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What is The Equicentral System?

Article by Jane Myers and Stuart Myers - Equiculture

The Equicentral System was developed to combine elements of equine management into a sustainable system that saves time, money and effort and increases the health of your horses and your pasture - a true win-win-win scenario. People all around the world are now utilising The Equicentral System and it has been shown to have many positive effects on the well-being of their horses and the health and productivity of their land. By using this sustainable management system, not only has the physical health of their horses improved but owners are observing much calmer and more relaxed behaviour in their herds.

The way in which many people currently keep horses is not sustainable, meaning that it is costing more to keep them than is necessary, it is having a negative impact on the land and is creating an unnecessary workload. In many cases, the way in which horses are kept, is also detrimental to a horse's mental health.

This article is a brief overview of what The Equicentral System is:

The Equicentral System is system that works by utilising the natural and domesticated behaviour of horses to both their own, yours and the wider environment's advantage. This is combined with good land management practices to encourage and support the health of the pasture. You may have heard the term you are what you eat - the same applies to your horse, if they graze a healthy pasture they are much more likely to be healthy.

Once you get a basic understanding of how The Equicentral System works and the many benefits this system can provide you should be able to think of ways that you can incorporate it or elements of it into your own horse management system.

So how does The Equicentral System work?

With The Equicentral System all the pastures (fields) are linked to a communal surfaced yard area (dry lot/loafing yard) by gates. Ideally, we avoid narrow laneways or tracks as these compact the soil (picture A), but of course, this is not always possible, and some properties will need to have laneways to take the horses out to the paddocks (picture B).

Let's presume that currently the horses are being kept in the large communal yard overnight (with hay). In the morning the gate is opened to let them out of the communal yard. The horses walk themselves to the pasture that is currently in use and carry out a grazing bout (this usually last about two to three hours). During this time, they are free to return to the communal yard for a drink although they usually do not bother until they have finished grazing. After the grazing bout has finished the horses return to the communal yard for a drink. The yard is also where the shade/shelter is situated and is a safe, comfortable place to be. This copies what horses do in the wild, travelling between where water/food/shade/shelter is, albeit for less distance in the domestic situation.

After drinking, the shade/shelter and a soft surface in the communal yard encourages the horses to rest through the middle of the day (loaf) before returning to the grazing area for another grazing bout in the afternoon. At the end of the day the horses return to the yard to await you and any supplementary feed that they may be receiving. The horses can then either be confined to the yard overnight or can be given freedom to move between the yard and their pasture overnight, just like they did through the daytime.

In this system horses are never locked in a pasture, but they are sometimes locked out of it. Access to each pasture is rotated, allowing each pasture time to rest and recover.

When conditions on the land are unsuitable for grazing, for example too wet or too dry, you can increase the use of the yard to prevent damage to the pastures and soil. The land will then make a much quicker recovery when conditions improve.

The Equicentral System also has many other benefits:

  • The Equicentral System encourages the horses to return, rest and congregate in an area that has been designed to cope with the loafing behaviour of horses (unlike the pasture).
  • You do not have to go and get them. This is particularly handy if you have to see to your horses in the dark after work.
  • It encourages horses to move more (the water is only in the communal yard). Of course, this may not be very far on a small horse property, but it is better than no movement at all. When the grass is dryer the horses may have to walk backwards and forwards several times during the day for a drink. It all adds up!
  • Minimizes mud and dust. Horses do not hang around gateways waiting to be fed or let back in. This 'standing around in the gateway behaviour' causes soil compaction and bare areas.
  • Horses only spend time on the pastures when grazing. Pastures get lots of extra rest and recuperation as horses will happily loaf (stand around/snooze) in the yard for many hours a day. Studies have shown that this vastly reduces the time horses spend in grazing areas by more than 40%, and remember this is voluntary on their part.
  • The expense of installing water systems to individual pastures is spared. Instead of watering points in each pasture, water is only situated in the communal surfaced yard (but there may be more than one water trough in the communal yard) means that minimal water troughs have to be bought, installed and checked daily. The corresponding compacted/muddy area that surrounds a watering area and the tracks that develop to and from a water trough in a paddock are also avoided. Keep in mind that the horses are never prevented from accessing this yard and the water.
  • The expense of installing individual paddock shade/shelters is avoided along with the tracks that develop to and from them. Only one shade/shelter has to be constructed and this shade/shelter is in use every day of the year. The communal surfaced yard should have plenty of shade and shelter, this could range from a simple windbreak through to a full shelter, it all depends on your local climate/budget etc.
  • If the communal yard is positioned near the house or exit to the property, this means that in times of fire and flood horses can be called up to the yard (or can get themselves to higher/safer ground). It is very easy to train horses to come back to the yard whenever you call by periodically giving them a small treat for coming to you in the yard.
  • More manure is concentrated in the yard and less in the paddocks. This manure can be collected and composted for great benefits.
  • The amount of time that horses spend grazing can be controlled if necessary so that the horses can be allowed more grazing bouts when there is enough pasture and less grazing bouts when pasture needs a rest. Alternatively, horses that need to have their intake of grass reduced can be managed accordingly. In either case you simply call the horses to the yard (or wait for them to return) and shut the yard gate to prevent them from returning to the grazing area.

These are just some of the advantages of The Equicentral System, there are actually many, many more, far too many to go into in detail in this short article.

