by American Stalls April 20, 2023
When striving to create a beautiful and functional horse farm, the focus is often on horse stalls, barns, and fencing. Creating a great space for horses to live certainly includes these important components so your horse can reside in comfort and safety. However, considering natural landscaping and adding elements to the property can elevate both esthetics and environmental sustainability. We spoke to Clay Nelson of Sustainable Stables LLC. to get tips for creating dynamic landscapes for your horse farm.
Understanding what types of trees and vegetation reside on your property is important to know for the safety of your horse. Nelson advises that there are many resources for determining plant identification. He suggested that local soil and water conservation districts can be a great place to start when evaluating a property. Additionally, Nelson also recommends getting a plant ID app for your phone. His personal favorite is PictureThis. Being able to identify plants quickly and easily can prevent issues of toxic ingestion.
Before you embark on eradicating every questionable tree or shrub off the property, Nelson warns against overreacting. He stressed that working with the landscape of the farm is all about risk management. He shared the example of a horse that is turned out by itself in a small paddock. If that horse is bored or hungry, it is much more likely to start munching on the overhanging tree limb, or branch that that has fallen into its pen. Providing stimulation of barn mates and access to consistent forage can keep a horse’s attention away from vegetation that can cause negative consequences.
Nelson advised that sometimes it can be the leaves or the fruits of the trees that cause more issues than the trees themselves. Horses can be rotated off those pastures when this becomes an issue. Fencing off clusters of trees and clearing fruits, leaves, and acorns can help mitigate risk. When building pastures, keeping the fence on the inside of the tree line will allow horses to reap the many benefits of the trees without direct access.
There are many practical reasons for having trees around a horse property. Nelson shared that row of trees, especially in the evergreen family, can create a great windbreak on the farm. This windbreak can be used on the side of a pasture, riding arena or adjacent to a barn. Similarly, trees can also provide much needed shade in those same areas. He suggested that brush rows, swaths of tall grasses, and vegetative swales can help prevent erosion and absorb excess water runoff helping to keep the soil in balance.
When choosing to add trees and shrubs to a farm, Nelson suggests thinking about the growth rate to determine the best plant type and location in relation to outbuildings, riding arenas, and pastures. Also consider how root growth can potentially disrupt buried utility lines, or if branches are located in an area where they can cause damage in the future. The arborday.org tree guide provides a resource that recommends how much spacing is needed based on the type of tree being planted. Nelson also recommends that whenever possible, using species that are native to your area will yield the best results, providing benefits that are low maintenance and beautiful.
A horse farm that is in harmony with the natural environment can yield many benefits when properly planned and managed. When thinking about your next farm project, don’t forget to utilize landscaping around the pasture and the barn. Arbor Day is April 28th this year, celebrate by planting a tree on your farm to improve both your landscape and the planet.