In January I started taking a course in holistic pasture management. For a long time now, I have felt there has to be a better way to have a balance between healthy horses and healthy soil. But so often when horse people attend grazing conferences or try to educate themselves about better pasture management they become engulfed in forage production intended for meat producing animals.
While we are happy to get the relief provided to our wallets by the addition of grass to our horses diets during the Spring and Summer more often than not modern horses are using their time in pastures for what the zoologists call “enrichment”. In other words it is good for the horse’s brain as well as their body to be out grazing naturally as they were intended to do.
After reading a great deal about the Holistic approach to farm management which can be found in the free downloads section of this webpage https://holisticmanagement.org/resources/ and feeling increasingly frustrated, I went back and reread the approach one more time. And it hit me.
As horse people, initially we need to really focus on the first three aspects of Holistic Management’s 8 Principles & Practices for Effective Resource Management highlighted in bold below.
- Principle One: Nature Functions in Wholes
- Principle Two: Understand the Environment You Manage
- Practice One: Define What You Are Managing
- Practice Two: State What You Want
- Practice Three: Aim for Healthy Soil
- Practice Four: Consider All Tools
- Practice Five: Test Your Decisions
- Practice Six: Monitor Your Results
Principle Two: Understand the Environment You Manage – We are not “grass farmers” who are not really attempting to turn plants into weight gain on meat animals. Our environment is an enrichment environment first and a food source second. This means we may need to rethink traditional methods of maintaining our environment.
Practice One: Define What You Are Managing– Once we understand our environment. We need to get a very clear picture of what we are managing. Our horses may need a lower sugar grass to be able to graze and stay healthy so we may need to introduce grasses that our cattle and grain growing neighbors have been trying to eradicate, such as crabgrass or varieties of brome.
Practice Two: State What You Want – Can be the most difficult for those of us in traditional farming country. Most modern horses cannot tolerate a high sugar / high calorie diet – we can’t feed them like cattle. We need to create a grass combination that works for our needs. These can often lead to being told that a new idea won’t work or that isn’t the way to create and maintain a pasture. We need to be willing to take a chance and try new things.
Also most horse owners don’t have the time or inclination to become soil experts or horticulturists. Know what you want… if that means you are willing to give some of your time to creating a healthy outdoor environment but you still want plenty of time for training and enjoying your horse be honest and admit that .
We need to develop some good basic, easy to do and easy to use practices that may not be the ultimate answer but will give us a good start without feeling the pressure of not doing it perfectly. I’m working on some ideas on how to do that.