To Tree or Not to Tree

by Matt

That really is the question when you’re pasturing horses. Do you plant trees for shade for your horses and if so, what kind?

The typical bucolic scene of a horse farm is expected to include ancient giants their bending leafy branches toward the ground and your equine friends grazing happily beneath. It’s a lovely idea. Let’s look at the reality.

Trees can actually become a hazard to your horses in the pasture. If you live in an area with frequent thunderstorms with lightning that reaches the ground (which it often does), you don’t want your horses doing what comes naturally and gathering under a big tree during a storm.

Seventy percent of humans survive lightning strikes but it’s usually fatal for horses. They’re unlikely to be found quickly after a strike and it’s difficult to apply CPR to a horse. For this and other reasons, fencing trees off in the pasture is a good idea.

Another reason is so your horse does not chew on the bark. Some trees are toxic to horses (e.g., red maple, cherry trees, and black walnut). A good choice, for aesthetic and equine reasons, is a weeping willow. The horse can get under the branches not only for shade but to get away from flies.

Whatever you choose to plant, make sure it is disease-free, pest-free, and adapted to the soil type in your pasture. When you plan your planting, make sure you have a water source nearby or get a water bag that drips H2O onto the root line.

It’s not just in the pasture that most of us consider shade trees. You might want them to shade the roof of the barn or to shade a paddock. Keep in mind the potential for fire in your area. You don’t want to give fuel to a range fire or forest fire or allow fuel to lay on the ground drying out near equine areas.

Ideally you’ll plant something that is not too big but provides shade and doesn’t drop tons of leaves into your barn’s gutters.

Keep the trees’ full-growth characteristics in mind as well. Drives should be kept free of low-hanging branches so they’re not snapped off when that double semi of hay comes to deliver. There are a number of columnar trees that make a good choice for lining long drives.

When it comes time to plan a pasture, barn, or paddock area for your horses, remember that a tree is not just a tree when it’s growing where your horses live.

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