Greener Pastures

We got this picture before beginning our 3rd day of work on our grazing pasture-rotation system:

my offspring and me, Mother's Day 2011

In 2008 I received a completed arena for Mother’s day. This year, my gift is the opening of one of our new grazing pastures for the horses! We collected our materials and started this work last week. On Sundays, we get free rental of a post-hole digger machine from my oldest son Saul’s work.

I used to wonder why my lawn looked better than the horses’ pasture. You have grass, you put horses on it, horses eat the grass, and it grows back, right? No—not really.

Horses will eat what they like best, first. Meanwhile, plants and weeds that they do not like to eat will continue to grow. The grass the horses like already has two problems:

1.) It has been nipped short, so its ability to photosynthesize with its remaining green plant material has been severely limited. It will recuperate at a very slow rate (thus, my lawn looking better than the pasture) and it will draw energy from the roots* to do so.

2.) The uneaten, less desirous plants are growing fine and are shading the needed grasses, making it even harder for the needed grasses to grow.

*The roots of the desired grasses will be much shallower because they were not allowed to grow or develop. The wanted grass can even die off, leaving you with nothing but weeds and poisonous plants.

So, what to do? Fence off the pasture into sections. We will have four grazing pastures by the time we are finished fencing new grazing pastures above our orchard.

Step 1: Let the horses eat in a pasture that has 6 to 10 inches of length of desired grasses. Let them eat it down to only 2-3 inches of plant length remaining.

Step 2: Move the horses to the next pasture. Cut the pasture above, to cut back all the undesired and uneaten plants, and leave it to grow. The grass can now compete with the undesired plants.

Step 3: Watch all of your pastures. If one is getting too long before the horses will get to it, cut it. You do not want the grasses to go to seed. Then a lot of plant energy is taken from the stems and roots of the plant. Cut before it goes to seed so that the horses are eating the grass when it has the most energy in the stem.

My most-used pasture behind the barn was fenced-off last week and is now in pasture recovery. It is being allowed to grow, and we will be quickly killing weeds and undesirable plants as they come up. We are adding seed to this pasture and nurturing forage plant growth.

The horses will be transitioning slowly to their new, greener pastures, and unfortunately—I’ve had to order a grazing muzzle for Ebony, our pony. It was either that or shut her away from Dreamer and the new pastures. A grazing muzzle allows a horse to get about 20% of what they would normally get without it. She will only have to wear it during grazing times. The horses will be closed in to the upper zone near the barn at night so that I can remove Ebony’s muzzle. This area is mostly grazed short already.

The horses will also be able to access the barn during the day for water, cooler than the trees’ shade, minerals, and fly relief. There is a gate system which shuts off unused pastures but still allows barn access.

There is still a trail around all the new pastures that we can ride through, and gates installed between pastures to allow us to continue to ride through our “park” area. It’s beautiful up there, with a stand of old White Pines I call “the Grandpas” (remember, I love white pines.)

Fallen White Pine needles will deter plant growth in a wide area at their base, so I do pay attention to where the babies sprout up. We let as many stay (in tree lines, for example) as we can and take down pine babies which will take up too much pasture growth.

Next to the arena and extending to the property line, adjacent to our “park area,” is a southwestern corner of the property which is completely forest. I am pretty spent physically from the weekend, but I loved our Mother’s Day! We were done by 4:pm, and Scott worked on a nice dinner while I let the horses in to the pasture for their first introductory time.

Ebony walked her way through the old fence spot, into the new pasture, to eat, eat eat...
Dream rocked-and-rolled his way in with a gallop, a rear, a kick, all done with a mid-air spin. I love that horse. 
Nijinsky, Native Dancer, Speedwell, Stop the Music,
Dr. Fager, Nothirdchance, Tom Fool, Hyperion


May Day

I had my first spring ride with Dreamer yesterday. It feels like the best ride we’ve ever had!

I did things a little differently. Instead of climbing up on my big boy and ordering him all around (I did not realize how little I was listening) I tried what I used to do with Ebony when training her to go out on trail (recommended by John Lyons) which is to let her pick her way. She loves being out and sometimes does not want to come home.

So my attitude toward Dream was not, “follow me,” but rather, “let us go together.” I still led when necessary. I did quick halts while we were out. When he hesitated, I decided. I directed many of our steps…

but I was listening, listening, listening with my body and my mind the whole time. I brought him just to the edge of his comfort zones (for distance away from the barn) and just to the beginning of his curious zones (where he wants to explore).

We went out front toward the arena (south), and west into the orchard, uphill. After a bit of tooling around we went into the soccer field (south of the barn, right in front of it.) Six family members were sitting there alongside the upper barn which is alongside the soccer field.

Dream was feeling good, so I let him pick up a trot. He did the liveliest trotting we’ve ever had. He trotted without hesitation around the ends, and not just on the straights. All of the observers were oohing and aahing. He was genuinely being admired.

Scott said Dream was SO PROUD OF HIMSELF. The children observed it, too. They could see his eyes and his demeanor. Instead of being surly or sour, the big boy was trotting around like a champion.

This means more to me than anything else: his confidence and happiness.

[I made the family tell me later three times about how happy he looked.]

Then we went out front again, in the yard where he hand grazed recently after lunging. He stopped where he had grazed and just stood there…lowering his head slightly…lowering some more…

I was laughing and told Dream he could not graze in his bit. I told him I knew what he was saying, but that he’d have to trust me. At the right time I asked him to move away from the area.

He did, and after a little more directing around the yard from me, I went into the soccer field and dismounted. The family was still there, and he got winners circle attention. I un-tacked at the barn and brought him out to a different spot on the lawn to graze.

This is the first time I have ridden him at home without some type of incident taking place, no matter how minor: balking, swooshing to the side, etc.

I am going to enjoy the light of our successful ride and hope and plan for many more to come. 

Our first home ride in May 2007

 May Day, 1875
Sir Archy, Bertrand