Horse Pasture

  Paddock Design Options  


The following are just a few ideas to help create a happy and safe environment for your horses. Included are some structural design ideas along with pasture matrix blend. The concept behind these suggestions is to recreate an environment similar to what the horse in the wild would have experienced. Horses by their nature are generalist browsers covering many kilometers a day in search of a variety of nutrients. In the wild they did not exhibit permanent states of hyper vigilance, head shaking, obsessive compulsive behaviours like weaving, crib biting etc. The flight mechanism was stimulated only periodically when there was the threat of a predator starting from the sudden raising of the head, a shy and then a full bolt. So many horses today are in a state of hyper vigilance leading to adrenal and metabolic conditions making them at best a challenge to ride and at worst a dangerous riding prospect and one we no longer enjoy.

Overall Design 

Your design will consist of several elements each providing a different tier to your landscape so in effect you will be creating layers.

  • Structural layer are your shade trees, junction planting and tall shelter trees
  • Secondary Layer which will consist of space dividers which will provide visual and physical barriers (wall of your room)
  • Midheight browsing species, these may be found along the fence boundaries or along paddock races and will provide browsing material and medicinal plants. These can include high fibre hedgerow species that will help feed the horse’s microbiome
  • Understory which may consist of low growing species tolerant of shade and /or climbing species.
  • Paddock species. These will consist of a range of pasture species to include perennials, annual grasses and flowering broadleaf species.

Structural Trees


Shade for Horses is Essential. Jo sent us this photo of her horses under a canopy of autumn colours. This is truly a happy and safe environment for horses


These are slower growing species that provide scale, shade and shelter as well as the upper foliage layer. Generally it is advisable to plant these so that the canopies remain separate so the form of the tree can be seen. This will help provide a sense of place and identity to your local region. Shade and structural trees can be used as a supply of fibre.A list of trees poisonous to horses will be available shortly

 Deciduous trees to include: lime (tilia) , Claret Ash, Ginkgo, Elms and Alders, Japanese Raisin Tree, Pear trees allowed to grow to full size, Birch trees,

Evergreen Amenity Trees to include: Pinus pinea (pine nut), Casimoroa, Nothofagus fusca, totara, Rimu and titoki (planted in groups as a stand alone copse) , Olive standardised to a single stem, Sweet Bay limbed up 1.8m,

Taller Hedges and shelter belts

Shelter belts provide a reduction of wind velocity x 10 the height of the trees along the horizontal plane. So if your trees are 5meters high then the wind shadow will be felt as far away as 50meters from the trees. Principles of designing a shelter belt will be dealt with in a separate article. Included in this section will be the establishment and maintenance of hedgerows for browsing. This is part of equine-permiculture where permanent species are introduced as part of self foraging and medication for horses. The hedge row will provide phytonutrients, prebiotics and fibre to help protect the horse from metabolic disruption and poor gut health. a cross section in a separate page will outline the canopy layers and plant set outs.

Fast maturing shelter trees include: pines (ideally I like to use pinus pinea because it is far more compact and has the added benefit of pine nuts that can be harvested. Italian alders which are nitrogen fixers.

Coppicing trees are useful for biofuels. These may include trees like:

  • Gums
  • Bays
  • Planes
  • acacias


Paddock Junctions

These consist of a short length of fence at 45deg across the corner of adjoining paddocks for the following reasons:

  1. Agricultural machinery is unable to cultivate land into a 90deg angle leaving a small triangle of waste land that could be used.
  2. This is easily constructed across an existing strained fence.
  3. This waste land becomes an easily stock-proofed place to grow large trees that provide, shade, shelter and forage pickings.
  4. It can also be an area for anthelmintic plants ie black walnut, aloes and karo to name a few.
  5. These areas of tree plantings add scale and interest to the landscape and improve the bio-diversity of a region.


Stock Race  

This is a fenced long narrow strip of land providing linkages between paddocks and zones. It may be used for a number of purposes provided it has sufficient width to satisfy the following:

  1. So it may double up as a shelter belt and vehicle access route.
  2. Provided it is fenced using post and rail, vines and espaliered trees can be trained along railing. A hot wire on the outside of the race will ensure stock don’t damage horizontally trained foliage.
  3. Creates a strong lineal axis to frame and direct views through a canopy of large avenue trees like walnuts or pine nuts. The nuts for eating and the cones for burning. Immature walnuts have anthelmintic qualities.
  4. It may be planted as an herbal ley to provide temporary light grazing of additional species not found in surrounding pasture.


