Your horse’s pasture often contains more than just grass. This is not a problem; in fact, it is usually a good thing. After all, in the wild, horses do not exclusively eat grass. Herbs, bushes and trees are also on their menu.
Each plant has something different to offer and diversity is healthy. But of course you do not want your horse to eat poisonous plants. That is why it is good to know which plants belong in your meadow and which do not.
In the Netherlands, many pastures are very monotonous. They consist mainly of English ryegrass or sometimes clover or a mixture. This kind of grass is good for cows that need to produce a lot of milk. But these pastures are too rich for horses, especially for austere breeds such as Shetlanders or Haflingers, for example. Many nature lovers call cow pastures with only English ryegrass ‘green deserts’. It looks beautifully green, but there are often very few insects and birds to be found, because there is so little variety of plants.
In a horse, the digestive system is adapted to digest low-sugar, textured grass, herbs and seeds all day long. Besides grasses such as red sward and Timothy, plants such as dandelions, cow parsley, white and red clovers, camomile, daisies and thistles are fine for horses. Fenugreek, wild carrot, narrow plantain, nettles (dried so the ‘sting’ is gone) and shrubs such as willow are also tasty and healthy for horses. All this variety in and around your meadow is also good for biodiversity.
Low growing point
For horses, herb-rich grassland with strong grasses is most suitable. Horses graze the grass very low to the ground, closer to the ground than cows. Grass always grows from a so-called ‘growing point’ just above the ground. This is where the new leaves are created. If you have a grass in your meadow with a growing point that is a little above the ground, that growing point will also be eaten by your horse. Then the grass will not grow back as quickly. Therefore, you should sow grass varieties with a low growing point in your meadow.
Strong root system
Horses can be like vandals to your pasture. They walk and run over it and trample the turf much faster than cows. This is another reason to choose horse grass instead of the usual cow grass. The roots of the plants should form a dense network and be strong so that the plants can survive treading by horse hooves.
So lots of variety in the pasture is fine, but you want to avoid toxic plants. The best-known poisonous plant is Jacob’s wort. This plant has a two-year cycle. The first year there is only a rosette of leaves, the second year the plant starts flowering. If there is enough to eat in a pasture, horses are unlikely to nibble on this poisonous plant. It is especially a risk in hay meadows, as horses no longer recognise the plant in its dried form – among the hay – and will eat it. Jacob’s wort contains a substance that is stored in the liver, where it is converted into a toxic substance. This accumulates and the horse may eventually die from it. Horsetail is also toxic to horses, as are well-known garden plants such as eagle fern, buttercup, daffodil and monkshood. Foxglove, often found in forests, is also toxic to horses. In addition, several trees and shrubs are a problem. Well-known ones include yew, boxwood and maple. Check your pasture regularly for poisonous plants and make sure your horse has enough roughage. If they have enough to eat, they will usually not feed on poisonous plants of their own accord.
A horse pasture should not be sprinkled with fertiliser. That is not healthy for horses and leads to itching, among other things. A good option is to use concentrated minerals from the Bering Sea. These contain all possible minerals and trace elements to keep your pasture healthy, increase dry matter and chlorophyll production and support soil life. Fulvinic acids from the sea water improve plant resistance and hair root development. Furthermore, grasses and herbs regularly sprayed with these contain more minerals and antioxidants. This is extra healthy for your horse.