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Keep up with weed control in horse pastures

By Fred Miller
U of A System Division of Agriculture
May 19,2017

Fast Facts:

  • Horses are slovenly grazers, so forage requires careful management.
  • Soil fertility, weed control and regular mowing are key to good pasture management for horses.
  • Splitting large pastures into smaller paddocks aids in good forage management.

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Most forage plants are not well suited for the grazing behavior of horses, said Dirk Philipp, forage researcher for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

Paddock weeds

Unlike cattle, Philipp said, horses have teeth in both lower and upper jaws that enable them to bite off vegetation very deeply.

“Horses are terrible grazers,” Philipp said. “They graze forage very close to the ground.”

As a result, he said, weeds can become very competitive and take over as forage is weakened and diminished.

Many paddocks are relatively small, Philipp said. “In those cases, extra care has to be taken to keep weeds under control and allow forage to keep growing.”

If enough land is available, Philipp said, it should be split up into two- or three-acre paddocks through which the horses can be rotated.

Philipp offers some pointers for managing land resources to keep horse and pasture happy:

  • Select a robust forage to start with — bermudagrass withstands closer grazing; novel endophyte tall fescue is good when there’s enough land to rotate horses around paddocks. Orchardgrass is also a good choice for northern Arkansas pastures.
  • Avoid older, toxic endophyte fescues that are detrimental to mares’ health and reproduction.
  • Fertilize according to soil tests.
  • Stay on top of weed control — invest in a sprayer that can be carried on an ATV or a backpack sprayer for spot spraying.
  • Spray weeds on time and spray fence rows regularly with glyphosate to keep them clean. “This also keeps unwanted critters from nesting there,” Philipp said.

Philipp said a mower may be the single most important investment when keeping horses.

“Seasoned horse owners will tell you that mowing on a regular basis keeps your paddocks in good shape,” he said. “Don’t rely on the horse to just graze them down.”

“Horses graze very unevenly,” Philipp said. “Smooth and even out the paddock after moving them to another.”

Philipp said horses should not be allowed to graze forage to the ground and paddocks should be mowed at a reference height of 4 to 6 inches. This will also keep stemmy weeds under control.

If mowed regularly to 4 to 6 inches, clippings will generate relatively small amounts of resident that will burn up readily in the sun.

Philipp said a three-point summary can help keep pastures in good shape despite horses’ sloppy grazing style. “Keep your forage in good shape by soil testing, fertilizing according to recommendations from soil tests, and mowing regularly.”

The Division of Agriculture offers free soil tests. Contact local county Cooperative Extension Service offices.


About the Division of Agriculture

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system.

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.


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Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Dir. of Communication Services
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
(501) 671-2126

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