Tracked grazing is a revolutionary new way of applying grass protection and paddock management for domestic horses.
This method involves horses living outdoors 24/7, on the inner edge of a paddock, which has often been turned into a homemade track by the owner, as seen in the photos and diagrams on this page. The premise includes feeding horses lower sugar grasses in the form of hays and straws, often made from the middle of owners' tracks, provided through slow feeder hay nets, whilst the horse has access to limited grasses and other plants while being turned out on these tracks.
There are many variations of this approach, so if this interests you, there is a wide array of ways to implement Tracking. Whether running a long strip of electrical tape with temporary pigtails down one edge of a paddock or making every field into separate tracks with permanent posts and gravel, whichever way you choose to implement this approach can benefit our horse's health.
This style of grazing has been around for about 15-20 years so far and was initially developed to assist with creating a balance between a horse’s grass intake and their 24/7 turnout to prevent and manage horses at risk from conditions such as laminitis and what we have come to know as the term "Grass Affecteness", which is when horses get sick from eating unsuitable pastures containing high sugars and mycotoxins.
This "Paddock Paradise" approach, as it's also sometimes called, is being increasingly embraced by many as a useful tool to provide freedom and extra exercise for many horses, who would have previously been locked away in stables and yards and not enjoying their lives to the full due to this confinement.
This different approach to grass management has been found to work so well due to being able to limit a horse’s grass intake whilst still providing freedom to move and exercise to combat a wide variety of diseases and ailments often witnessed by owners when their horses have been grazing full-time on traditional pastures.
This is because a lot of green pasture grasses are unsuitable for horses due to their excessive levels of plant sugars and starches, often modified through farming needs for high weight gain for cows and sheep, all of which can cause a host of medical issues, including weight gain, and diabetes type symptoms, including harmful behavioural highs in addition to the grass toxins attacking the central nervous system for our equine friends.
Whereas the added benefits of Tracking have also been shown to improve these medical, temperamental and behavioural changes that some owners have previously been unable to achieve with their horses when grazing in the old-fashioned way of horses being on 24/7 full-time pasture.
Why does this work?
Horses naturally follow trails and tracks in the wild, as that is how they map their home ranges. So we can implement this natural behaviour for them by setting up an easy and cheap tracked grazing system from anything as small as a 1/2 acre upwards, as shown in the diagram above.
This encourages your horse to move their feet to eat and forage for food, which is excellent for general health plus all the extra movement improves circulation, along with having the bonus of developing excellent and strong barefoot hooves too, whilst restricting unsuitable grass intake.
This movement allows for 24/7 turnout even for those with grass restrictions like miniatures or horses prone to founder/laminitis.
Our team practices healthy scepticism, so we had to test this out thoroughly to see if it worked before recommending this method. Over several weeks, we used digital pedometers and GPS trackers attached to our resident herds' halters and monitored them on a track and then again on a traditional paddock. It definitely made a difference, and to our pleasant surprise, our horses walked - on average - 5000 more steps per day when on a track, compared to a traditional paddock of the same size/area.
This adds up to a lot more mileage over 365 days per year. It also meant we could restrict their green grass intake without keeping them locked in. This made us all, including the horses, feel better, especially for those in danger of developing laminitis/founder etc.
That was 16 years ago, and we have never looked back. We have experimented with many different approaches over the years and have since gone on to become more imaginative with our tracks, and added gravel, river stones, crushed lime etc.; placed the water troughs in strategic locations to encourage more movement of our herd; putting herbs in pots and a hay and straw blend in our slow-feed hay nets in various locations as to encourage the herd to forage for their food as to create more movement. You can Google for more info on this, and we recommend the following for in-depth info Paddock Paradise Book by Jaime Jackson.
Whichever way you decide to do it, tracked grazing definitely has many positive benefits, and we can highly recommend using this approach, whichever way you set it up for your horse.