How to Grass Feed a Horse

Three Parts:Preparing Your PastureGrazing Your HorsesSupplementing Your Horse's Grass Diet

While grazing a horse to eat grasses in your pasture might seem like a simple thing to do, it’s actually much more complicated than it sounds. Not only do horses require certain levels of nutrients, fiber, and protein, but different grasses have different levels of these essentials. Compounding this, the variance of soil and climate around the world make it so that there are no hard-and-fast rules for grazing horses everywhere. Luckily, though, there are a lot of resources and many techniques for figuring out what you need to do to graze your horses properly so that they get what they need to be strong and healthy.

Part 1
Preparing Your Pasture

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    Choose and prepare your pastures. Before getting started on grazing your horses, you need to do a couple things to prepare, like choosing pastures and fencing your pastures. Multiple fenced pastures are often necessary because of the lifecycle of the grasses in your pastures and the demands your horses will put on the pasture ecosystem. Consider:
    • Having at least two (or many more) pastures, a spring/summer pasture and a fall/winter pasture.
    • Making sure your pastures have proper drainage and don’t have large holes or other dangers that could harm your horses.
    • Walking your fence line a couple times a year to make sure the fence is maintained and will keep your horses in.
    • Creating shelters like a “lean to” so your horses will have cover from the elements.[1]
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    Know your soil. In order to make sure your pasture is producing enough grass of the right type for your horses to graze on, you’ll have to test your soil. Testing your soil will help you figure out whether and what type of fertilizer you need. After you know the pH and general composition of your soil, you’ll have a better idea of where to go from there.
    • Contact your local agricultural extension service for help on testing. Agricultural extension services are often funded by the Federal government and associated with public universities in the United States. They provide resources to the community to promote sound agricultural practices.
    • Test in 10 acre sections.
    • Make sure to test again every couple of years.[2]
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    Manage the pH of your soil. The pH of your soil is one of the most important things that contributes to healthy grass growth and decomposition of waste material. As a result, you’ll want to establish a healthy pH when establishing your pasture, and manage it in the following years.
    • Acidic soil will undermine your fertilizer.
    • Generally, a pH of 6 to 7 is very good for most types of grasses.
    • If you need to raise your pH, add lime. Lime will raise your pH for a few years. Contact your extension agent for specifics.[3]
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    Fertilize your soil. If you’ve tested your soil, and you understand its pH level and composition, you’ll be more equipped to fertilize your soil in order to produce the type(s) of grass that is best for your climate and geology. Perhaps one of the most important things to consider is whether you want to use organic or inorganic fertilizer.
    • Inorganic fertilizer is fertilizer that has probably been processed to promote plant growth. It makes nutrients available faster, has a specific nutrient composition formulated for grass growth, and is more concentrated than organic.
    • Organic fertilizer is derived from natural sources and is often unprocessed. It releases nutrients slower than inorganic, and it is hard to determine the exact concentration and amount of nutrients in it. You’ll also probably need more of it. Organic fertilizer, like manure, is often cheaper than inorganic fertilizer.
    • The type of fertilizer you use might depend on your climate, geology, and other factors. Contact your local extension agent for more information.[4]
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    Pick your grass. After you’ve tested and fertilized your soil, you’ll need to determine if you want to plant a specific type of grass in your pasture. The type of grass you pick will be dependent on a number of factors, so consider:
    • Your soil acidity.
    • Your climate.
    • Drainage and amount of water.
    • The number of animals grazing in the pasture.
    • The season. Different grasses grow better in different seasons. Depending on your location, you might be dependent on several grasses.[5]
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    Ensure you have enough space for all of your horses. Constant grazing in a pasture is very demanding on the grasses and the soils. As a result, you don’t want to overgraze a pasture. You could undermine the ability of that pasture to produce the grass you need. Always make sure you have enough space for all of your animals. This typically means that you should have at least one acre of pasture per horse.[6]

