Safety first for spring paddocks

  • A week of warmer weather and the changing of the clocks will undoubtedly lift the spirits of nearly every horse owner. However, these changes also tell us spring is here and that the grass is growing faster, so for owners of laminitics the news isn’t all good.

    With most horses going into the winter in good condition, there hasn’t been much cold weather to burn off any excess weight, and many horses have come out of winter in much the same shape they went in. The cold snap didn’t slow grass growth for long.

    A facet of the milder winters we are experiencing is that grass continues to grow longer into the winter and earlier in the spring. If the soil temperature is above 5ºC, grass grows.

    The downside of warmer, wetter weather is that the soil of horse pasture is more likely to suffer hoof damage. If the ground is not maintained, it will deteriorate into a horse-sick, weedy mess within a matter of seasons.

    More grass is great news for those such as breeders who use it as a good source of nutrition for their horses and have the time to maintain it. Plentiful grass is less good for time-poor owners and those with animals susceptible to laminitis. For these, less grass would be more beneficial in terms of animal health and paddock maintenance.

    Spring grass, even in the poorest horse pastures, is high in nutritional value, especially when compared to winter forages and compound feeds. It is high in energy, derived from its sugar and protein contents (excess protein is converted into energy in the body and stored as fat).

    A recent study in the US showed that spring pasture has a protein content of nearly 30%, and more research from the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research in Aberystwyth showed grass sugar (sucrose and fructan) levels to be 20-30% of the plant’s dry matter.

    As such, it makes sense to limit grazing for susceptible animals and to limit time spent out on spring grass for horses turned out for the first time after winter, to allow their digestive systems to adapt.

    Spring paddock maintenance

    • Sort out winter poaching damage to repair damaged soil structure, improve drainage and reduce weed invasion
    • Roll paddocks to even out the hoof damage or, at the very least, tread divots as you collect droppings
    • Rolling flattens the field surface and brings grass plants back into contact with the soil, keeping weeds down
    • For quick repair to poaching damage, cover bare areas with grass seed, and roll it in. Keep horses off the area
  • This feed forum feature was first published in Horse & Hound (24 March ’05)

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