My late father was a veterinary surgeon who had an interesting holistic approach to treating all large animals, especially horses. In the 1960s he was using acupuncture to great effect to help alleviate the symptoms of laminitis.
He was also a great advocate of ensuring that the paddocks also had a good population of Yarrow Achillea millefolium in the sward, as Yarrow is a diaphoretic herb that improves blood circulation and general blood flow. Both attributes are essential to speed up the rate of healing.
In recent years as an Equine Agronomist, I have increasingly come to realise just how important his holistic approach is to managing the environment in which we keep animals.
Further research by Marytavy Archer during 1969-70 has confirmed my opinion and given me even greater conviction of purpose. She conducted an extraordinary experiment while studying at university.
Essentially she monitored the species preference of grazing horses through 220 hours of study over two years, with the results subject to statistical analysis.
Twenty-four ponies and two thoroughbreds were given access to 29 different trial plots that either contained individual grass species (E.g. Rye grass or Timothy); grass and legumes; grass (Fescue Spp. & Timothy) and herbs. A staggering investment in time, effort and thought!
It was not a surprise to me that all the horses preferred the predominately native grasses (Fescue Spp) combined with Timothy. That mixture also included a range of herbs.
Horses are fundamentally designed to run and graze for 24 hours a day.
They will then have the choice of what they graze on, whether it is a herb species that supplies their mineral requirement or a carefully considered grass species delivering the energy they need.
Just think what we give them to feed on, (or in!) probably giving them far too many treats that contain levels of sugar derived energy that they will struggle to metabolise during their normal day. We are all rushing about being busy, and never seem to have the hours to spend with our animals.
So, how do I grow “happy horses?” This is an evolving process based on fundamental comprehensive soil analysis, combined with an evaluation of the present grass species and their condition.
Finding out what is happening in the soil is crucial to allow me to balance the soil for the benefit of the grass, and therefore ensure that the horses are eating nutritious food rather than green lignin – as an example, lignin is a constituent of tree bark).
Once soil and grass are efficiently talking to each other, incorporating Companion Species into the sward complements the whole improvement process.
I utilise many herbaceous and complimentary plants depending on the prevailing environment and the requirements of horse and owner. As an example, Trefoils Lotus Spp look fantastic, and as they are leguminous they generate a ten-fold increase in grass productivity.
Free fertiliser in a natural form that complements grass growth, but without adversely increasing the sugar content of the grass. Perfect!
How fantastic would it be to enjoy looking at your paddock every day if it looked like this?
Horses love eating the flowers as well as the plants themselves. The added bonus being that the Trefoil Spp. feed the grass with free Nitrogen!