I was reminded during a recent visit to a new customer that all too few people appreciate just how important it is to have a nutritionally balanced soil for the benefit of their horses.
The lady in question had become increasingly frustrated by one of her favourite horses being a ‘proper pain’ all summer. In some cases, she couldn’t even get him to stand still to put the saddle on, never mind get him calm and collected once she was actually riding him.
What was interesting to find out was that the native pony her daughter rode was its usual content self, despite being kept in the same environment.
Usually the answer to this distressing and frustrating situation lies in the soil.
By utilising Albrecht soil analysis, the complementary and antagonistic relationship within the soil nutrients can be assessed, quantified and remedial action implemented.
Striking the right soil balance
Negligible levels of Magnesium, and Calcium, in the soil often generate issues with horse behaviour. This will often be associated with a significantly high Potassium level which further compounds the issue. Once the soil samples were analysed, this proved to be the case. High Potash, and negligible available Magnesium.
In the spring, Potash is drawn from the soil into the grass to be used for transporting nutrients up the plant to the grain sites to ensure seed fertility. When eaten by the horses this grass then generates hyperactivity, or in extreme cases Grass Tetany: a diet that is too high in potassium means that the extra cellular fluid is permanently high in potassium.
This upsets the delicate Sodium – Potassium ratio and consequently the nerves and muscles cannot relax creating restless hyperactive animals that lack body condition and display a lack of ability to regulate their food intake and digestion. Not a good situation!
The extremes of winter rain and spring and summer drought had further stressed the remaining grass. Everything on this planet wants to promote its genes, and grass is no different. In a stressful situation the grass utilises the minimal availability of Phosphate to stimulate root growth, and therefore generate energy for reproduction.
When the day length has extended enough to generate enough solar radiation for flowering, ripening and pollination the plant extends its stem and produces a seed head. To feed the seeds for the future and ensure that the stem has enough nutrition for expansion, potassium is utilised to drive the transpiration stream of nutrients up the plant. Before the seed head appears, the Potassium level significantly increases within the plant. The delayed development of the plants this year has exacerbated this situation and sensitive horses will struggle.
As an interim measure, Magnesium and Calcium supplements combined with Epsom Salts in the drinking water helped calm this horse. (Always check with your Veterinary Surgeon before utilising this approach).
One interesting and beneficial consequence of the magnesium in the water to calm the hyperactive horse was that its metabolism had obviously changed, because the flies that had permanently mobbed it before now only occasionally pestered it.
Just for a moment in our hectic lives consider what our horses require to thrive. Which is not necessarily what we allow them to feed on!
Horses are essentially designed to run and graze for 20 hours a day and then rest for the remaining four. They will roam widely with a choice of what they can graze on; whether it is an herbaceous plant that supplies their mineral requirement or a carefully considered grass species delivering the energy they needed.
Having spent many hours at a young age watching working horses forage across large areas of my late father’s Estate, I realised that they grazed preferentially at different times of the year, and often as dictated by Molly the matriarch Shire. They seemed to be following a plan, but I had no idea what that plan was.
Now that I utilise my Albrecht soil science expertise to help grow Happy Horses I can appreciate the innate skill that Molly had, and conferred onto the rest of the herd, to travel to find the nutrients and minerals they were looking for.
Soil analysis: investigating the cause of horse behaviour
Once I have been tasked with investigating the soil, in virtually every case the reason for their hyperactivity is obvious.
Negligible levels of Magnesium and often Calcium in the soil will quickly generate issues with horse behaviour, especially when this is combined with a significantly high Potassium level.
The ideal balanced soil for horses
Analyse the soil and then spread appropriate rates of Magnesium fertiliser on to the grassland in the spring. This counteracts the negative effect of the Potash while supplying essential Magnesium for photosynthesis and grass quality.
The ideal Calcium – Magnesium ratio in the soil is 1:10. Outside of this ratio and the horses are eating lignin (imagine eating a drinking straw!). Calcium is a major constituent of cell structure and stem strength and tree bark. Essential for plants to grow but needs tempering with Magnesium for horse health.
Large areas of the country are calcareous rich soils (limestone or chalk), which can’t fundamentally be changed. But what we can easily change is the negative effect that this has on the soil health and grass quality for our horses by balancing it with Magnesium fertiliser and supplements.
It is immensely satisfying when my customers tell me that their horses are calmer, easier to communicate with and fun to be around again. All because the soil has been put back into balance and healthy grass created.