Below we have listed some of the good, safe horse-friendly grasses that are ideal pasture, and also those that are best removed (or access limited at least) in your horse paddocks for optimum health of your horse.
Why are these grasses considered ‘Horse friendly’
In a nutshell these are higher fibre, lower NSC (sugar) grasses. They have not been selected for traits that promote rapid weight gain and milk production. They tend to grow more slowly than ‘high production’ rye-grasses/tall fescues for example. They tend to grow well on less fertile country. Therefore land which has been fertilised or limed to where the pH is higher than 6.2 will tend not to suit these grasses.
Please note* We do not sell grass/pasture seeds. The information below is provided for general information only. Contact your local Produce or Fodder store to source pasture seeds that grow in your area.
Good Horse Grass
Crested Dog’s Tail
This is a very common grass especially in dry areas and is great for horses. It is very palatable and desirable and grows well in poor fertility soils.
Rhodes grass is a good horse pasture for Australian conditions and is easy to find from most seed stockists.
A great grass for horses and ponies. Persists in low-fertility soil, under 10% NSC. Tends to smother clover growth (good!)
Sometimes referred to as ‘Orchard Grass’ – a hardy, drought-tolerant grass with deep roots.
No endophyte fungus, withstands close grazing, tolerant to pest attack, but can suffer fungal rust disease. Once established competes well with rye-grass
Prairie grass is a large-leafed grass which grows well during winter and early spring, and tolerates drought – only persists for about four years
It does not tolerate waterlogged conditions, animal treading or acidic soil.
Doesn’t mind wet conditions and thrives on infertile and acidic soils. Good as part of a mix.
Dominates other species unless kept closely grazed
In about 1720, American farmer Timothy Hanson began to promote this grass as a hay crop in North America, and it has kept his name ever since. Makes great hay. Grows only on moist, heavy soils in cooler regions
Highly palatable to stock but is uncompetitive with other plants, so needs light grazing. Not very drought tolerant. Excellent stock feed
Qld Bluegrass (Dichanthium sericeum) grows in all states of Australia, but it grows principally in northern Australia, especially in association with Mitchell grass country in Queensland. It is restricted to warmer grasslands and woodlands with predominantly summer rainfall. It also grows in many other locations across Australia, but is more scattered and prefers warmer, drier sites. It is adapted to a broad range of climatic conditions.
Redgrass is a warm season grass that occurs along the south eastern seaboard of Australia, mainly in coastal, tablelands and sloped environments. It survives well in very harsh dryland conditions. Redgrass is a warm season perennial grass that has green or reddish tinged leaves. It is low growing, barely reach heights above 10cm, and will survive low periods of drought.
Australian native grass seed mixes for horse pasture are available from Native Seeds – Click link for more information on these www.nativeseeds.com.au
Grasses to Eliminate
It is not a desirable grass as it contains ‘coumarin’ which itself is only harmful if the grass gets a mould on it which converts coumarin to ‘dicoumarol’ which inhibits normal blood clotting. If you have it in your pasture just keep an eye out for any moulds that may develop over summer, (which you need to do on all the grasses anyway).
Rye Grass & Clover
Rye Grass and clover cause a wide array of health and behaviour problems, some of them so common we think they are normal, some way more severe causing frustration, accidents, loss of confidence in people, and unnecessary suffering and euthanasia of horses. Without a doubt, they directly impact your safety, enjoyment and pocket and below are the reasons why…
Invisible and insidious, they are produced by endophytes inside the rye-grass.
Everyone knows about the Lolitrem B which causes the staggers in late summer and autumn. But more harmful is Ergovaline, prevalent at this time of the year.
Ergovaline is a nasty vaso-constricter, cuts off the blood supply to). When the blood supply is constricted to the skin you get heat stress because it raises their core body temperature. When this happens to the uterus you get abortion, to the hind-gut you get colic.
