You’ve seen it plenty of times: bare pasture grazed down to the nub. Who wouldn’t rather look out of the stable to see happy horses grazing on healthy pastures? One solution lies in rotational grazing, a simple management technique that subdivides pasture areas, which allows forage an opportunity to regrow after it’s been grazed. By fencing off part of a pasture, horses can consume grass to a certain height before moving them to another “rested” part of the pasture. The grazed portion then has the opportunity to grow. Rotational grazing does involve more management than allowing your horses’ unfettered access to pasture areas, but the payoffs are worth the effort.

“If we set up our plan in such a way that we give forage plants enough time to grow back, we have more forage for the horses to utilize, which can then translate into reduced feed costs,” explained Bob Coleman, PhD, PAS, equine extension professor in the University of Kentucky’s Department of Animal Sciences. “The biggest benefit is that we are going to extend our grazing season by taking advantage of forage when it’s growing and then giving it a chance to come back.”

In addition, subdividing large pastures for rotation encourages more even grazing patterns, helping to reduce horses’ spot-grazing tendencies in which they choose and ultimately overgraze their favorite, highly palatable forage plants. “You can encourage them to be better consumers of all that’s there,” noted Coleman. “By moving the horses, you let those highly-selected species come back.” Horses also tend to overgraze pasture areas where they like to spend their time; rotating the horses off these areas reduces compaction issues, which also weaken forage plants.