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Horses + The Woods

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  • Horses + The Woods

    Hi there.
    I live in New England with quite a bit of woods. It's not dense woods but it's a lot of trees.
    How do you feel about having a wooded pasture? Of course it's not as ideal as rolling fields but would it be doable?

    Thanks for weighing in.

  • #2
    Part of my pasture is wooded. It has not been a major problem, other than when trees fall on the fence. The horses occasionally browse in the woods, but usually don't spend much time there. A few years ago, I had a horse who would chew on tree bark, and he killed a few of the trees. A second horse joined him in the chewing, but strangely, once the original chewer was gone, the second chewer quit doing it.

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    • #3
      Personally, I would not fence in woods for horses. The canopy of the woods will prevent grass from growing so the area would be of little or no value for grazing. As an earlier poster pointed out, trees falling on the fence will create safety issues - horses can escape or become tangled in the damaged fencing.

      In our area, which is just below New England, wooded areas contain a lot of rocks that jut above the surface. These rocks don't mix well with horses. Some horses learn to avoid the rocks....until they don't and an accident ensues. Maybe your situation is different.

      Some horses will chew the bark off the trees and this will leave the trees exposed to disease and insects which can cause the tree to die. The dead trees will shed large branches and eventually fall down if they are not removed. This is another thing to take into consideration.

      If the wooded area is already fenced, I would probably use it if the horses didn't have shoes, and it was rock-free, but it should be inspected for safety issues. Trees that have a "Y" in their trunk or trees that are growing together closely that could form a "Y" should be removed or penned. Other safety issues to consider are trees that are toxic to horses. Red maple, acorn producing oak trees, hemlock and others should be considered.
      Last edited by OneTwoMany; Jan. 21, 2020, 01:21 PM.

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      • #4
        I would be happy to have a wooded area as part of my pasture especially if it increased total area or gave shade or shelter. However I'd really want to patrol for hazards and make sure there was no deadfall the horses could get hung up on.

        Grass won't grow nearly as well under trees.

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        • #5
          My drylot is wooded and it is excellent for that purpose. It is high on a hill, drains nicely, great shade and breeze in the summer , but grows nothing. One of my other fields has some trees here and there but it still does grow grass. Probably depends on how dense your trees are.

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          • #6
            Sure! My horses hang in the wooded part of their pasture all the time. You do have to check for hazards more though, like a root that can emerge in addition to dead trees etc. On super windy days I don’t let them out because of tree hazards. Also, if you trim branches make sure you cut them all the way to the trunk. I either leave them natural or trim to the trunk. You don’t want half cut pokey things getting in their eyes.

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            • #7
              I have 6 wooded acres and 0 not wooded so I didn't have much of a choice. We also back to a state forest with a very specific type of environment and it's stipulated in our deed exactly how many trees we can cut per year (aka it will never be actual pasture). It's not the most fun or practical but it's do able. Fencing-wise, I did t-posts mixed in with using the actual trees as posts with hot tape for the reason that it's super fast and easy to fix when trees or branches fall on it. Our ground is also to rocky to put in traditional posts (we're on a serpentine barren). I also feed free choice hay year round since A) there's no grass and B) it keeps them from snacking on trees. Mud also can be a problem without the vegetation to help keep it at bay so I've invested in a good amount of crusher run and millings
              Wouldst thou like the taste of butter ? A pretty dress? Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?

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              • #8
                New Forest Ponies live in the New Forest.
                "Good young horses are bred, but good advanced horses are trained" Sam Griffiths

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                • Original Poster

