Horse sense – code of conduct

What are the Issues?
Horses require all year round turn-out; they do not respond well to 24 hour housing and when turned out, they are more active than other livestock and they are usually shod, both of which exacerbate poaching problems

  • Lack of land availability – on most equestrian establishments there are too many horses on too small an acreage
  • Weed infestations – docks and ragwort are a familiar sight on many pony paddocks because these weeds thrive in the high nutrient soil and can easily establish on the bare patches caused by excessive poaching. In addition, horse owners are not aware of the effective control methods for the various weed species
  • Sub-division of fields: many owners need to restrict grazing during the summer months to prevent laminitis and many yards separate fields into smaller paddocks to prevent bullying and subsequent injury to horses – this results in miles of unsightly white electric tape
  • Schooling areas: many turn-out fields are also used as schooling fields and so jump wings, cones, tyres and other obstacles are left scattered around. As well as looking untidy, this can also be a threat to horse welfare if jump cups, screws and other metal items are left lying in the field

Why the problem?

Everyone is familiar with the typical sight of a neglected pony paddock; barely a blade of grass amongst the docks and mud and white tape flapping around the field in amongst the abandoned show jump wings and an ever-growing muck heap. As these paddocks are becoming more common in urban fringe areas, the adverse landscape impact is growing as agriculture retreats to more rural situations. These pony paddocks cease to provide adequate grazing value as the nutritional value of the grass declines as weeds start to dominate. Although weeds can be of value to some wildlife species, where dock, ragwort and nettles are rife, fewer other invertebrate food plants can survive.

Benefits of well managed pastures

For your horses:

  • Improved value of herbage – healthier diet
  • Reduced need for supplementary feeding therefore reduced costs
  • Reduced likelihood of colic and other digestive problems
  • Reduced weed burden – lower herbicide costs and less work

For wildlife:

  • Grass swards containing a mixture of fine leaved grasses and broadleaved herbs will support a wealth of invertebrates
    Some farmland birds will favour larger fields especially if there are some wet, rushy areas and short grazed patches of turf
  • Old pasture can contain rare flowers that are missing from improved ryegrass swards
  • Improved landscape value – thistles, poached soil and ragwort is not attractive!
  • Protects historic features such as ancient hedges, ridge and furrow grassland and veteran trees
  • Reduces negative impacts from overgrazing and poaching – soil erosion, sedimentation of watercourses and nutrient leaching

Solutions

There is no reason why a healthy sward cannot be maintained where land is grazed with horses. The main issue preventing this is an excessively high stocking rate and therefore if any of the suggested solutions given below are to be successful, it will be essential to restrict horse numbers to a recommended stocking rate of one horse (typically 15.2hh) to one hectare where grazing is to provide most of the nutritional intake during all but the winter months.

Winter turn out

  • Consider the creation of a small hard-cored or wood-chip area for turn-out in really wet conditions and for supplementary feeding
  • Ensure that the area is sited carefully to minimise visual and landscape impact.
  • Limit turn-out to a few hours when ground is very wet
    Use temporary fencing to exclude horses from wet areas of field where poaching damage will be greatest

Horse-sick pasture

  • Remove droppings – obviously this is very labour intensive unless you use an expensive pasture hoover so alternative solutions are to…
  • Chain harrow and roll
  • Graze rotationally with other stock
  • Test soil for pH, N, P, K; identify and treat any deficiencies
  • Control pernicious weeds such as dock and thistle – spot spray with specific herbicide
  • If all else fails… over-sow with mixture of grasses and herbs

Summer turn-out and preventing laminitis

  • Consider increasing exercise as well as reducing food intake
  • Use the hard standing area for turning out for part of the day
  • Use a muzzle – be aware that some horses cope with these better than others
  • Erect a permanent fence around a small starvation paddock to reduce the use of unsightly white tape

Fencing

  • Look at fencing options that have a reduced visual impact. Red, brown or orange tape is much less visually intrusive
  • Rope electric fencing is also now available, which minimises adverse visual impact
  • Where fencing is to be permanent or semi-permanent, opt for wooden posts rather than plastic ones
  • Where temporary fencing is not currently in use, take it down

Other land management issues

Waste

  • All businesses must now comply with waste regulations. The precise detail of these regulations depends on whether the business is classed as agricultural or is commercial. However, a few general principles apply:
  • Waste must not be burned or dumped unless at a licensed premises
    It is the proprietor’s responsibility to ensure that all waste is disposed of correctly
  • Waste cannot be stored at a property for more than 12 months without a license
  • All contractors that are collecting, transferring or processing waste must possess the appropriate license
  • For most horse-owners, this means that you should be disposing of your waste responsibly and where possible, seeking to minimise or recycle as much of it as possible. If your yard is also a farming business, there are a range of companies in the area that will collect your farm plastics and other wastes. You must also ensure that where it is not possible to utilise the manure across the holding, that a suitable end-use is arranged.

For more details on waste legislation in England, visit
www.environment-agency.gov.uk/subjects/waste this website provides guidance on which set of waste regulations apply to your business.

Nitrate vulnerable zones

Cannock Chase lies within a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ). This means that all landowners and land managers must comply with the NVZ Regulations which include limits on the amount of organic and inorganic nitrogen that can be spread on a single field and across the entire holding. On certain soil types such as sandy soils or very shallow soils, there are closed periods during which you must not spread manure, soils or inorganic nitrogen. Those keeping horses on land within the NVZ’s are required to adhere to the regulations. For more details visit:
www.defra.gov.uk/Environment/water/quality/nitrate/action.htm

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