The assets of good grassland, for feed and exercising, are often under-estimated by horse keepers, according to Limagrain UK’s grass seed specialist Ian Misselbrook.
“Reseeding or under sowing with suitable grass seed mixtures and looking after the sward can boost its value and increase the lifespan,” he says. “There are great opportunities for horse keepers and stud managers to realise the potential of their grassland.”
He recommends checking the grassland at least once a year – and preferably in spring or early summer – to see if there are more weeds than grass. “If there’s less than 70% ryegrass, then a reseed or over-sowing should be considered,” says Mr Misselbrook. “A grass paddock with 70% ryegrass this year is prone to further ingress of weeds year-on-year and a drop in its nutritional value. The valued springy turf in an exercise paddock will break down too.”
When it comes to feed quality, selecting a grass seed mixture specially designed for horses is paramount. “Grass for grazing and for conserving for horses should provide a fibrous, low protein, low sugar feed. This is the complete opposite to the mixtures used for cattle grazing and silage,” he adds. “A lush, leafy, high sugar content grass with tetraploid varieties that is used for dairy cows will cause problems in horses, particularly laminitis at grazing.”
Working with equine nutritionists, Limagrain UK – that specialises in developing grass seed mixtures – has fine-tuned the varieties in its Equipaddock range of grass seed mixtures to suit their main use, such as grazing, conservation or exercising.
For example, its Horse Paddock Mixture, designed for grazing and, if rested, for a crop of hay, has 62% late perennial ryegrass and 17% timothy, with 14% creeping red fescue and 7% smooth stalked meadow grass to add extra fibre.
Its Horse Hay mixture also includes late perennial ryegrass and timothy, but has small proportions of cocksfoot and meadow fescue to provide added fibre and the Haylage Mixture has 50% Italian ryegrass with mid-season and hybrid ryegrasses to provide high fibre but with a good nose.
Equipaddock mixtures for exercise, such as the Gallops and Schooling Mixture, include red fescue, crested dogstail and turf type perennial ryegrass to give a dense turf that can withstand heavy wear, resist damage and that is springy to minimise injury.
Mr Misselbrook encourages horse keepers and managers to be discerning in their choice of mixtures. “Reseeding and under-sowing using a good quality grass seed mixture suited to the purpose will pay dividends,” he adds.
“It might cost a few pounds more per acre but, properly managed, it will maintain its value for a number of years. I would expect a well-managed sward with the Horse Paddock Mixture should have a lifespan of at least 10 years.”