                  #9
                  Originally posted by tabula rashah View Post
                  I have 6 wooded acres and 0 not wooded so I didn't have much of a choice. We also back to a state forest with a very specific type of environment and it's stipulated in our deed exactly how many trees we can cut per year (aka it will never be actual pasture). It's not the most fun or practical but it's do able. Fencing-wise, I did t-posts mixed in with using the actual trees as posts with hot tape for the reason that it's super fast and easy to fix when trees or branches fall on it. Our ground is also to rocky to put in traditional posts (we're on a serpentine barren). I also feed free choice hay year round since A) there's no grass and B) it keeps them from snacking on trees. Mud also can be a problem without the vegetation to help keep it at bay so I've invested in a good amount of crusher run and millings
                  We are on a nice slope that would let the rain escape nicely. We're on 3 1/2 acres and I think about one acre of that is open. My neighbors are horse folks on all sides (how have I been so blessed!?). One of them would like to turn their entire yard into pasture as well and potentially let our horses in together if they get along.
                  The wooded part is sparse and we would absolutely remove all the trees we could manage.
                  Personally... I think we can do it with minimal work really. Plus I like the thought of horses in a more natural setting anyways.
                  I've got a busy year ahead of me

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                  • #10
                    I have a grove of trees in one of my pastures. It's nice in the summer for shade for the horses.

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                    • #11
                      You need to know what kinds of trees there are and if they are safe for horse: ie, no black walnut or wild cherry. Also, I think someone mentioned deadfall. I once kept my horse at a farm with lots of trees. The owner told a story of a horse being stolen. All the horses came in except one, and he was sure someone stole it. While clearing out undergrowth in the pasture, which had not been used in years, we found the skull of a horse under a fallen tree.

                      Comment

                      • Original Poster

                        #12
                        Originally posted by imaginique View Post
                        You need to know what kinds of trees there are and if they are safe for horse: ie, no black walnut or wild cherry. Also, I think someone mentioned deadfall. I once kept my horse at a farm with lots of trees. The owner told a story of a horse being stolen. All the horses came in except one, and he was sure someone stole it. While clearing out undergrowth in the pasture, which had not been used in years, we found the skull of a horse under a fallen tree.
                        That is insane! My woods couldn't possibly hide something like that!
                        I'd only have two horses there and obviously if one was MIA... I'd be finding it!
                        I understand what you mean though. There are a few trees I'd take out for solely safety reasons.. many others to open it up more but I think I'd be in good shape otherwise!

                        The property was used for horses 30ish years ago and now has just grown in some trees. Minimal brush or nasty troublesome bushes of the sort!

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                        • #13
                          I have some trees and a lot of brush. The brush we'll be removing but leaving some trees (pines) for windbreak. I really would prefer not to have any though. Ticks are a HUGE problem around here and the horses pick them up from them.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            It really depends on what you are looking for. A clump of trees in a pasture can be a nice shade/wind break. It will eventually cause the trees to decline, but that will take a long time to be noticeable, i.e. decades for mature trees with only a few horses standing under them. Closed canopy (i.e. no direct sunlight) forest will have very poor grass. And poor grass tend to lead to horses stripping bark out of boredom or eating fallen leaves...
                            The problem, aside from falling limbs, roots to trip on, and things to run into, and such; is that horses seem to think they can eat trees. Not all horses, and not always, but I had one that turned into a beaver over night for no apparent reason And many trees don't agree with horses' digestion.
                            Black Cherry is immediately lethal as is the rest of the cherry and plum group. Black Walnut, Black Locust, and Red Maple all vary in toxicity from mild to lethal depending on the type of exposure, the time of the year, the tree, and the horse. Fall is the worst with Red Maple. Silver and Sugar Maples aren't quite as toxic but shouldn't be consumed in quantity. Acorns are no good in quantity, causing colic and or renal failure. Pine, hemlock, and spruce are just sticky, and especially attractive as rubbing posts for grey horses.... The birches and beeches aren't too bad though. Ash isn't bad, but the ash trees are all dying.
                            I prefer to have my trees outside my fence, strategically kept for wind breaks and shade. The trees are healthier and I don't have to worry as much about the horses changing their eating habits to mimic the deer. The exceptions are a mature pine stand, some scattered black birches, and reluctantly some middle aged Sugar Maples. But the maples are in a pasture that is never used in the sap season nor in fall. The horses are not allowed in the areas that are earmarked for quality timber production in 20-50 years time, mostly oak, hickory, black birch.
                            I'm slowly getting rid of the Red Maples and the Cherry family in all of my hedgerows, which causes me to cringe, because I like both trees and the cherries are great for the birds. But the toxicity levels are so high. I got dumb lucky once with maples, don't want to risk it again.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Risky for the above mentioned reasons IMHO .... mainly toxicity
                              Treat others the way you want others to treat you ~ on your threads !

