4 Ways to Boost Soil Health on Horse Farms

Cultivating healthy soil in your horse’s pastures will help reduce weeds and improve pasture quality. These 4 tips can help you achieve healthy soil on your horse property.
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two horses grazing in field
Minimize bare spots in your pasture by avoiding overgrazing and overseeding areas that have a tendency to become bare. | iStock

Q: I know that having a healthy pasture is beneficial for the environment and my horse’s wellbeing. How can I make sure my pasture is healthy as we move into the warmer months this year?

A: Many life forms make soil their home; researchers have shown there are more microbes in 1 teaspoon of soil than people on our planet. Keeping soil healthy on a horse farm is one of the best ways to reduce weeds and promote productive pastures; soil should contain fungi, bacteria, algae, earthworms, protozoa, nematodes, and a host of invertebrates. Here are four tips to help you cultivate healthy and productive land for grazing from the soil up. 

1. Minimize soil disturbance in horse pastures.

Rototilling or renovating a pasture churns up the soil, destroying microbial organisms and loosening dirt, which makes it more vulnerable to erosion by wind or rain. Maintaining soil structure supports the living organisms in it and reduces erosion risk.

2. Avoid bare soil in pastures on horse farms.

Bare soil represents an unhealthy, disturbed microbial system that is potentially dying because plant roots—which serve as food sources for these microbes—are no longer present.

The soil temperature of bare ground is hotter than that of lush pasture, which increases moisture evaporation, making the soil less hospitable to desired organisms. Without plant cover, bare soil is subject to erosion, resulting in dust on windy days and mud during rains.

Use horse pasture grass seed mix to overseed areas with a tendency to be overgrazed, and fence them off for an entire growing season. This will give plants a chance to grow and establish long, healthy roots.

3. Maximize diversity of plants in grazing areas.

Diversity in nature offers balance and promotes healthy pastures. Introduce a variety of horse-friendly grass plants by, again, overseeding with a horse pasture seed blend recommended for your region. Contact an extension agent to learn more about what plants to add to your horse pasture or have them complete an on-farm evaluation.

4. Integrate livestock into your horse pastures.

Horses and other livestock add manure and urine to the soil, enriching it with nutrients and organic material that aid in moisture retention and stimulate pasture growth. Avoid overgrazing, of course, which negate these advantages. It’s important to remember that adding composted manure (versus fresh manure) will have less likelihood of spreading parasites and pathogens as a majority are killed in a proper composting process. Consult your veterinarian for recommendations on appropriate parasite control for your horse when grazing in a pasture situation with exposure to fresh manure.

Using these steps can help you create a favorable habitat for the millions of life forms active under your horses’ feet, which in turn builds healthier soils to support healthy pastures.

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Written by:

Alayne Blickle, a lifelong equestrian and ranch riding competitor, is the creator/director of Horses for Clean Water, an award-winning, internationally acclaimed environmental education program for horse owners. Well-known for her enthusiastic, down-to-earth approach, Blickle is an educator and photojournalist who has worked with horse and livestock owners since 1990 teaching manure composting, pasture management, mud and dust control, water conservation, chemical use reduction, firewise, and wildlife enhancement. She teaches and travels North America and writes for horse publications. Blickle and her husband raise and train their mustangs and quarter horses at their eco-sensitive guest ranch, Sweet Pepper Ranch, in sunny Nampa, Idaho.

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