Strip Grazing vs Track systems

strip grazing description

Strip grazing Vs Track systems. Do you have a preference?

With the unusually hot weather this year there have been some quite spectacular thunderstorms
bringing with it a substantial amount of rain for much of the UK and warm weather coupled with
rainfall means one thing – grass growth.

Many of us (myself included) view strip grazing as a useful method of controlling the figure of our
good doers but I often found myself in a quandary as by restricting the grass intake, I was also
restricting movement. If I stabled him in the day to avoid the highest sugars in the grass he would be
confined and then when he was out at night he would have a limited amount of space to roam and
would stand at the fence line that I had moved munching his allowance.

Movement is a crucial element to keeping a sound healthy horse, the phrase ‘use it or lose it’ applies
to the biomechanics of how the horse works.

It was by making the decision to remove my horse’s shoes and go barefoot (I was persuaded by my
dressage instructor after she removed the shoes from her warmblood) that I found out about track
and equicentral systems. Below is a brief overview of both systems.

A track systems, or often referred to as Paddock Paradise is a management concept based on the
natural lifestyle of the wild horses found in the American Great Basin. Wild horses would often pass
over a wide variety of terrain including rocks, water, sand, mud and gravel aiding proprioception
resulting in strong and healthy hooves, bodies and minds. This concept is one that mimics the
horse’s natural desire to follow a path or track as a herd in close, single file formation as they seek
out food, water, interaction with others and rolling/loafing areas creating a ‘track’.

This can be emulated by providing corridors within your pasture/grazing paddocks by erecting a second fence
approximately 12ft in from the boundary fence line. However, it is essential that wider areas are
also installed for sleeping, rolling, etc. such as leaving an area at the top and bottom of the field
20 meters x 20 meters (just an example). Track systems often have very little grazing so access to
hay 24/7 is essential.

The equicentral system was developed to create an equine management system that’s sustainable,
time efficient and maximizes the health of your horse and pasture by exploiting the horses natural,
as well as domesticated, behaviour in conjunction with good land management practices. The
principle of the equicentral system is to link all fields/pasture with gates to a communal surfaced
yard area/dry lot/loafing area which provides shade, water and hay. By avoiding the use of corridors
and having an open gate policy, pasture will be healthier as the grazing/soil won’t become worn and
compact like you often see in gateways where horses stand waiting to come in.

Track systems encourages the natural behaviour of horses as observed in the wild which is to graze in the morning
for about two-three hours, then in the middle of the day return to a ‘safe’ zone (the communal yard
area) to sleep/loaf and then resume grazing later in the afternoon. At night horses can either be
confined to the yard area or given the freedom to move between the yard and their pasture. In this
system horses are never shut in the pasture, but they are sometimes shut out of it giving the fields
time to rest and recover.

According to Equiculture, studies have shown that horses are only
spending time on the fields to only graze and will come into the undercover surfaced yard area to
rest and recuperate/loaf for many hours a day. A surprising find was that horses were voluntarily
reducing their time out at pasture grazing by more than 40%! (Jane Myers and Stuart Myers (2019)
What is The Equicentral System?, [online] Available at: https://www.equiculture.net/what-is-the-
equicentral-system (Accessed: 19th August 2019).)

Like many of us, I keep my horse at livery and to manage my exceptionally good doers weight I’ve
pretty much tried everything! Previously I’ve had him stabled in the day and out at night with
weighed soaked hay in trickle nets, ridden twice a day, he’s been strip grazed in his paddock, I have
even mown his paddock with a lawn mower to reduce grass intake but he was still gaining weight.

As nothing was working I had him tested for EMS (Equine Metabolic Syndrome) by the vet and even
a heart rate monitor fitted to him while exercised but the results came back from the vet ‘sorry, he is
fit but fat’. The restriction of movement and lack of forage was causing me concern, surely there is a
better way? An alternative to strip grazing where he just stands at the fence eating his allowance in
all of 20 minutes and then standing with nothing to munch? Hey presto, my hybrid track system with
ad-lib hay was created!!

I’m very fortunate the yard is on free draining soil and I’ve lovely yard owners who allow me to keep
my horse (Bertie) on a hybrid system of the two mentioned above. If I had to compare my system to
one of the above, I would say it is more like the track system but with grass. Both my mum and I
keep our horses on this system spring – autumn as although we are on very good ground, it is still
England and quite wet in winter, so they move into the winter field which has been rested since
spring.
The aerial view image is of my hybrid
track systems  and as you can see the horses can
roam around the outside of their field up
to the top where there is hay available
and back to the bottom where there is
water (and shade has now been added
since this image was taken). After the
spring flush however we strip graze the
centre sectioned off area labelled
‘Standing Hay’ starting at the top furthest
away from their water so they’ll still have
to walk and maximize their movement.

This standing hay usually lasts until
August/September and has less sugars
than the short, stressed grasses on the
outside of the track. Another benefit of
sectioning off the middle area allowing it
to grow is that you can see what types of
grasses your horse is eating by identifying
the seed heads.

According to Grazing
Consultant Garry Holter Horse paddocks
should contain a broad spectrum of plants: 5-10 species of grass e.g. timothy, creeping red fescue,
smooth stalked meadow grass, and cocksfoot, plus 10-30 species of herbs e.g. chicory, dandelion,
sage, salad burnet which would be the equivalent of your horse’s 5-a-day in fruit and veg. (Gary
Holter. Managing Grassland for Horses – British Grassland Society, [Online PDF] Available at:

www.britishgrassland.com/system/files/Facts%20Holter.pdf).

In summary, the more natural movement and low sugar forage you can provide for your horse the
healthier they will be. Initially changing from restricted hay to ad-lib was terrifying as he was eating
so much I thought he’d burst but eventually he stated to self-regulate and he is the slimmest and
healthiest he’s ever been.