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Pasture Management

 September 2019

Pasture for equine use serves many different purposes. It is a food source, exercise area, latrine and a secure environment to socialise and interact with other horses. Whether your horse lives out 24/7 or is turned out for a few hours a day, pasture management is of the utmost importance to your horse’s health. Horses spend 16-18 hours eating per day so investing time, money and resources into your pasture will be beneficial in the long-term.

Pasture Management

Daily checks and routine job

  • Gates and boundaries are secure and fencing is in good repair
  • Adequate supply of fresh clean water
  • Remove droppings at least twice a week, or ideally every day, to help minimise the risk of worm burdens by breaking the lifecycle of the worms (internal parasites)
  • Harrowing can be useful by removing dead grass from the base of healthy grass, levelling uneven ground and helping to remove lightly rooted weeds. However, harrowing should not be used in replacement of removing droppings as it is counterproductive due to the risk of spreading internal parasites across the pasture
  • Check for and remove any poisonous plants
  • Check for and remove any rubbish or dangerous objects
  • Check for rabbit holes and badger setts – badgers are protected by law so areas surrounding their setts should be fenced off
  • Check horses for injuries
  • Monitor weight closely so you can react to any fluctuations quickly by adjusting your management accordingly to help your horse maintain a healthy weight

Poisonous plants

The list of poisonous plants, shrubs, hedges and trees is extensive and horse owners should make themselves aware of what is unsafe for their horses. Poisons plants often thrive on poor pasture, making it even more important to maintain good pasture. Regularly check for and remove poisonous plants if they are found. It’s advisable to wear gloves when handling poisonous plants.

Do you have ragwort on your pasture? Visit our Ragwort Tool Kit for further details on how to identify and safely and effectively remove ragwort.

Poisonous trees

There are a number of trees known to be, to varyingly degrees, poisonous to horses such as sycamore, yew and oak.

Atypical Myopathy, also referred to as Seasonal Pasture Myopathy, is a disease associated with horses eating sycamore seeds or seedlings. The onset of AM is rapid and prognosis for the horse is often poor as mortality rates are around 70%. Further information about Atypical Myopathy can be found here.

sycamore seeds 

Sycamore seeds

If eaten, acorns, leaves and branches from the oak tree pose a risk of poisoning to horses. They contain substances called tannic acid and gallotannins which are toxic when eaten in large quantities and may cause severe damage to the digestive system and kidneys.

Signs of acorn poisoning:

  • Constipation followed by diarrhoea
  • Colic
  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Droppings maybe grey in colour and contain pieces of acorn

In more severe cases signs may also include:

  • In-coordination
  • Weakness
  • Dehydration
  • Head pressing
  • Red or brown urine
  • Sweating
  • High heart and breathing (respiratory) rate
  • High or low temperature

Prevention is always better than cure. Rake up and discard of any oak tree material and/or fence the tree off to help limit the chance of your horse eating them.

Speak to your vet if you are concerned about your horse’s health.

acorns and oak leaves 

Acorns and oak leaves

Minimum land requirements

The BHS recommends a ratio of two horses per hectare on permanent grazing (1- 1.5 acres per horse). However, this recommendation can only ever be a guide as there are many factors affecting this, such as:

  • Size and type of horse
  • Fat score/weight of horse
  • Length of time spent stabled or excercised off the pasture
  • Time of year
  • Quality of the pasture and type of soil
  • Number of animals on the pasture
  • How well the pasture is managed and cared for

In all circumstances, stock densities must take individual requirements into consideration. It is essential that horses have enough space to help reduce the chances of fighting where several animals are turned out together.

It is important to balance a horse’s need for free exercise and interaction with other horses in a field environment to exhibit their natural behaviour against the danger of consuming excess calories from grass and promoting weight gain. Speak to your vet or nutritionist for advice if you are concerned about your horse’s weight.

Water Supply

It is imperative that there is a constant supply of fresh clean water available in the field. This may be from large buckets or an automatically filling trough. Water has a key role in your horse’s digestive system. If your horse doesn’t have access to any or enough water it can increase the risk of colic and dehydration. This is especially true in winter when water sources may ice over. Find out more about the steps you can take to reduce the risk of colic and dehydration.

horse drinking water 

Essential requirements

  • Water containers must be large enough to provide a constant supply of water for all of the horses in the field. This is especially true when it comes to warmer weather when horses can drink over double their normal amount. Ensure plenty of water is available by checking regularly and topping water up frequently if the containers are not self-filling
  • In the winter check that the water source has not frozen over and break any ice a minimum of twice a day to allow horses to drink. Check all water pipes are as insulated as possible and if necessary fill containers so you have a supply readily available
  • Containers must be sturdy and free from sharp edges
  • The water supply must be easily accessible for both horse and keeper, checked daily, cleaned regularly and placed away from trees to avoid falling debris
  • If possible, position the water source away from the corners of the field to prevent horses being cornered by aggressive behaviour from other herd members

inadequate water supply

This water supply is not adequate – the container should be cleaned and filled up more often or additional troughs provided to ensure a plentiful supply of clean and fresh water.

Natural water supplies such as streams, rivers and ponds may seem to provide an easy and readily available supply of water, but they are often not suitable. Due to their unregulated source they pose the risk of being contaminated, polluted or stagnant and may also dry up during prolonged hot weather. Streams in particular can often have a sandy base which may result in the ingestion of sand which can increase the risk of sand colic.

The approach to a natural water source may also be unsafe increasing the risk of an accident. Where natural water supplies are available it is usually advised that they are fenced off and an alternative supply is provided.


For further information, download our leaflet on Pasture Management or contact the BHS Welfare Team on 02476 840 517 or to request a copy.

 atypical myopathy


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