The combination of overgrazing and the wetter weather of autumn can quickly make land become waterlogged and muddy, especially in the areas where horses like to congregate. This is particularly true in areas of clay soil, where drainage can be particularly difficult.
Careful pasture management is key to avoid boggy water, icy patches and churned paddocks. To minimise problems, you should:
1. Ensure that gates and troughs stand on a hard surface with appropriate, well-planned drainage. Troughs, taps and pipes should also be well insulated to prevent freezing later in the autumn and in winter.
2. Split and rotate fields to prevent poaching: temporary electric fencing can come in handy for this. Having some all-weather turn-out paddocks for autumn and winter is ideal.
3. Check that your fences are safe and fit to withstand the cold, damp weather
4. Maintain ditches and waterways by removing any build-up of plants or debris.
5. Plant horse-safe trees to help absorb excess water.
6. If you don’t have them yet, install hard-stand access tracks to your paddocks, as dirt tracks will rapidly become muddy
Weeds can thrive on wet land so it is essential that you regularly check your pasture for the growth of hazardous species, some of which can still be poisonous when dead. Similarly, some trees can release seeds that are a health risk to horses and often plants are still harmful when dead.
This is what you should watch out for in autumn:
1. Ragwort should have been removed in spring before it flowers, but it pays off to continue to remain vigilant as the plant continues flowering until the end of October. For advice on the removal and identification of ragwort, please visit the BHS.
2. Ragwort still poses a threat even when dead so it is important to check haylage and dispose of the plant away from areas where horses are kept.
3. Keep horses away from poisonous seeds. Acorns and sycamore seeds are the best known ones but the list is extensive.
4. Some species of plants are also unsafe for humans so wear protective gloves, clothing and masks when handling and keep away from young children.