A few recommendations and ideas:

  • We recommend that ad-lib hay (low energy if necessary) is always available in the communal yard.
  • We recommend that you carry out pasture rotation.
  • We recommend that you keep your horses in herds.
  • The surface should be ‘all-weather’ so it can be used when conditions are too wet or dry in the paddocks. Bare dirt is not usually an option as it will be dangerously slippery and muddy when wet and dusty when dry.
  • This communal surfaced yard can also be combined with a training yard/arena to further save space and expense on a smaller horse property. It all depends on your budget, requirements etc. But keep in mind that the smaller the property the more the facilities need to be dual or even multi purpose whenever possible.
  • Individual yards/stables may also be necessary if you plan to feed horses concentrates (individual yards/stables where horses are to be confined for lengthy periods would also need water obviously). Feeding concentrates can cause conflict and so it is not usually safe to feed them to a group of horses yarded together.
  • Any necessary hay can be fed either in individual yards/stables or in the communal yard if the horses get on well enough. In this case the surface of this yard needs careful consideration as sand ingestion can lead to sand colic. Using large rubber mats can be a good way to feed horses hay on sand.

Again, these are just a few recommendations/ideas, there are many, many more.

In short, an Equicentral System includes:

  • Three or more pastures/grazing areas (for efficient pasture rotation). Lots more information about this in our book Healthy Land, Healthy Pasture, Healthy Horses.
  • A surfaced holding yard, this can be purpose built or an existing area can be adapted. Lots more information about this in our book Horse Property Planning and Development.
  • Shade shelter – preferably in the surfaced holding yard. Again, can be purpose built or an existing area e.g. stables, can be adapted. Lots more information about this in our book Horse Property Planning and Development.
  • One main watering point – situated in the surfaced holding yard (multiple water points can be placed in there within the same area if the herd is larger, but the idea is to not have them in the pastures if possible). Lots more information about this in our book Horse Property Planning and Development.
  • Minimal laneways, if possible paddocks can lead straight off the surfaced holding yard. If not, laneways that take horses to distant paddocks can be constructed (it all depends on your individual circumstances). Lots more information about this in our book Horse Property Planning and Development.
  • Remember: with The Equicentral System horses may be fastened in the surfaced yard (if conditions on the land dictate this i.e. too wet, too dry) but they are never fastened in the pastures or in the laneways.

However, The Equicentral System is not just about the layout and the infrastructure (surfaced communal yard, open gates, pasture rotation etc.) although they are vital to making it work, just as important is the philosophy behind it:

  • The Equicentral System looks at horses as part of an ecosystem rather than as ‘just living in a space’.
  • It recognises that you cannot look at one part of the horse or an aspect of their environment in isolation and that in fact, everything is connected.
  • It recognises that without healthy soil, you cannot have healthy bio-diverse pasture, or for that matter healthy horses.
  • It recognises that it is far better to work with nature and natural behaviours rather than work against them.
  • It recognises that keeping horses in any domestic system requires compromise.
  • It gives horses choice. This is a big deal for domestic horses, they can decide as a group, where to be and when. It gives the horses a ‘home range’ in fact, just like they would have in the free-living situation.
  • Above all, it recognises that we have a responsibility to make our horse management systems sustainable, not just environmentally, but ethically, for the well-being of our horses, ourselves, our families and our communities.

Of course, having all the infrastructure in place and doing everything by the ‘book’ is ideal, but horse keeping it is all about compromise (but without compromising the environment). You have to do what works for you in your situation, but at the same time think about the impact on your horse/s and the land that they live on. If something isn’t working, think (or ask) why. Sometimes a couple of small changes is all that is needed. This is a system that can evolve with your needs and the needs of your horse/s.

If you cannot put all the elements in straight away, think about what is achievable now, where are you having the most issues, what can you do now that will make the biggest difference. By continually making small but significant changes you can really make a positive difference to the equine lifestyle of you and your horses.

Even if you do not own the land that your horses live on and you have limited opportunities to make changes there is still a lot you can do. Stick with us and we will show you how.

Sustainable horsekeeping is about a lifestyle choice: The Equicentral System is a system that encourages the horse owner to work with natural processes to create healthy pasture for healthy horses that also conserves resources such as soil and water, whilst minimising environmental impact. The system becomes resilient, self-regulating and a good equine lifestyle is maintained.

The Equicentral System saves money, time, is much more sustainable than traditional horse keeping systems and fits in well with natural horse behaviour while at the same time allows good land and wider environmental management.

Take good care of the land that your horse lives on and in return it will take good care of your horses.

Here are just a few comments from people using The Equicentral System:

“I'm so happy and grateful I found this system! This lovely boy used to shiver in the rain even in a rug when we first owned him. Now he's fluffy and naked and grazing in the rain. He would run to shelter at the first drop now he can come and go as he pleases with fibre at all times.” Leanne Watson

“I have attended many of your seminars, property visits and talks over the years and always look forward to the next one. Getting back to basics and keeping things simple but effective is essential for horse health and happiness. I have already been converted into a ‘grass farmer’ making further improvements to my own property since the seminar. Thank you both, on behalf of all horses.” Lynne, Canberra

“I went to one of the talks in Taree a couple of years ago, (rather arrogantly thinking I'd know most of it already). It was life changing for me, my horses, and my paddocks. I now enjoy smugly comparing the biodiversity on my place compared to the neighbours!” Kathryn Warwick

“I bought the books and can't stop reading.... they are so, so informative and clear. Also, they are for lay people so a degree in horticulture is not necessary! I got them today ad my pasture is in big trouble and I was panicking - but even the small amount of reading I have done has given me a little more confidence and the ability to step back and think things through. It is going to take some planning and effort and I am feeling inspired.” Sharon Brown

Hopefully this has given you an overview of what The Equicentral System is about. Remember: this is just a very brief description. There is lots more to learn. Keep in touch and we will teach you all about Sustainable Horse Management!

Jane Myers and Stuart Myers - Equiculture

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