Unfortunately, grazing for domesticated horses is usually limited and they are often completely dependent upon you to provide their needs.
Horses are herbivores and designed to forage freely on a variety of herbs and grasses and browse on bushes and trees.
In the wild, they will roam the land and graze on a large variety of plants (including many medicinal plants) for about 20 hours a day, covering an average of 30–40 km.
In some countries, the paddocks have a wide variety of herbs to graze on and their hay has a wide variety of dried herbs — other places aren’t so lucky. If your horses are on smaller acreage or limited pasture, then you may like to consider growing some herbs to feed them.
Why grow herbs at home?
When you grow your own herbs, (rather than buying them) you can control the quality of the herbs. You can grow them in good quality soil and make sure that the herbs aren’t sprayed with pesticides or irradiated. Herbs picked straight from your herb garden are fresh when they are in season. Not only is it more economical (once the herbs are established) but there is also a satisfaction in growing the herbs and knowing that you are feeding only the very best quality to your horses.
Some medicinal herbs that are easy to grow –
Aloe Vera (not for grazing on)
Ideas for Growing Herbs in Containers:
Many herbs are very hardy and will spread and take over a garden. With these herbs, you can use pots or containers — old baths, laundry troughs etc to stop them spreading.
Grow your herbs in a place where they will be regularly watered and where you will remember to use them such as near the stables. I will grow mine near the laundry as that it where I make up the herbal infusions (tea) to add to my horses’ feeds.
Use nice rich soil and natural fertilizers or composting tea.
If you have good quality, mulched soil you won’t need to give your herbs a lot of fertilizer. Mulch also adds to the microbes in the soil.
Some herbs still grow well no matter what the soil is like. If you are enthusiastic you can make composting tea for fertilizing your herbs. Composting tea is a liquid, nutritionally rich, well-balanced, organic supplement made by steeping aged compost in water. It can be used on your plants any time of the year.
How to Make Compost Tea:
Compost— well broken down. Yarrow and comfrey leaves added to the compost speed up the compost.
The appearance is very dark and the texture is very crumbly. You can add horse manure to the compost too, but don’t use the manure if your horses have been given a lot of chemicals for some reason.
Put a shovel full of compost into a large, old feed bucket. Fill the bucket with water. Leave it for 3 to 4 days and then use the liquid to feed the herbs.
You can also buy or make natural fertilisers such as worm castings or liquid seaweed. These can be used separately or added to the composting tea. I usually alternate between the various fertilisers, but I do tend to be a bit lazy with my herbs and they don’t get as much attention these days as they used to.
Growing herbs in a paddock:
In some situations, you may want to try and grow herbs in the paddock. Unless you have a very large property, if you plant herbs directly into a paddock the herbs are likely to be destroyed — either by overeating or by being trampled on, therefore; you may want to consider controlled grazing or feeding of herbs as needed.
Controlled grazing can come in many forms. E.g. electric tape that is removed when needed to allow the horses to graze on the herbs for a limited time or permanent fences that the horses can reach through to access the herbs. There are numerous designs. Here are a few design ideas.
Figure 1 – This is a simple design where you can run electric tape across the corners of the paddock and remove the tape as required to let the horses graze. The corners can also be made from solid fencing, allowing the horses to reach the herbs, but not over-graze or trample on the herbs.
Figure 2 – Place taller herbs in the middle and lower growing herbs on the outside of the circle. You can use a permanent fence that allows the horses to graze on the herbs but not over-graze or trample the herbs.
Figure 3 – If you do decide to grow your herbs in the paddock or around the edge of the paddock you will need to consider controlling invasive weeds such as Kikuyu. You will also need to make sure that the herbs have ample water and there is gate of course.
Some herbs aren’t suitable for horses to graze on, but may be useful to have in the garden such as; aloe vera.
Growing herbs can bring a lot of satisfaction for you as well as good health for your horses.
Wishing you and your horses all the very best of heath and happiness.
Equine Herbalist, Body Worker and author of Secret Herbal Recipes for Horses and The Herbal Hoof and Leg and the online course 10 Top Herbs to Grow and Use for Your Horses.