Other lesser symptoms in horses include agitation, sweating for no reason, sweating in the float, running around the paddock for no reason, grumpiness, girthiness, belligerence, bucking, aggressiveness, prolonged gestation, no top-line, hard to keep weight on.
What about low-endophyte rye-grasses? Still totally unsuitable and here is why…
PHOTODYNAMIC PIGMENTS are the pigments in all varieties of rye-grass, clovers, lucerne, St John’s Wort, Buttercup, plantain, parsley which make them the very dark green color. These pigments fluoresce, are activated by light, and are known to cause photophobia and photosensitisation. This is the true cause of ‘mud-fever’, ‘sunburn’ and I believe head-flicking/shaking syndrome. When you remove these plants from the horse’s diet these conditions go away.
MINERAL IMBALANCES Rye-grass likes a slightly acid soil (5.8) So do all sorts of fungi. The more acid your soil, the more fungi in and around the base of the plants, such as facial ecsma spores, aspergillus, rust moulds and hundreds more. Then when the grass grows quickly, which is often in our climate especially when nitrogen or super is applied, it tends to leave behind the minerals. When you realise what a huge requirement horses have for minerals like calcium/magnesium just to run their large muscles, their brain and their nervous and circulatory systems, you will go to great lengths to ensure your horse doesn’t lack a molecule! It is a waste of money and counter-productive to feed separate minerals in isolation. Whilst you think you are fixing one problem you will be creating another imbalance. Feed mixes that supply everything in the correct balance.
FRUCTANS Whilst clovers and lucerne store their sugars as starch which is easily digestible, all varieties of rye-grass store their sugars as fructans which horses cannot digest. When fructans reach the hind-gut the streptococcus bacteria have a feast, immediately proliferate and devastate the good flora, cause sloppy manures, metabolic chaos and trigger laminitis.
EXCESS CARBOHYDRATE Rye/clover pastures are selected for rapid weight gain and milk production in livestock. The exact opposite of what we want for our horses! Rye/clovers are very high in NSC’s (non-structural carbohydrate or sugars) and when kept at a young stage of growth by grazing they are also low in fibre.
Clovers especially red clover and sub-terranian clover contain phyto-oestrogens which interfere with hormones and reproduction. These can turn mares into nymphomaniacs and geldings into stallions! They also increase the number of services to conceive. There are way safer grasses to feed your horses. If possible change to cocksfoot, brown-top, any of the Poa’s, silver tussock, Yorkshire fog, prairie, or timothy and enjoy horses that are ‘good to go’ all year round!
Kikuyu may harbour mycotoxins and is also an oxalate grass so best avoided totally.
Those little black sticky things are the Ergot of the fungus “Claviceps Paspali”. They are common on the seed heads of paspalum and cause central nervous system derangement! That is hyperexcitability, belligerence, staggering and even convulsions.
Obviously not what you would want your horses to be eating. Since it occurs mainly on the seed head, it is vital not to let Paspalum seed in the spring and summer. Paspalum loves humidity.
If you cannot eliminate it completely or at least manage it so it doesn’t go to seed, then best to make the perimeter track and keep your horse on there.
Sometimes known as Reed Canary Grass
PHALARIS can harbour toxic alkaloids which cause a serious nervous syndrome and Phalaris staggers. Seasonal and weather patterns appear to affect alkaloid concentration, as most toxicity occurs in autumn and in times of drought. Regrowth after grazing or mowing also shows a considerable increase in alkaloids.
Often found on the edges of ditches and lakes. Best eliminated and certainly not to be sown.
Buttercups taking over your pasture is indicative of poor drainage. They are potentially harmful when they first grow but are no longer toxic after a hard frost or when dried in hay.
The consumption of freshly growing buttercups may cause:
- irritation and little sores or blisters around the mouth area
- even colic like symptoms and/or diarrhea
Oxalate grasses Click here for information on ‘living with oxalate grasses’
- Green panic
- Para grass
- Guinea grass
- Signal grass
Other grasses best avoided include: