Grass Harrows: What, When and Why?

Correct maintenance of fields is key when it comes to offering year-round grazing to horses and other livestock. Incorrect land management can lead to irreparable damage to your fields, reducing your horse’s grazing and meaning you’ll likely need to feed additional forage.

One of the most important tools when it comes to land management is a grass harrow. Any field management program should include the use of a harrow, as it offers a variety of year-round benefits. 

What is a Grass Harrow? 

A grass harrow is a must-have when it comes to paddock and grassland maintenance. They are used to maintain and rejuvenate paddocks by removing dead grass, aerating the upper layer of soil, preventing the build-up of thatch and encouraging more grass growth.

In horse paddocks, a harrow will break up and distribute any droppings, speeding up the rotting process and producing a natural fertiliser. 

Harrowing can also help to level the ground and break up clods of soil. Levelling a poached section of the field will provide you with a larger area to re-seed, while the newly aerated soil will allow more water to get in, giving your grass seeds the best possible start. 

If you ride in a grass arena, harrowing will level the area and spread moisture evenly, reducing the risk of tripping or injury to your horse. 

When Should you Harrow? 

Many landowners opt to harrow their paddocks in late winter, when the temperature has slightly increased and the ground has had a chance to dry out. 

If you harrow when the ground is still wet, it can get churned up and damaged. Harrowing too late in the year, when the ground has become very dry, will make the process less effective. 

After harrowing, you can reseed if needed, or fertilise any areas which need extra TLC. Even if you apply nothing to the grass after harrowing, it’s important that it’s left undisturbed for around 6 weeks. 

What about Worm Control? 

Effective worm control is primarily down to good field management. While regular collection of droppings is important, if you have a number of horses in a very large field, it’s not always possible to remove all of the droppings. 

Another option is to harrow, which can break up the droppings and speed up the rotting process. The downside is that this can spread worm eggs around the field, and is a much less effective worm-control solution than collecting and removing droppings. 

Harrowing in the summer during a spell of hot weather can reduce the risk of worm eggs spreading. The UV light will kill the worm eggs while harrowing on a wet or dull day is likely to speed up the contamination process. 

The Importance of Harrowing to Manage Grazing

A lack of grazing is a huge issue for many horse owners and often leads to horses not getting as much turnout time as they should. 

The importance of correct field maintenance cannot be understated when it comes to providing horses with maximum grazing opportunities. More grazing and turnout will not only decrease the risk of a number of stress-related behaviours and reduce the risk of injury in horses, it can also save the horse-owner time and money that would otherwise be spent on labour, bedding and extra forage. 

If you’re regularly having to sacrifice your spring and summer fields in order to give your horse adequate winter turnout, your land management practices could be improved. Of course, many horse owners choose not to turn their horses out in winter altogether, and although this makes field maintenance easier, it can lead to a number of stress-related behaviours. 

Harrowing your fields in the spring will help the land recover after a winter of being grazed. It’ll remove weeds, aerate the soil and level out poached areas. 

Properly aerated soil will help the grass to grow faster in the spring, so you can turn your horses out for longer periods of time. Any leftover droppings that are spread around the field with a harrow will act as a natural fertiliser. 

Grass Harrowing: Your Yearly Timeline

The Importance of Harrowing a Grass Arena

Not everyone has access to an artificial arena, and in fact a lot of high level sporting action still takes place on grass.

Like artificial surfaces, the key to safe schooling and jumping on grass arenas is effective ground maintenance, as well as altering the horse’s level of work based on the ground conditions. 

In an ideal world, we would all be cross-training, working our horses on a variety of surfaces. Of course, not all horse owners have this option. Long working hours, lack of daylight in the winter and financial constraints mean that many horse owners have to make-do with what they’ve got when it comes to exercising their horses. If this is the case, it’s essential that the surface you ride on the most is carefully maintained.

Injuries to deep digital flexor tendons (DDFT) and superficial digital flexor tendons (SDFT) often occur during exercise. Unfit horses that are asked to work too strenuously are vulnerable to these injuries, as are fit horses who are worked too often on unlevel or incorrectly maintained ground. 

Good footing, balanced shoeing and the appropriate fitness level for what the horse is being asked to do can all help prevent tendon injuries and promote long-term soundness, but the importance of the correct ground conditions cannot be understated. A hard surface will ‘jar’ the horse on landing, while horses will find it harder work on a very deep surface, which can lead to soft tissue strains. 

The Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences attempted to show the difference between grass and sand arenas in one of their studies. What they actually discovered was that lameness was increased by training on patchy and uneven surfaces, while lameness was reduced on surfaces that were level and uniform. 

Rough, deformable surfaces also resulted in a variable load on the hoof, which makes the horse more vulnerable to injury. Harrowing can make a huge difference to the level and evenness of a surface, levelling out poached or boggy areas. By opening up the surface, the area dries evenly, meaning the footing is more consistent. 

Harrowing will also smooth out lumps, bumps and molehills, reducing the risk of horses tripping. 

While further studies are needed to suggest whether different surfaces can have a long-term effect on equine soundness, it is clear that a level surface is a key factor in keeping our equine friends sound. 

There’s no denying that paddock maintenance can be both costly and time-consuming, but when it comes to offering the maximum amount of grazing to your horses, it’s essential. Harrowing your horse’s paddock will help the grass to recover after a tough winter, and encourage greater grass growth. 

Please take a look at our grass harrow for sale, or call us on 01427 728700 for more information.

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