There are many ways to achieve what you want and just as many opinions on what is best when it comes to keeping your horses!
With so many variables and as each individual situation is different, it’s good to keep an open mind about horse-keeping models.
So let’s look at how a combination of two popular ways of horse and property management have combined.
My own experiment with an Equicentral system has been successful in certain circumstances. I’ve also seen amazing changes in properties converted entirely and with great success.
In case you haven’t heard, it’s a method of sustainable horse & land management based on a central ‘sacrifice’ area with access to a number of grazing areas, that allow rotation to conserve pasture health.
Developed by Jane and Stuart Myers – UK residents who have also lived in Australia, they teach people better ways to manage both horses and land, via their workshops and the Equiculture website.
I found it easy to implement for horses who can cope with unlimited access to grass, like my 30+ year oldies. They benefitted from coming into a central gravel-surfaced yard for shelter, rest, water, and bucket feeds. Their hooves rarely needed trimming with walking back and forth on a 20m stretch of gravel 3-6 times a day.
However, with my ‘fatties’ (10 horses and a mule) I’ve had less success, as they’re prone to subclinical laminitis.
During spring and summer, the Equicentral system hasn’t worked for them because I don’t have a large enough area free of grass to confine them in. When they have access to our (high in sugar and starch) C3 grasses 24/7, my horses suffer from laminitis.
The Equicentral system works well in warmer climates where horses seek water and shade several times a day.
But in our cooler Tasmanian climate, my horses were getting enough moisture from the grass to have no need to return to a central area for water or rest.
Movement is integral to keeping horses healthy so without motivation to seek resources (water, food, shelter) they tend to move less than the ideal.
Track systems are designed to keep horses moving when resources are spread around the track which also limits or offers no grazing.
I have used tracks since the concept first became popular in the early 2000s with Jaime Jackson’s Paddock Paradise book inspiring my own journey.
Tracks have always worked well for me in limiting grass and motivating movement.
However now that I’ve moved to a different property, and I’m aging, I’ve found there’s a real benefit in having some resources close to the house.
It’s handy to have the shelter and resting area close by for the convenience of hoof trimming, grooming, and giving a daily feed of minerals.
All tools and equipment are located together saving lots of carrying and long walks – perhaps not so great for the humans who need exercise too!
Currently, my horses are on a hybrid system (a combination of Equicentral and track) for 6-8 months of the year.
I allow them out to graze during the daytime, and this extends the use of each pasture they rotate through.
Their mineral feeds are given in the afternoon to entice them back to the track and central yard.
This allows me to shut them out of the grazing area as sugars in the grass increase. On frosty mornings they aren’t allowed out to graze at all and this is where giving them access to round bales of grass hay in Haysaver Slowfeed nets helps keep them happy.
Hybrid works best for me
In the spring and early summer when there’s simply too much grass for them, they are managed with strip grazing while on track confinement. This gives them more movement than a small sacrifice yard or paddock. I believe their mental and physical health would suffer if kept in a smaller, gravel-surfaced area.
On the track, their water, hay (in nets), and loafing areas are all placed well apart. They move between those frequently; sometimes slowly and at other times enjoying a good gallop!
As I have eleven horses (in two herds), this is very much a work in progress! I am developing my system to reduce the stress and over-work on a middle-aged body.
This has included extending the gravel track that the horses walk over to enter their central yard to 50m, which is helping them self-trim. That’s quite a bit less trimming for me to do and encourages natural wear patterns that assist my trimming practices.
I believe everyone’s situation is unique so being knowledgeable about all the options for housing and caring for horses helps you choose what works best for you, be it a Paddock Paradise track, an Equicentral system, or a hybrid of the two. There is a Facebook group that discusses all three methods of keeping horses called Equiparadise Natural Horse Systems here for more ideas.
Let me know in the comments below what works best for you, and why.