It might sound crazy, but from spring of 2011 to the summer of 2015, a horse was my primary lawnmower! Keep reading to learn about how using livestock to mow my lawn worked for my property, saving time, energy, and money.
My story of how I started using horses to mow my lawn
My first horse farm was a modest home on 30 acres. The relatively large acreage provided plenty of space for my horses to graze, and except for penning them in a communal horse stall during winter weather and occasionally separating them when feed bags were insufficient to keep my alpha mare from hassling the rest of the herd during feed time, my horses lived loose and outdoors 24/7 on the 30 acres.
However, when I moved to my next farm, things shifted. That was the ending of my program of breeding Bashkir Curly Horses, as I was focusing more on my (not sold) online tack store. In order to be closer to the city and get more space for my growing business, I chose to move off acreage and into a century farm on the outskirts of a small city. This was a big change in many ways. From having 30 acres for my horses to roam but no lawn to speak of for the house, the new property had only small paddocks for horses but a large 3-acre lawn with perimeter fencing and gate.
Although I’d scaled back my horse ownership to just my riding horse and my favorite mare, I knew managing the horses in dirt paddocks would be a challenge. The pens were so small that grass was gone within days of moving in and I had the choice to choose between feeding my horses hay 24/7 and exercising them daily or experimenting with turnout on the fenced lawn around the house.
Naturally, I decided to experiment with the latter. The following spring, as the springtime grasses sprung up from dormancy, I began letting my horses graze on my lawns. Here’s what happened next.
Transitioning my horses to grazing on a lawn.
Obviously, any sort of lawn around a house or other facility, has a different landscape and different obstacles to navigate compared to a pasture.
As I began considering letting my horses mow my lawn, I had to think about how the horses might navigate things like gutter downspouts, flowerbeds, and even my decorative birdbaths and lawn decorations. To help the horses get the lay of the land, I only turn them out during the day at first. Letting the horses graze on the lawn in broad daylight, with the perimeter fence secure and the gate across the driveway shut, gave the horses a chance to get used to the space in broad daylight.
As summer heat descended on Missouri, I began to transition the horses to nighttime turnout. Since turnout required closing the gate (thus making it really difficult to leave the property or to receive deliveries) letting the horses graze on my lawn overnight was a better option. Plus, grazing at night meant that the horses could hang out lazily in the old stable during the heat of the day.
Eventually, I transitioned them fully to grazing the property starting at dusk and returning to their paddocks for a bit of breakfast in the morning before I opened the front gates. I absolutely loved waking up in the morning and being able to look out the window and see my horses just a few feet of way grazing in the front lawn.
Horses as Lawnmowers: How Did They Do?
While my horses definitely didn’t maintain my property to the same standard that a professional landscaper would, the truth is they did a pretty decent job. Horses have a fairly broad palate, so not only did they keep the grass trimmed, but also kept many weeds at bay.
Pros of using horses to mow a lawn:
inexpensive (well, if you’re keeping a horse anyway!)
horses bite grass off close to the ground, so the lawn looks trim
unlike mowing, it takes zero time or work from a person
cons of using horses to mow the lawn
horses will skip over their least favorite plants and weeds: about once every 4-weeks I needed to speed a riding lawn mower around the property to chop off the odd weed.
manure pickup may be required (my horses decided they preferred to poop in the tree line, which was great!)
you’ll need to review your landscape plants for potential toxins
ornamental plantings or flowerbeds may be trampled
If you are considering using horses to mow the lawn, I recommend giving it a go! If you don’t have priceless lawn ornaments, non-native ornamental plantings toxic to livestock, or curated flowerbeds you’ve toiled hours in, mowing your yard with a horse can be a creative and environmentally friendly way to maintain a trim lawn with curb appeal.
Although there are some trade-offs: like removing or spreading the manure, if you already have a fenced lawn with a perimeter fence and driveway gate, allowing your horse to mow your lawn can be a cheap and zero-effort way to keep your lawn trim during the spring and summer.
Never Feed Horses Mowed Grass Clippings
An important caveat worth mentioning in any article discussing both horses and lawn mowing, horses should never be fed lawn clippings. Although horses can graze on grass growing in a lawn (as long as it has not been treated with pesticides or herbicides) horses cannot eat clippings that have been raked or bagged from a machine-clipped lawn. These clippings can cause severe gastrointestinal upset in horses – causing colic and even death. This risk, however, is not significant when the horse is grazing on a lawn as they would in a pasture and only applies to grass clippings.
While not-mowing is often touted as the most environmentally friendly lawn maintenance practice, some research has found that mosquito populations are significantly higher in non-mowed lawns. Using horses to mow a lawn, then, may be a way to reduce mosquito populations without the environmental impact of gasoline-powered lawn mowers.