best horse pasture varieties

Asked September 20, 2013, 5:56 PM EDT

Horses have a habit of eating the shortest grass, then re-eating it down to the dirt.
Is there a variety of grass they will eat (prefer) in the longer stages and will recover if it is eaten down short?
In my pasture, they eat the shortest grasses down to the dirt before they will start on the taller grasses in the same section. I try to rotate them using electric fence,but they still eat some places down to the dirt and leave taller "orchard" grass (I think). the pasture has a mix of grasses, clovers and alfalfa.

Utah County Utah

3 Responses

Horses are selective grazers and will eat the shorter grass first because it’s leafier and higher in nutrients compared to mature taller grasses. They will also selectively graze the legumes (clover and alfalfa) before the grasses. They may also be avoiding the areas of taller grass because it is where they are defecating. Horses will not graze around areas where there are manure piles and urine, despite that the grass appears green and lush from the nitrogen in the animal waste. Do not drag the pastures as this only spreads parasite larvae, increasing the risk of infestation. If the paddocks are fairly small, and if you have time and labor, you can try removing the manure piles by hand.

It is great they you are trying to use electric fencing for rotational grazing and you may try increasing the number of paddocks (ie. More smaller paddocks) to promote more even grazing. You can also clip the pastures to keep them 6-10” in height and prevent them from going to see and keep them in a vegetative and nutritious stage. Horses should only be allowed to graze pastures until the grass is 3 to 4” in height. If grasses are grazed shorter than this, it compromises their root and energy stores and they cannot continue to grow and thrive and the pasture will eventually be killed off from overgrazing.

I have added more electric fence to protect the new regrowth and force them to eat the taller forage. Now is a good time to re-seed the areas that were eaten really short and what would you recommend? Bindweed recovers, lawn type clover seems to come back and some of the grass. Which varieties of pasture grass, etc. are better than others? I have noticed one type that is "thinner bladed" that they eat after other types for an example of what not to use.

Here is a site from Utah State that should answer all of your questions. You may also want to contact our state equine specialist or local county extension agent for information that is specific to where you live.

Pasture Establishment

Before starting over on a run down pasture, consider invigorating it with improved irrigation, fertilization, weed control and grazing management. If replanting is necessary or when establishing a new pasture, consider:

Seed Bed Preparation - Best results come with a clean, firm seed bed. An herbicide application (broad spectrum type, such as Roundup) may be necessary prior to tillage for effective week control.

Species Selection - Access to irrigation is the primary concern in determining which grass species to plant. Drought tolerant species are not as palatable nor productive but are the only realistic option when sufficient water is not available. Another factor to consider is tolerance to salinity and standing water if these conditions exist. If the site is free of these constraints, consider palatability and yield. Legumes such as alfalfa or clover are often included in pasture mixes. They may be killed by herbicides if weed treatments are needed after establishment.

Planting Considerations - Pasture planting is most successful when completed from March 15 through May 1 or from August 15 through September 15. Seeding rates for most species is 15 to 20 lbs/acre. Planting depth should b e 1/4 inch. Seed planted deeper than 1/2 inch will have difficulty emerging. Many small pasture owners broadcast the seed and then lightly drag the field to establish adequate soil contact. It is recommended that single grass species or a bunch and sod forming type grass be planted. Mixtures that contain a large number of varieties tend to lose their more palatable species, because the animals preferentially graze them. many of these pastures end up being dominated by Tall Fescue because it is frequently less palatable.

Legumes - A legume such as alfalfa or clover can be added to the mix at the rate of 1 to 2 lbs of seed per acre to increase forage protein and provide organic nitrogen.

Grazing - New seedlings should be protected from grazing and trampling until the plants are established enough so that they will not be pulled up by grazing animals. This can be accomplished by taking one cutting of hay before allowing animals to graze. Non-irrigated pastures may require two summers without grazing.

Pasture Establishment Forage Descriptions for Commonly Used Species


Meadow Brome - Sod forming, excellent palatability, strong seedlings, irrigated or non-irrigated with 15 inches or more of precipitation annually.

Smooth Brome - Sod forming, excellent palatability, weak seedlings, vigorous spreader, adapted to irrigated conditions. For grazing, plant certified endophyte-free seed.

Perennial Ryegrass - Relatively short-lived bunch grass, excellent palatability, establishes rapidly, low winter hardiness, requires high fertility, adapted to irrigated conditions.

Orchardgrass - Bunch grass, highly palatable, high producing, shade tolerant, irrigated or non-irrigated sites with 16 inches or more of precipitation annually.

Creeping Meadow Foxtail - Sod forming, highly palatable, well adapted to wet meadow conditions.

Intermediate Wheatgrass - Mild sod forming, highly palatable, excellent on non-irrigated sites with 14 or more inches of annual precipitation.

Timothy - Bunch grass, traditional feed for horses, moderate palatability, moderate to high production on wet meadows. It is poor for grazing during moist conditions as many plants will be pulled out thus thinning the stand.


Alfalfa - Very productive, excellent palatability, short-lived, irrigated or non-irrigated.

Strawberry Clover - Spreading moderate production, tolerant of wet and salty conditions.

White Clover - Spreading, high productivity, long-lived, irrigated or non-irrigated.