introduction

Chapter 2: Horses and pasture

The benefits of pasture

Benefits for horses

Benefits for land and the environment

Benefits for horse owners

The importance of biodiversity

The problem with monocultures

The benefits of biodiversity

Increasing biodiversity

Pasture plants in their natural environment

Pasture plant characteristics

Nutritive value

Perennials verses annuals

Grass growth characteristics

Grass physiological groups

Legumes

Drought/water tolerance

Climate limitations

Strength and persistence

Palatability

Pasture plant stages of growth

Misinformation about horses and pasture

What horses actually need

The importance of healthy pasture plants

Nutritional problems with pasture

Creating suitable pasture

Before you start

More extensive renovation

Hold your horses

What to aim for

Horses and land degradation

Bare/compacted soil and erosion

Too much water

Not enough water

Weeds

Salinity

Turning land degradation around

Soil, pasture and grazing management

Understanding soil

Horses and manure

Manure management strategies

Managing pasture manure and parasitic worms

Dung beetles and other insects

Picking up manure in paddocks

Managing collected manure

Improving manure

Composting manure

Composting worms - vermicomposting

Chickens and horses

Using improved manure

Managing surplus manure

Grazing management

Stocking rates

Grazing management systems

Pasture maintenance

Conserving pasture

‘Foggage’ (‘standing hay’)

Bringing it all together

Chapter 3: Horses and water

Your water is part of the natural system

The Riparian Zone

The next stage

Horses can damage this natural system

Creating and caring for a riparian zone

Conserving water

Water problems

Impure water

Sources of water

Mains water

Well (bore) water

Natural spring water

Streams and rivers

Storage of water

Water storage tanks

Farm dams (ponds)/lakes

Using water

Reticulating water

Irrigation

Planning for clean water

Chapter 4: Horses and vegetation

Some of the benefits of trees and bushes

Trees and bushes as habitat for wildlife

Fodder trees and bushes

Windbreaks and firebreaks

Revegetation of steeper land

Easy areas to increase vegetation

Buying and planting

Protecting vegetation from horses

Poisonous trees and plants

A word about lawn mower clippings

Appendix: The Equicentral System

How The Equicentral System works

The Equicentral System benefits

Horse health/welfare benefits

Time saving benefits

Cost saving benefits

Safety benefits

Land/environmental management benefits

Public perception benefits

Manure and parasitic worm management benefits

Implementing The Equicentral System

On your own land

On small areas of land

On large areas of land

In different climates

Using existing facilities

On land that you lease

On a livery yard

With single horses in ‘private paddocks’

Starting from scratch

Minimising laneways

Temporary laneways

Constructing a holding area

Constructing a shade/shelter

Fencing considerations

Management solutions

Feeding confined horses

Changing a horse/s to ‘ad-lib’ feeding

Ideas for extra exercise

Introducing horses to herd living

The Equicentral System - in conclusion

Further reading - A full list of our books

Recommended websites and books

Bibliography of scientific papers

Final thoughts