Pasture Management 101: Renovating Horse Fields
In the first installment of this series, we reviewed the types of grasses that make quality pastures. But, not all owners are fortunate enough to have pristine pastures from the get-go. If you’ve evaluated your current pasture situation and deemed it lacking in quality grasses, steps you can take to renovate and improve your established pastures.

Begin by evaluating pastures for grass and clover stand, along with weed presence.

“Be realistic about the status of the pastures and use caution not to over-or-under represent the coverage of the pasture with weeds and grasses,” says Jennie Ivey, MS, PhD, assistant professor and extension equine specialist at the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture. An accurate evaluation will aid in determining if you should plant more grasses, legumes, or both.

Then, consider what you need to add. “Select a forage that is appropriate for the region and that will complement the existing stand,” Ivey advises.

Also, keep your pasture’s purpose in mind. For example, if you’re breeding and raising horses, consider the risk endophyte-infected fescue poses pregnant mares and their unborn foals, who are susceptible to fescue toxicosis.

You’ll also want to collect and submit a soil sample to determine how to best fertilize pastures. If you’re unsure how to appropriately collect a sample, consult your county extension agent or district conservationist for assistance with the process. Based on the test results, you’ll receive recommendations for spring or fall fertilization, which will aid in the reestablishment process.

Another important step is implementing weed control strategies. Since weeds will fill in areas not well-covered by grasses and legumes, it’s easy to lose forage plants to weed pressure.

“Various herbicides are available, but be sure to follow restrictions and instructions for each herbicide to prevent unintentional application,” Ivey advises.

Caution: Read the herbicide’s label closely and note any grazing restrictions that you need to observe. Many herbicide restrictions are in place to prevent livestock that will enter the human food chain from consuming the herbicides. As such, horses sometimes aren’t specifically listed on the herbicide label. However, experts recommend that horse owners follow the restrictions for other livestock. This will help prevent accidental and potentially harmful ingestion of the herbicide by grazing horses. Consider rotating horses to another pasture during herbicide application.

The final step in renovating pastures is proper grazing management for horses. Overgrazing will cause a loss of forage stand in a pasture and allow for more weed growth. Ivey suggests “reducing pasture size and implementing rotational grazing with a heavy use or sacrifice area to maximize pasture forage growth.”