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The Best Hedging for Horses

Hedging for Horses

Not only do we have a fantastic range of hedging, but horse friendly hedging is a subject especially close to our hearts as we are in Somerset and close to Dorset and Wiltshire - all counties full of keen horsey folk. Keeping horses and ponies safe in their fields is key so hang onto your saddle for an extended trot through the options.

There are several choices of fencing options but all have their drawbacks:

- post and rail: expensive, rots in the end and horses chew wood for fun!

- barbed wire: a complete no-no

-wire: needs a top layer of timber or plastic tubing to make it safe and the posts are either expensive or rot.

-hedges.....aaah.... you see the drift!...because this is where we come in.

Horse hedging performs three roles: physically it contains your horses in their field and simultaneously keeps other animals out; it offers shelter against winds and rain in winter and the sun and flies in summer, and once established it adds to your horses' diet providing valuable forage.

Quite a bit of hedging is needed to surround a paddock or cross a field.

So if economy is at the front of your mind, then we always suggest that your hedge is either all or predominantly Hawthorn (aka quickthorn) as it is the backbone of almost all country hedging and about the cheapest and toughest hedge plant there is.

For a bit more variety mixed native hedging is the way to go. All of the plants in our recommended hedge mixes are native to the UK and each comes into its own at different times: variety is the spice of life for a horse's diet too! Aesthetically, native hedging looks better because it blends into the landscape. Environmentally it provides a corridor for wildlife to move from one habitat to another, a sanctuary for insects, and therefore board and lodging for birds. 

So next up in terms of price is the Economy Hedge Mix – 70% hawthorn plus 10% each of three other native varieties. Please note that it contains blackthorn which some horse owners do not like - although it is widely found in paddock hedging.

For much more variety, take a look at our Stock Friendly Hedging Mix – 50% hawthorn plus 10% each of five other horse friendly hedge plants (no blackthorn here...)

Prepacked mixes are always the most economical way to buy hedging. The downside is that you have to trust us to the plants they contain (although they will always be alright to use with horses).

So you can, of course, concoct your own hedge recipe. If you choose to go this way then always start with Hawthorn and do not let its proportion drop below 50%. Then make up the rest of your mix from some of the following:

Field Maple, Guelder Rose, Hornbeam, Cherry Plum, Dogrose, Sweet Briar, White Ramanas Rose and Red Ramanas Rose, Hazel and Common Dogwood.

Stay away from plants such as Spindle, any of the Buckthorns, Holly and Blackthorn. They may be fine for other livestock but they are not suitable for equine hedges.

If you would like to have some mature trees in the hedge as exclamation marks for interest and for shade, grow some Willow, Mountain AshSilver Birch or Small Leaved Lime

If you plan on doing this, buy them as whips (small plants) and mark them with a solid stake in the hedge. Some people put them inside tubular tree guards. When you cut the rest of the hedge back very hard in the first two years, leave these trees alone. When they have reached about 2-2.5 metres, cut the top couple of inches off between November and the end of February and they will produce side branches just below the cut.

The good news is that if you keep your hedge well maintained and protected it should be stock proof in about five years. This means that in addition to using spirals and canes against normal rabbit predation, you need to bear in mind that horses find ripping newly planted hedges out tremendous fun (horseplay..!!). So you will need a temporary fence/ electric tape that is 2m away from the hedge otherwise your horses will be nibbling away at all of those soft buds as well.

Protected plants grow away quickly and bush out in no time. Plant in a double row which means staggering 5 plants per metre in two parallel rows 40 cm apart. See our video on How to Plant a Country Hedge.

For a belts and braces approach plant either side of a post and rail fence.  And however tempting it is to use some of that home-made manure, fresh horse droppings on young roots burn them so only use well rotted manure (that means over a year old!) to add to your planting trench or to mulch. And not too much – it is very rich.

The hedge height you need to achieve is between a metre and a metre and a half for ponies and horses depending on how Thelwellian they are. A stallion probably needs two metre high hedges to be secure.  And as a final note, if you are planning to take out a hedge to replace it with a more horse friendly version you may need to apply to your local planning authority for a removal notice .....more fun and games - but it will be worth it and rosettes will be awarded for commitment to the cause! Tally ho!

On that happy note, we would not be doing our job properly if we did not warn you off the hedging plants that must be avoided altogether because they are poisonous to horses. The three that most people are aware of are Sycamore, Maple and the acorns from Oak trees. It is the seeds of the Sycamore (Acer Pseudoplatanus) that have been associated with Atypical Myopathy in horses. This disease presents with stiffness, tremors and muscular weakness in horses usually in autumn where pasture is sparse. In about 70% of cases, it can be fatal. It is not a proven connection, but many cases have been linked with the presence of sycamore seeds which are made more attractive to the horses by the lack of grass. Grazed in good pasture the horses would no doubt ignore them! Field Maple (Acer campestre) is in the same family as Sycamore and consequently many people feel a little windy about including it in horse hedging. Oak trees per se are fine: it is the acorns that do not agree with horses so if you have an existing Oak tree you can still graze your horses in the field but you just need to fence it off (or use an electric fence to do so in autumn) so they cannot get hold of the acorns, or just rake them up when they fall. The other villains of the piece are Yew and Laburnum as the most toxic while Box, Broom, Leylandii, Laurel, Rhododendron, and Privet are pretty horrible as well. We tend not to recommend using Blackthorn either because of the risk of the very large thorns that might impale an eye or flank.

These caveats aside, a field demarcated by a horse friendly hedge will be a fantastic investment on so many levels, adding to the long-term bio-diversity in your area, looking beautiful at all times of the year, and much better for your horses than a sugar lump! Just to think that if you engage stirrups and trot on,  five years from now you could have your very own version...

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Thank you, The Ashridge Nurseries Team.

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