The grass that’s too green

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Ever-hopeful of an end to the wet weather, Lucy Procter has her work cut out with poached fields and the dangers of spring grazing

Woolstone One and her 5 week old Planteur colt.
All images: Courtenay Hitchcock

Wet and windy – April has left us the same way it arrived. But it hasn’t all been doom and gloom: the sun and wind through the middle of April quickly dried the land, resulting in frantic rolling of the fields before the ground dried out too much.
Rolling is important to level out the ground where horses have been turned out during the winter, the soft ground churned up by the hooves of several half ton horses. The resultant ruts and pitting is known as poached ground, and if this is left to dry hard in the summer, the surface becomes legitimately leg-breaking for horses.

Gawler (3 months old colt) and Randwick (7 weeks old colt) – rough and tumble play fighting is important in young horses, helping them learn vital social and behavioural cues from the other members of the herd

Horses can easily injure themselves by galloping over uneven ground in just the same way that a person is liable to twist or break their ankle over rough terrain. Unlike people who can be warned to walk carefully over tricky terrain, however, turn a horse out in a lumpy, bumpy field and they will most likely will do what horses like to do best – gallop around at top speed to let off steam before stopping to graze.

Roc Royal with her foal Randwick being photobombed by Cairns, keen to show off his patchy, war-paint face, as his foal coat starts to drop out and change colour

Done correctly, rolling also encourages good grass, stimulating growth in damaged areas and improving soil health by increasing soil density, reducing air pockets and improving soil structure. Once the ground has properly dried it will be time to bring out the harrows to help break up any left-over poaching, spread any horse droppings that have accumulated over the winter and remove any dead grass or unwanted weeds.

Belle enjoying a snooze.
Roc Royal’s Walzertakt colt, Randwick, has just come in after being out for a few days and is super, super sleepy. Not sure how comfy the feed bowl is, but he’s obviously not bothered!

Lush spring grass is an issue
Most of our horses are now turned out all day and all night. Those with very young foals at foot – or who have not yet foaled and therefore need to stay under camera – are still coming back into stables at night. But turning horses out for the first time, after several months of eating hay in all-weather turnouts rather than grass, is tricky.
This year, the relatively warm winter has meant that the grass has continued to slowly grow, leaving us with fields of excessively long, lush, spring grass. A horse’s stomach cannot tolerate drastic changes in feed. If a horse suddenly begins gorging on lush grass having been eating hay all winter, it is in danger of developing severe abdominal pain caused by problems in the gastrointestinal tract. This is known as colic – one of the most common causes of death in horses.
We start by introducing field time in short periods of a few hours, followed by time back in the stable or all-weather turnout eating hay.
After a week or so of gradually increasing the length of time they are out grazing grass, the horses can safely stay out day and night.

Just look at Belle’s week-old, super-long legs –
no wonder she was needing a rest!
The orphaned foal, displaying more warpaint on his face as his bay foal coat changes to a greyer hue

Go The Swede
On the racing front we were especially pleased to take one of our homebred horses we have been training, The Swede, to race at Axe Vale Point-to-Point. Although she pulled up before the last fence, our daughter Alice, who was riding her, was very pleased with how she travelled through the race and how well she jumped. We are hoping to race her again in May.
While typing this, I can hear the birds singing outside and, although the sky is still grey, it has finally stopped raining. Although last night’s downpour has reduced many of the fields to swamps again, I am allowing myself a tiny hope that we have got through the worst of the winter, and that a drier spring is just around the corner …

Gawler and Randwick still at it – colt foals are more likely to indulge in play fighting than the filly foals.

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