Small Farm Makeover: Five Tips for Horse Pasture Management

Boost Grass Plant Productivity and Keep Horses Healthy

by Alayne Blickle


It’s that time of year when the grass gets greener and grows faster. But wait! Don’t just turn your horses out without any management. Doing so will reduce the productivity of your pastures, in addition to creating possible health issues for your horse. Here are five tips for pasture management that will ensure better horse health and optimum productivity:

  1. Keep horses off of pastures until soils are no longer soggy

    One of the most important aspects of pasture management is the time you keep horses off the pasture. Saturated soils and dormant plants cannot survive continuous grazing and trampling. When soils are still wet they are easily compacted, suffocating the roots of grass plants. A simple test for sogginess is to walk out in your fields and see if you leave a footprint—if you do, it’s too wet.

  2. Are some sections of your pasture still wet while others are already dry?

    Try fencing pastures with temporary fencing according to how wet they are. Allow horses onto the higher, dry places first and save the wet areas until later in the spring or summer when they dry out.

  3. Apply a green Band-Aid.

    Another thing you can do to encourage a thick, healthy stand of grass is to spread grass seed in areas that have bare spots or where grass is sparse. Bare spots provide a growing site for weeds in summer and can mean mud in the winter. For most parts of the Pacific Northwest a mix of seed containing orchard grass, endophyte-free tall fescue, perennial rye grass or timothy work best.

  4. Do a soil test.

    Fertilizer is almost always overused and may not be needed at all. Just because it’s spring doesn’t mean it’s time to fertilize. If you apply fertilizer and your pasture grass doesn’t need it you’ve just wasted your time and money, plus the excess fertilizer will most likely be washed into nearby streams and lakes. The best way to find out what pastures actually need is to do a soil test. This way you will be able choose a fertilizer with the right amount of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Many fertilizers are high in nitrogen and that may not be needed. Nitrogen promotes plant growth, but in the spring most plants are going to grow vigorously on their own. Soil testing is relatively inexpensive and you can get a list of labs from your local conservation district or extension office, as well as advice on the best way to take a soil sample. If you do find that you need to fertilize, fertilizing in mid-spring and/or late fall should be plenty.

  5. Spread compost.

    Once soils are no longer saturated, and while some early summer rains are still expected, spread compost. The nutrients, organic material, beneficial bacteria and fungi in the compost will boost plant productivity. Spread a ¼ to ½ inch layer at a time and no more than about three to four inches in the same area per season. Compost can be spread by hand or with a manure spreader. Go back through with a harrow (a drag), or by hand with a garden rake, to break up clumps and spread compost so plants are smothered.

Lastly, keep your horse and pastures healthy by using a sacrifice area or paddock. Confine your horses to this area to keep your horse from getting overweight and to help avoid overgrazing.

Discover more tips for farm management at the following Horses for Clean Water events:



Wednesday, July 15, 6:30 pm – 9 pm

WORKSHOP & FARM TOUR: Caring for Your Horse and His Home.

Are you new to owning horse property — or just dreaming about moving your boarded horse home to your own place? Then join us for this class and tour to learn about how to set up and manage horse property based on a horse’s needs. The first portion of the evening will be a presentation on Caring for Your Horse and His Home. Then tour a recently purchased Snohomish horse property that’s in the renovation process. See the changes she’s making so paddocks will be mud-free and compost bins are working efficiently. Get insight into the costs and needs of horse management.

FREE! Register at:

Snohomish Conservation District contact: 425-335-5634, ext 4

Join HCW ONLINE with virtual, live programming that’s fun and informative. $29.95 per event. Limited enrollment! Register through: http://horsesforcleanwater.eventbrite.com . Upcoming online events in June include building a track paddock and the least toxic pest control.


Published in June 2015 Issue

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