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Equiculture - Rewilding with your horse

climate change environment horses land care Feb 01, 2022
Equiculture - rewilding with your horses

Equiculture - Rewilding with your horse - The concept of 'rewilding' as a valuable tool in the fight against climate change is becoming more and more relevant. Governments worldwide are putting out resources to assist landowners in improving their land's health. In turn, this helps the environment, increases biodiversity and protects species of flora and fauna, some of which are in danger of becoming extinct.

But 'rewilding' is not just for farmers or managers of large land areas. People are being encouraged to do what they can, where they can, even in their garden.

Horse owners/managers are in a unique position to make a huge difference, and we can show you how you can do this in a way that benefits you, the environment, and of course, your horse/s.

We are not talking about reintroducing large grazing animals to your land. Horses are vital as large grazing herbivores, as are some other domestic grazing animals. Indeed all of these animals, including horses, are already being used extensively for rewilding projects worldwide; wherever you live, horses can be used to improve the soil and increase biodiversity.

Horses themselves are vital as large grazing herbivores.

So, as a horse owner/manager, you already have the 'tools' to carry out important work and at the same time reap far-ranging benefits.


What is 'rewilding' exactly? Here is a definition from the Collins English Dictionary:

The practice of returning land areas to a wild state includes the reintroduction of animal species that are no longer naturally found there.
 

So 'rewilding' is about letting nature take care of itself, enabling natural processes to repair damaged ecosystems and restore degraded landscapes. In essence, it is about working with nature rather than against it.

Many rewilding projects use horses as major components because their natural grazing behaviour promotes a biodiverse environment. 


How does this affect you? What potential benefits are there for you, your horse/s, and the land?

Firstly, embrace the understanding that you are in a powerful position as a horse owner/manager to help turn the tide of climate change.

Horse owners/managers are collectively responsible for a considerable amount of land and can carry out many of the recommendations given to farmers without affecting 'production'.

Rewilding can enhance the health and well-being of horses considerably. So, even if you are not in a position to rewild your land, there are certain things you can do to increase biodiversity massively; the first step to rewilding.

Horses thrive in biodiverse environments. Increasing biodiversity helps to provide them with a healthier and more diverse diet. Encouraging a healthy ecosystem for your horse/s results in more beneficial grasses that are lower in sugars and higher in fibre. They will also have access to a wider variety of other plant species, encouraging natural browsing and foraging behaviours.

Growing healthy feed on your land for your horse/s is far preferable and more cost-effective (in many ways) than degrading your land and buying in feed - an unsustainable practice.

In this article, you are going to learn about five easy ways that you can start to rewild the land that your horse/s live on:

1. Let your pasture plants grow taller...

One of the most significant issues we deal with on horse properties is overgrazed pasture. One of the simplest things you can do is let the pasture plants grow taller. Taller pasture plants have many benefits - we have a separate article on this subject (blog/horses-short-grass-or-long-grass?) that goes into more detail. Some of the main advantages for the environment are:
  • Taller pasture plants provide habitat for beneficial insects, small mammals/reptiles, and ground-nesting birds.
  • Taller pasture plants create more biodiversity because a wider variety of plants get to grow, set seed, and multiply.
  • Taller pasture plants mean longer/thicker root systems which mean that more healthy nutrients are brought up from deeper layers in the soil.

Taller pasture plants create more biodiversity because a wider variety of plants get to grow, set seed, and multiply.

  • Taller pasture plants, with their longer/thicker root systems, sequester more carbon, much more than short plants, and quicker than trees! This function is improved when the plants are repeatedly grazed and then allowed to regrow (as part of a rotational grazing system), effectively 'pumping' carbon into the soil.
  • Longer/thicker roots equal better soil protection (less or no mud/dust), so plants can be grazed in wetter conditions for longer (to a point).
  • Taller pasture plants keep the soil warmer in cold weather.
  • Taller pasture plants shade the soil in hot, dry conditions, keeping it cool and reducing evaporation. The increase in organic matter in the soil helps hold water in the soil for longer - essential in dry conditions.

Make sure you read the full article (blog/horses-short-grass-or-long-grass?) to learn about the advantages for your horse/s too.

2. Fence off the corners of paddocks and plant hedgerows...

The corners of horse paddocks are often 'unproductive' spaces that can also be dangerous (think about how horses can run into corners when they are galloping/chasing/playing). Instead, a simple fence (electrified tape is OK) placed across the corner will transform this area. Once the corners are fenced off, you can plant various bushes and trees in them.

These unproductive, sometimes dangerous, areas turn into havens for wildlife (think birds and insect-eating bats, and bees) and will increase the biodiversity of your land. Some of this wildlife will, in turn, help to control pasts insects on your land (by eating flies, mosquitoes, etc.).

Plan to fence off as many corners as possible for many benefits.

Hedgerows have many benefits for wildlife. In addition to the advantages mentioned above, they create 'wildlife corridors', making it easier for wildlife to move around the land.

Hedgerows create essential windbreaks on the land. They usually need to be fenced on both sides, but this can be a simple electric fence on the inside fence.

Double fenced paddocks/fields are safer for horses too. Fence injuries can be severe for horses, and double fencing prevents horses from interacting over them. Horses should be kept in herds (not singularly) and only interact with their herd mates within a paddock, not over a fence with other horses.

Double fenced paddocks/fields are safer for horses too.

3. Prevent pollutants from running off the land...

If you have a waterway (pond, dam, stream, creek, river) and the horses currently have full access, plan to fence it off and only allow partial access. Best of all is to have a water source elsewhere, such as in a surfaced 'loafing yard'.The taller plants that will now grow around the waterway will provide various functions:

  • They will provide habitat for wildlife.
  • They will filter nutrients and reduce the amount of manure/fertiliser getting into the waterway (which will lead to less or no algae blooms occurring).
  • They will hold together the soil on the waterway banks so that less or non of it gets washed away.

This all leads to cleaner, healthier water with all the benefits that go with it.

Fencing off a waterway has many benefits and leads to cleaner water.

4. Create and maintain more habitat for wildlife...

Make sure you leave fallen branches in safe areas. Those fenced-off corners and hedgerow areas are suitable for this. Also, if you have woodland areas on your land, make sure you leave fallen branches on the ground if you can.

Find out if bird boxes would be a good idea in your area.

Learn about when the correct time of year is for trimming hedges so that you do not disturb nesting birds.

Find out if bird boxes would be a good idea in your area.

5. Increase biodiversity where you can...

In addition to creating areas for various plants, such as corners and between paddocks/fields, consider planting different species in the regions that are difficult to manage for grazing, such as steeper hillsides. These areas can then be left to nature. Once established, they can still be grazed but less frequently in some cases.

Think about planting different species in areas that are difficult to manage for grazing, such as steeper hillsides.

There are also many other ways to increase biodiversity on a horse property. You can grow herb gardens to which horses can have occasional supervised access.

Rewilding with horses is an exciting subject; you will find that the more you learn, the more exciting it gets. Learn how to manage your land and horses in a way that is good for biodiversity, the wider environment, soil health, horse health, their welfare, etc.

Start by signing up here for the free mini-course about Horses, Pasture, and Grazing www.equiculture.net/equiculture-free-mini-course

Jane xxx

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