So What is an Herbal Ley? 

Herbal Leys are a biologically diverse range of pasture species including grasses, broad leaf annuals and perennials that provide health enhancing flavonoids, bitters carotenoids, phytosterols, tannins to mention just a few.

The blend of grasses and broad leaf species have varying root structures each penetrating to different levels that increase the depth rhizophere, thereby improving nutrient cycling, moisture retention, soil aeration,  transferring from subsoil to topsoil important minerals and trace elements. The microbiology in typical grass monocultures will lack the full spectrum of micro-organisms necessary for livestock health. Pastures consisting almost exclusively of grasses tend to be bacterially dominant where as mixed pastures will have a more favourable balance of beneficial fungi, protozoa, micro-arthropods, ciliates, amoeba etc. A full spectrum of microbiology is essential for optimum livestock health.

Establishing a New Herbal Ley

This approach can be used in establishing an herbal ley for a stock race or an additional small pharmacy paddock.  Here are some simple steps in preparing the soil, sowing and maintenance.

  1. Remove or turn under existing pasture mechanically (tractor, disking, rotary hoe etc) or chemically (herbicides can be used to remove vegetation prior to sowing if preferred)
  2. In some cases pigs can be used to cultivate land especially if crops like Jerusalem artichokes have been established for the pigs to dig up.
  3. Once land is cleared, plant a mixed green manure crop consisting of barley 40%, blue lupin (nitrogen fixer) 20% and mustard (natural soil disinfectant, natures’ methyl bromide without the side effects) 40%.
  4. Ensure that the pH does not fall below 5.5. This may be corrected by applying lime. Note: healthy soil micro-biology will prevent excessive leaching of calcium.
  5. Once green manure matures to just before flowering, it is turned in and left for some weeks to break down. This stage provides an ideal opportunity to add humus or a biologically active tea to improve the biological status and health of the soil.
  6. Short lengths of nitrogen-fixing liquorice root may be ploughed in at this stage to add additional root strata. These valuable roots may be harvested after 3 years and sold to boutique buyers or used medicinally for stock.
  7. Sow the mixture below when growing conditions are suitable.
  8. Allow to germinate and become an established ‘pasture before grazing.
  9. Don’t graze down too far and allow for rotational recovery times.
  10. Grazed in the first year, this mixture will give a good yield of first-class hay in its second year. If the grass does get ahead of the livestock, a cut may be made for specialty hay.


Note: The tables below are a species guide only, and cannot be regarded as detailed sowing specifications. This blend must be adjusted according to soils, climate and livestock type. The planting matrix will provide a percentage mix and sowing density.


Herbal Ley for Grazing Animals

This mix may be direct drilled mechanically or broadcast by hand in smaller areas.
Pasture Grasses and Others Description
NZ brown top Short fine grass suitable for dry conditions.
Vision cocksfoot Pasture grass
Kahu Timothy High summer feed value
Massey Basyn Yorkshire fog Containing high levels of tannins improving animal health
Kentucky Blue grass High fibre grass suitable for grass-sensitive livestock.
Bareno Brome grass A standout high quality and persistent brome grass.
Achillea Yarrow, deep rooting  Drought tolerant. Tumour inhibitant..
Anethum graveolens Dill aromatic herb, blood cleanser
Origanum vulgare Origanum an aromatic herb found to reduce methane emissions in dairy cows and increase milk production
Papaver rhoeus Red flanders poppy. Natural pain relief. Remove horses from pasture 24 hours prior to competition.
Plantago major Staghorn plantain Winter tonic and suitable pasture feed during droughts.
Taraxacum officinale Dandelion. Liver and blood cleanse.
Sanguisorba minor Burnet digestive herb.
Pertoselium crispum Parsley a diuretic and tonic herb.
Trifolium pratense Red clover a good source of essential minerals, vitamin C and isoflavones.
Rumex acetosa Sorrel a slightly acid tonic herb suitable for grazing animals.
Cichorium intybus Chicory a deep rooting perennial of high nutritional quality. Drought tolerant forage.



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