Wet weather and poaching is bad news for grass and soil. The design of horses’ hooves is such – particularly ifthey are shod – that they cut through the grass and the top 2in of soil and break up the surface.
This does not mean that you need to keep horses in during the winter, but if you have a muddy patch where there was grass, you have to dosome work to make it grow again.
Grass grows when the temperature is above 5øC, so, with our early spring, it has been growing for some time. However, it will not be the only thing growing on your land, particularly if your soil is unfertilised. Weeds are adapted to grow in conditions of poor soil fertility and the chances are that docks, chickweed and thistles are pushing through with the grass.
The average dock plant produces 1,500 seeds each summer and thoseseeds can last up to 50 years in the soil, waiting for the right time to germinate. If more than 5% of your paddocks are covered in docks, you have a problem.
Weeds cannot get a foothold if the grassland management is good, as the formation of a dense grass covering prevents weed from germinating. But be warned: proper grassland management takes time.
Faced with a bog, it is always tempting to tear it up and start again, but horses’ hooves are also catastrophic for young, newly sown grass and, unless you can graze it with sheep and are prepared to keep your horse off until July, it is not an option.
It’s always best to improve existing pastures first. Consider slot seeding or over sowing in these situations, to inject new grass into the existing sward.
Start by repairing the damage by heavy-rolling the paddocks to iron out the poaching. This also reduces the surface area available for weed growth.
Grass can’t live without food and the source of plant food is soil. It is your responsibility to feed the soil with fertiliser. Fertiliser provides grass’s main fodder, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
And, although too much nitrogen can cause problems through rapid growth, it is still essential for strong, healthy grass that can resist weed invasion.
Once the grass is rolled and fed, keep it short. This means that plenty of leaves are produced, which help provide a dense mat to exclude weeds. Your target is 3in high, particularly in spring. Keep it low by adding more horses, borrowing cattle or sheep or topping it with a mower.
If your paddocks are already weed-infested, the only option is to spray various chemicals that are effective against weeds. However, these can only be used by someone with a BASIS qualification to handle these herbicides safely. Your local feed or agricultural merchant should be able to help.
Read more advice on pasture management: