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Horse Forage and Forage Management

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There is not much easily accessible pasture and forage information available for the everyday horse person. In this publication, we use the terms pasture and forage somewhat interchangeably. We wrote the bulletin with a wide range of people in mind, from the youngest, who may also be in 4-H or FFA, to the neophyte adult willing to read and learn or the more sophisticated horse owner. We believe there is something in the bulletin for all, but it does not contain all the answers about pastures and hay. You can secure detailed forage management information from the Noble Research Institute and other specialists.

The geographic area of interest is the Southern Plains and some of the surrounding area. Some information in the writing is applicable anywhere.

We did a relatively aggressive literature review. In an effort to make the publication more easily readable, we didn't quote most references in the text. An extensive reference list in the back credits authors and their work and provides sources for more extensive reading by those interested in doing so.

We thank the Noble Research Institute for supporting the writing and final publication. Jim Pumphrey is credited with encouraging us to write the publication, since he perceived in his equine work the need for the information. We thank the manuscript reviewers who provided excellent input: Billy Cook, Ph.D., David Freeman, Ph.D., Sandra Morgan, Ph.D., and Ryan Reuter, Ph.D. Thanks to Cara Wallace who makes our "Okie English" more universally readable and to our Communications Department for all their great support.

When we think horse pasture, we tend to visualize special forages and techniques. The fact is, we use the same forages with cattle and other livestock. The management, too, is usually much the same, but a few more cautions and inputs for special uses may be in order. Good pasture can be one of the best-quality and least-expensive means of feeding a horse. Our goal is for horsemen to actively produce and more properly use pastures for horses. The need for horse pasture depends on the nutritional demands of the horse and the horse's value. A horse has high value because of both emotional and financial considerations. Sometimes it is unrealistic to use pasture for the nutritional needs of those special animals because the risks are too high.

This report is a combination of our experiences, the experience of horsemen we know, and information gleaned from horse-forage writings. The geographic area we are most concerned with is southern Kansas, Oklahoma, north and central Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana. The forage discussions also apply somewhat to the vast area that includes all the surrounding states and other areas. This report cannot be the whole answer. Detailed complete pasture management is not possible here, but this information can serve as a launching point.

Other literature also discusses general horse forage management. This writing does not indicate all references in a specific location, because of our goal of writing for the horseman small and large, but a listing of references at the back may be of interest.

The Mystery of Horse Pasture

The horse pasture subject, perhaps more than most agricultural areas, has been characterized by many erroneous ideas and a lack of information. Misinformation, misinterpretation, old fables, myths, old wives' tales, trade secrets, and guessing have been common because of a lack of wellcontrolled precisely interpreted data and the forage inexperience of many horse producers. One says rye will kill a horse: another says it's the best horse pasture there is. We want this report to contribute to more proper interpretations of pastures and better horse pasture management

Physical Characteristics of a Good Horse Pasture

Numerous physical characteristics need to be considered in developing and managing good, safe horse pasture:

  1. a dense, relatively smooth turf or surface
  2. absence of harmful or risky objects such as old wire, stumps, rocks, junk, and garbage dumps
  3. safe, noncutting fences
  4. absence or very low incidence of poisonous plants and absence of thorny brush that can cause physical damage and mane or tail entanglement
  5. yearlong forage availability, as feasible
  6. nutritious and palatable forage
  7. area large enough to provide the pasture quantity and quality needed, and therefore generally large enough for normal exercise needs and grazing management such as rotational grazing paddocks
  8. area with fresh, clean water
  9. area with shade for summer
  10. area with shelter from adverse weather such as storms and cold
  11. area relatively free of parasites; control procedures as necessary
  12. area free of marshes and swamps
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