This article was written by Danielle Busselman under the direction and review of Rebecca Bott.
An equine seminar was hosted on the campus of South Dakota State University August 16. The seminar, hosted by Extension Equine Specialist, Dr. Becky Bott, was comprised of eight seminars given by experts from around the U.S.
The topics of rotational grazing and nutritional benefits of pastures were discussed by Laura Kenny and Dr. Carey Williams of Rutgers, New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station. Kenny explained to the attendees the basics of plant growth and the impact grazing has on different grasses. Rotational grazing can be utilized in such a way to promote healthy regrowth for pastures. Constructing a dry lot or sacrifice area where horses are housed, watered, fed, and housed during wet periods and when pastures need rest can have strong, positive impacts on maintaining healthy pastures. To further the discussion on grazing, Dr. Williams elaborated on the nutritional benefits pastures provide. Horses are grazing animals and are well adapted to utilize forages. Quality grasses often provide a sufficient amount of protein, and fiber accompanied with sugars, crude fat, calcium, phosphorous, and other important nutrients. More health benefits include exercise, promoting social interaction, and can reduce undesirable vices such as cribbing. It should be noted that while quality forage can comprise the foundation of a horse’s diet, salt and fresh water should also be made available.
Continuing with horse health, Dr. Bridgett McIntosh of Virginia Tech spoke on the topic of pasture related nutritional diseases. Managing pastures becomes important when considering the overall health of our horses. Forages and pastures contain high levels of nonstructural carbohydrates or simple starches, sugars and fructans. Abundance in these nutrients can be precursors to diseases including obesity, insulin resistance, laminitis or founder, Cushing’s disease, and colic. Owners can promote a healthy environment for their horses by better understanding pasture management, and carefully considering the amount of access to pasture a horse should receive.
Horse health is not only affected by forages, but begins at the early stages of life. Dr. Rebecca Splan of the Middleburg Research and Extension Center, Virginia Tech, discussed the responsibility owners have when breeding equines. Irresponsible breeding should be prevented to give our horses a better chance for high quality health. Instead of breeding horses to make use of them, owners should factor in the future desirability of the offspring. Unwanted horses have become an increasing problem in the equine world, and by controlling overproduction owners can aid in preventing this problem.
Dr. Sara Tanner recently joined the Animal Science faculty at South Dakota State University. She talked about horse waste and the affect it has on the surrounding environment. Waste that is produced by our animals has the potential to reach water supplies. Owners can affect the amount of nutrients that are released into the environment by properly managing feeds. For example, if we feed an abundance of nitrogen rich feedstuff, more nitrogen will pass through the feces or urine into the surroundings. To continue discussing manure management on horse farms another SDSU faculty member, Dr. Erin Cortus (former SDSU Extension Environmental Quality Engineer), gave pointers on creating and utilizing an effective manure management plan. By sketching out a layout of the farm site and accounting for water and air flow, owners can better evaluate the best method for manure management. Waste in horse farms is oftentimes collected from confinement areas and stored at a different location. The intention of storing piled manure and then applying it to land is known as stockpiling. Another method that can be utilized is composting, an active process which turns manure into a high quality fertilizer. No matter what method is preferred, environmental conditions should be considered.
Even little improvements on a horse farm can aid in protecting the environment and can also better our horse’s health. Dr. Betsy Greene of the University of Vermont discussed ways to improve paddocks and confinement areas by decreasing migrating mud. Sacrificing a small area for the constructing of a flow strip will decrease mud and increase water flow from lots, thus improving high traffic areas such as those around gates and water. Creating several layers comprised of rock, geotextile fabric to separate layers, and stone will result in a desirable flow for water, and a place for horses to escape muddy conditions.
When managing an equine facility, we not only become concerned with our horses footing outside in pastures but also the condition of our arenas or working environments. Speaker Dr. Ann Swinker talked about riding arena footing and management and dust control. A good riding arena begins with a supportive foundation. A good base is comprised of a sediment material that will allow for proper drainage and minimize erosion effects. Utilizing geotextiles can help support the base and promote drainage. The top footing layer will depend on the discipline. Western type events such as barrel racing require deeper footing whereas jumping encourages firmer footing. Gaining knowledge on material composition will aid in constructing appropriate footing. Material with larger particle size will not easily compact, and material with smaller particle size will. Different options for footing include, sand, wood, stone dust, and other sediments. Another consideration should be dust control. By adding bonding agents such as water and other agents (oil, magnesium chloride, and calcium chloride) dust can become better controlled.
Overall, many factors pertaining to management must be considered to promote overall horse health. Pasture management will aid in providing our equine with the nutrients needed on a daily basis. In turn, however, owners must also be cautious in protecting the environment as well. This includes having and utilizing a plan for waste management. Environmental management can be improved by constructing areas that aid in drainage and water flow while decreasing mud in confinement areas. Investigating ways to construct proper footing for both free exercise areas and controlled working arenas will also aid in promoting horse health. The most important factor in constructing an arena is the base followed by an effective drainage system. Footing becomes important especially when considering the discipline and the impact on the horse’s body. Managing equines is a very large responsibility, but if carried out correctly will result in an enjoyable lifestyle.
About the Author
SDSU student Danielle Busselman authored this article with the guidance of SDSU Extension Equine Specialist Dr. Rebecca Bott. Danielle is studying communications and equine science and looks forward to a career in writing for an equine publication.