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Don’t forget your horses when making regenerative grazing plans

The same principles apply as when grazing ruminants, with adjustments for horses’ grazing habits and needs.



Several years before Joe Pokay started as general ranch manager at Noble Research Institute, he experimented with adaptively grazing his working horses, moving them from one part of the pasture to another to help the grass.


“I just knew I never liked the way the horse traps looked, and they’re usually right by your house,” Pokay says. “When I first started, I didn’t really understand what I was doing with the rest periods and all that,” he says, but as he fully adopted adaptive multi-paddock grazing, he found that “a horse pasture doesn’t have to be ‘sacrificial’ land.”


“Every acre matters,” Pokay says. “If I apply the same principles to the 25 acres my horses graze as I do to the rest of the ranch, it’ll benefit from the same positive effects: fresh grass, better nutrition, better health for the animals, better health for the soil, and I’m all about that.”


Same soil health principles, different expectations

If you want to apply regenerative practices to every acre, start by simply recognizing the ways your horses are, in fact, going to differ from your commodity livestock.


“If a cow falls off, loses condition, doesn’t get bred back, she’s pretty primed to be culled. But I’m not going to do that with my horses,” Pokay says. “I’m not going to wreck a good horse by trying to graze them too tight. There are some concessions I’ll make to keep a good horse around. But I’m not going to wreck my soil to do it.”


It is true that because of their top teeth, horses tend to graze closer to the ground. That can be especially damaging to tender, new growth.


“The hardest part of grazing horses is to just keep them moving fast enough to maintain condition, applying enough density, and allowing the tender stuff a chance to come back and regenerate after that first bite,” he says.


Plants may need a longer recovery period after a horse graze than a ruminant graze, but Pokay says the key is to pay close attention to the plants, no matter the animals you’re using.

“You can’t just wholesale apply a certain management to all horses, because some horses handle grazing differently than others,” he says. With regenerative management, always use frequent observations of the animals, plants, and land as your guide.


Perhaps the most challenging part of managing horses’ grazing is the fact that for most, the herd size is sometimes just one or a handful of horses. With these differences in mind, here are the top five lessons he’s learned while incorporating his horses into a regenerative grazing plan:


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