Part 2
Grazing Your Horses

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    Let your horse graze as often as possible. The first step in making sure your horse is eating enough grass is to let him graze as often as possible. Horses spend about 70% of their time in a pasture grazing, so the more time spent in a pasture, the more grazing your horse will be able to do.[7]
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    Slowly introduce your horses to the pasture in the springtime, if they’ve been stalled in the winter. The method of introducing your horses to a new pasture depends on your specific circumstances. Generally, if your horses have been in a pasture all winter, then you can just move them into the new spring pasture without any issues. If your horses have been stalled or have not been eating wild grass during the winter, you need to slowly introduce them to the pasture.
    • Start with about an hour of grazing time the first day.
    • Increase grazing time over the next 10 days.
    • Monitor your horses, as horses that have been stalled or have not been eating pasture grass during the winter could have an adverse reaction if they are suddenly introduced to an endless supply of pasture grass.[8]
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    Manage your pasture and watch grass quality. Many extension services note that the regrowth or recovery time for grasses ranges from 10 to 60 days. This depends on a lot of factors, such as season, temperature, water levels, and the soil. Because of this, the more pastures you have, the better and healthier your grass will be.
    • Wait until your grass is 6 to 8 inches (15.2 to 20.3 cm) high before reintroducing animals.
    • Rest your pasture when the grass is down to 3 or 4 inches.
    • If possible, consider dividing up your pastures so that you can move your horses to a new pasture every week or two.
    • If you don’t have enough land, divide your pasture up as much as possible to make sure your grasses have an adequate amount of time to regenerate before you reintroduce your horses.
    • Regrowth time depends on location, grass, and soil quality, so contact your local extension office for more information.[9]
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    Watch flushes of new grass throughout the year. Fresh, lush grass lacks adequate fiber and can cause diarrhea in horses from gut imbalances. The higher sugar levels in new grass can also lead to behavioral problems or laminitis.
    • At times such times where there is rapid new grass growth, consider limiting your horses grazing to an hour a day. Wait until the grass has matured a little and you have phased your horses into a new pasture before unleashing them permanently.
    • Such imbalances due to flushes of new grass are typical during the spring.
    • Make sure your horses are getting plenty of fiber, in the form of baled hale, to counteract any potential problems.[10]
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    Consider multiple species grazing in your pasture. Some experts recommend letting other animals graze with your horses. Sheep and goats, especially, will eat weeds and other plants that your horses won’t. This typically increases the ability of your pasture to produce higher quality grasses since they will no longer be competing with weeds for nutrients and space.[11]
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    Monitor your grass, constantly. Watching the quality of your grass and your pastures is an ongoing job. It is never a good idea to assume that the grass your horse has access to is supplying all your horse's needs. You should walk your pasture every week to see how the grass is and to figure out if you need to move your horses to another pasture or provide them with extra forage or protein supplements.[12]

Part 3
Supplementing Your Horse's Grass Diet

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    Make sure your horse has plenty of protein. In pastures where the grass quality is relatively poor, your horse might be consuming an insufficient amount of protein. Protein is extremely important for growth and muscle repair. It is even more important for working horses. If your pasture has poor quality grass, consider protein supplements for your horse.
    • Canola meal.
    • Soybean meal.
    • Other bean meals.
    • Growing horses need 12% to 18% protein in their diet.
    • Mature horses need 8% to 12% protein in their diet.[13][14]
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    Provide alternative forage during down times for grass, if necessary. In some regions, grass will cease to grow or decline in quality during certain times of the year. As a result, you’ll need to provide alternative forage, such as bales of alfalfa mixed with other grasses. There are a number of times you should consider added bales of forage to your pastures for your horses.
    • During winter months where grasses don’t grow or decline in quality.
    • In summer months in regions where excessive rainfall makes fields unsuitable for grass growth.
    • In times of excessive heat or drought when grass quality will decline.
    • Spread out your forage at various locations throughout the pasture.[15]
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    Provide treats and supplements that add nutritional diversity. Even though your horses will primarily depend on grass for their food, you should offer them treats and other supplements. Treats will make your horses happy and help you form a bond with them. Supplements will make sure that their nutritional needs are completely met. Consider:
    • Carrots. Horses love this traditional treat.
    • Apples. Apples are another popular treat that horses enjoy.
    • A variety of supplements. Contact your vet for suggestions about what supplements your horses might need based on your climate and the type of grass in your pastures.[16]


  • Lucerne hay or forage is an excellent source of fiber for horses during the down season of grass feeding.


  • Watch out for dangerous weeds like Ragwort.

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Categories: Horse Feeding