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The days are already getting longer and spring will soon be here and so will be the start of the long-awaited grazing season.
The horses are keen to enjoy a few green stalks here and there on a stroll or under the fence in the paddock. Nothing is tastier than the first shoots of fresh grass!
But it’s not just the horses that are already looking forward to it, many horse owners are also relieved the grazing season is upon them. After all, the extra work involved in feeding, mucking out and carrying water buckets is generally much less during the summer than in winter.

Pasture preparation in spring

Before the horses are able to go out on full time pasture, the fields have to be prepared accordingly. A private yard owner or a self catering DIY livery yard tennant has to think about the relevant preparation whereas a horse owner on full or part livery agreement can rely on the yard manager to provide the relevant preparation to enjoy the season ahead. .
Spring also means checking all fences, fertilising the areas if necessary, removing poisonous and unpalatable plants, and sowing more Equine suitable plants in bare patches or pastures that are too rich and unsuitble for horses. More on the topic of pasture preparation: 5 points for preparing pastures for spring

If the horse or yard owner would like to go beyond the standard preparation of pasture care, a herbal patch or patches of herbs scattered all over the field could be a lovely gesture to enhance the grazing, for the horses to enjoy.
Horses, after all are not pure grass eaters by nature. They would seek out, if given the choice a range of colourful plants varying between different grass and herb species. Sadly, it is a rare occurrence in most pastures available for horses to graze on these days.

It is rather common that a lot of yards house more horses then there is grazing available for the numbers stabled. As a result of this unsuitable ratio, where it is often seen that different groups of horses are grazed daily on the same fields in alternation. The fields end up being overgrazed, which has a detrimental effect on the ecology of the pasture itself. The ideal situation would be at least 2 hectares of pasture per horse – but that is almost impossible to find on a livery yard?
As a result of overgrazing many grass and herb species die out. This is because most herbaceous plants, need time to form their seeds and as a result flower later in the growing season. The tasty herbs are also particularly popular with horses, and more often than not get eaten before the seeds have fully formed,
to ensure they reach a stage of reproduction to remerge the following year. Overtime more and more species will not reseed and therefore disappear from the pasture, so the diversity is being sadly lost.

Herbs are also much more sensitive than the (undesirable) stress-resistant performance grasses, which easily regenerate if fully eaten down, being trampled on or experience climatic extremes such as waterlogged fields or drought in hot summers. These grasses, mainly used in livestock farming, will quickly regrow after extreme conditions and consume the (desirable) herbaceous plants. Herbal mixtures can be re-seeded but unless the management of the pastures changes the same problem will reoccur year
after year.

Create herbal patches

A good way to reintroduce herbs, without owning lots of heavy agricultural machinery, is to spread seeds in certain patches all over the pasture. In order to achieve this effectively, either divide off an area as a strip parallel to the fence or fence off a few areas measuring approx. 3 x 3 metres across the field. The selected areas can then be dug up and sown with suitable herb mixtures.

Wild flowers and herbs
Herb patches – a great way to enrich the pasture with herbs again
© Adobe Stock / meteo021

If the seeds are sown by hand, they should be mixed with sand at a ratio of about 1 to 6 prior to spreading. This means that the scattered seeds are not so tightly packed and have sufficient space for growth. They are also immediately covered with a protective layer, which favours germination.

For larger areas, it is advisable to use a push drop spreader to spread the herb seeds, such as those available for sowing lawns in garden centres. The seeds should then be rolled and covered with a thin layer of topsoil. It is also important that the soil is kept sufficiently moist so that the seeds can germinate well.
In dry weather conditions, it is therefore advisable to water the areas of the future herb patches regularly. .

In these dedicated areas the herbs can then grow in isolation without having to compete with the performance grasses. To be successful, it is important to fence off the herb patches until the plants are fully mature and ensure reproduction. If a full cycle of the plant has been insured, the herbs will blossom every year and through natural processes such as the wind blowing the seeds and insects re-pollinating,
the horses can nibble the plants knowing the regrowth is being ensured.

Choose the right herb seed mixture

A number of herbal seed mixtures, specifically designed for horses to graze on are now available on the market. Which herbal mixture will ultimately prove successful varies largely on the individual quality of soil and microclimate. There is often more flowering in the first year as the herbs that do not suit the individual growing conditions may not regrow.
It is recommended to take notes, so that perhaps a different mixture or certain herbs that do well in the conditons can be resown instead.