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                Timely thread! We're moving to our new horse property in a couple of weeks, it's 14 acres and about 2/3 are wooded. It may be property specific, but I think you can keep horses on wooded acreage with proper planning and management.

                                I have some nice pasture, probably around 3 acres, but the barn is surrounded by woods. My woods aren't very dense, but I plan to buy goats to help clear the brush, and DH and I will remove all of the small trees.

                                I lucked out and the property already has wide, grassy trails going through the woods which lead down from the barn to the pasture. We have no climb perimeter fencing with a hotwire top strand. Easy to repair if/when branches fall.

                                Like other posters mentioned, I don't plan on turning out in the woods on super windy days, and plan to inspect the woods for hazards on a regular basis. I think my horses will really enjoy having some wooded turnout, plus I think the varying terrain is going to keep them fitter than standing in a flat, square paddock all day!



                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  Horses are creatures of the short grass steppe. They won't be "happy" in a wooded "pasture." And then there are the practical issues that arise from the trees, themselves (dead falls, poor soil, poor grass growth, potential toxicity, etc.).

                                  Note that the above does not preclude a nice copse of trees that can provide shelter from the sun or rain. Or snow.

                                  Can it be done? Yes. It is optimal? No. Might it lead to serious problems? Yes. Should folks do it? No.

                                  G.
                                  Mangalarga Marchador: Uma Raa, Uma Paixo

                                  Comment


                                  • #18
                                    When my family had our farm in CT we cleared the majority of the paddock area. The barn had trees around it and we used two trees for the cross tie area. We had a bit more land at 16 acres though. The fence lines were at the tree line so the woods wasn’t used as part of their turn out. We had a small section in the paddock with a few trees but by no means was it “woods.”

                                    Comment


                                    • #19
                                      One of my former trainers has two fields that have a lot of trees and only a little bit of open area. She uses one of those fields for the easy keeping ponies and the other one for an easy keeper horse and pony. She does nothing to improve the grass areas that are open. She basically uses them as dry lots. She feeds round bales as necessary in all of her fields. This way she doesn't need to muzzle the easy keepers and they can still have lots of turnout
                                      Oh, well, clearly you're not thoroughly indoctrinated to COTH yet, because finger pointing and drawing conclusions are the cornerstones of this great online community. (Tidy Rabbit)

                                      Comment


                                      • #20
                                        Horses truly are an accident waiting to happen.

                                        Our pastures are mostly short prairie grasses and in the draws and canyons we have cottonwoods mostly.
                                        Then we have mesquite, that is a willow species of tree by name, but mostly only grows to huge bush sized in our droughty region.

                                        Many horse traps and pastures are in the brush and horses surprisingly learn to manage without injury around all those sticks waiting to grab them.
                                        Helps that mesquite has wicked thorns that teach an unsuspecting horse to keep its distance.

                                        Now, horses love to munch on the new growth tender mesquite leaves and in the late summer and fall the very nutritious mesquite beans.
                                        Cattle and horses get very fat on them, some they eat right off the trees, trying to grab mouthfuls as you ride by and later off the ground when those ripen and fall.

                                        One night we had a ferocious storm, much thunder and lightning with it.
                                        We had four geldings in the gelding trap, a very bushy one.
                                        Next morning my little ranch horse was missing.
                                        Fearing the worst, went looking for him and found him hung up on a mesquite tree.
                                        Guess that in the dark and storm he missed avoiding it.

                                        At least he was sensible enough not to try to get loose on his own and tear big chunks off his underneath and back legs doing that, but stood there, waiting for help.

                                        I cut that one branch he was high centered with off and carefully got him out of there and he didn't even have a scratch on him.

                                        Some times, we get lucky:

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