It’s that time of year when up here in the north the grass is finally starting to show itself. Paddocks are greening up. What appears is usually sturdy grass and inedible weeds. And rocks and mud. This is New England. It’s not enough for a horse to live on. They’ll still need hay.
Horses are greedy for the grass. They put their heads down and don’t want to budge. You might find yourself trying to drag your horse away from the stuff.
What we provide for our horses is usually carefully managed pasture and hand-grazing on lawns. This doesn’t provide for much variety for the horse which is why it is so interesting to watch what Tonka chooses to do when he has a smorgasbord under his feet.
This is the field in front of my house.
There is traditional grass lawn near the house, which segues into a variety of naturalized tall grasses and plants like goldenrod. Below the stonewall the ground is covered with low bush blueberries, wintergreen, lichen, berries and an assortment of other plants. This time of year, though, you notice the tiny bloomers.
Using his whiskers, lips and tongue, Tonka investigates the assortment of forage.
I hold the lead rope loosely and follow wherever he decides to go.
Tonka is eager to eat but he doesn’t stand in one place gorging himself. Free-roaming horses forage like this all day. They’ll cover more than a dozen miles eating and walking, nibbling and moving on.
I’m not sure how Tonka decides where to taste what’s on offer here. Scent? Visual? Both? Whatever, being allowed to graze like this, where there’s choice at his feet and he’s allowed to follow his whims, brings out his curiosity. I think that giving Tonka this time to investigate the field is part of why when I get on and ride he is so bold and sane. I think that horses need this tactile tasting of their world to settle properly into it. In a horse’s everyday world at the stable and in the arena, there’s not a lot of opportunity to explore their environment in this way that is deeply ingrained in their nature. If you have the chance, take your horse out on a sniff and taste walk. You might have to ease them into it. New things can be overwhelming. Find a weedy verge near your usual grazing ground. Explore the outside of the fence line. Give them time to take it all in. Soon you’ll both be having fun.
(If you have challenges with polite hand-grazing, start with this blog.)