Horses Shannon RunThe UK Horse Pasture Evaluation Program began in 2005 as part of the Equine Initiative to develop stronger ties with Kentucky's equine industry. To date, the program has performed over 200 evaluations, representing over 40,000 farm acres in 21 counties across the commonwealth.


    Grazing horsesOur objectives include: 1)Providing detailed pasture management recommendations to horse farm owners and managers, 2) Improving pastureland by increasing forage quality and quantity, 3) Reducing the need for stored feeds such as hay and grain, and 4) Assessing the potential risk of fescue toxicity for pregnant broodmares on pasture.


    Soils MapLexington is the Horse Capital of the World for a reason; rich, fertile soils lay under the iconic horse pastures. Limestone layers enrich the soil in phosphorus and calcium needed for growing foals into athletes. But soils are diverse, and understanding them is key to utilizing land effectively and managing it without damage. Soil mapping helps managers with farm layout and design as well as targeted practices to improve pasture stand diversity.


    Pasture Evaluation TeamManaging pastures begins with understanding what is there to manage. Determining species composition informs managers of the grasses, legumes, weeds and bare areas within a pasture. These components are important in making seeding, grazing and weed control decisions. Generally, we see 4 major forage species: Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue, orchardgrass and white clover.


    Tall fescue Tall fescue is a cool season, bunch type grass, naturalized to central Kentucky and found on most horse farms. However, it is often infected with a fungus, called an endophyte, that can be toxic to brood mares. Testing for the presense of this endophyte and the toxin associated with it (ergovaline) helps managers decide how best to protect mares and foals.


    The UK Horse Pasture Evaluation Program not only provides valuable information to horse farm managers, but also serves to educate students through internships, senior research projects and summer employment. Each summer, 4-6 undergraduates are hired to work in this program. Each student leaves with a better understanding of research, extension, and the horse industry in KY.


    The UK Horse Pasture Evaluation Program is part of the Forage Extension Program at UK. While extension work is state supported and therefore free to the public, the time, labor, and resources put into this program are not. Grants cover nearly two thirds of the operating costs, with the remaining covered by the participating farms. Pricing is based on the size of the pasture and the sampling performed. Contact us for a quote.


Pasture evaluations are conducted April - November, weather permitting, on any horse farm in Kentucky. Farms are serviced on a first-come, first-serve basis.

An initial visit will be scheduled to discuss the needs and layout of the farm. The evaluation will be done soon after and may take over a week, depending on the size of the farm. After all the data and lab results are compiled, a final visit with the state forage specialist will be conducted to walk farm managers through the entire report and provide time for one-on-one discussion.

Follow up visits are scheduled as needed. Enrollments are accepted year-round.


We understand that farms value privacy. Data collected on evaluations may be used for research or extension purposes, but all names, locations and identifying information is redacted.

Mill Ridge Farm sees success from UK Pasture Evaluation Program

Horse farm sees success from pasture renovations

Horses Grazing

Horses graze on pasture at Mill Ridge Farm. Photo by Jimmy Henning, UK extension forage specialist.

August 22, 2018 | By: Katie Pratt
Lexington, Ky.

To view the video, click here.

A Kentucky Thoroughbred horse farm is reaping the benefits of healthier mares and foals due to pasture renovations they made over the past year with guidance from personnel in the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

In 2017, Mill Ridge Farm in Lexington experienced significant foaling problems that appeared to Marc Richardson, the farm manager, to be classic symptoms of fescue toxicity.

“Last year, we had multiple foalings that required veterinarians to come out,” Richardson said. “We also had mares that did not have any milk production.”

Under the advisement of the farm’s veterinarian Dr. Stuart Brown, Richardson contacted UK forage extension specialist Jimmy Henning and Krista Lea, program coordinator for UK’s Horse Pasture Evaluation Program.

“The Horse Pasture Evaluation Program really started to help horse farms better understand pasture management and look at fescue toxicity,” Lea said. “Over the years, we have increased the size and the scope of the program primarily due to demand.”

Henning and Lea met with the farm personnel at Mill Ridge. They took forage samples from pastures frequented by pregnant mares. The samples were analyzed, and the results confirmed that the tall fescue in some of the farm’s pastures had high ergovaline levels. Ergovaline is a toxin produced by endophyte-infected tall fescue that affects pregnant broodmares.

Henning and Lea made recommendations that included completely killing off two fields with the highest ergovaline levels and reseeding them with bluegrass, orchardgrass and a little perennial ryegrass to help with forage establishment. This meant taking those two fields out of production for almost a year. They removed only the fescue in the other fields.

“We targeted the pastures that supported mares in the last third of gestation,” Henning said. “It lent itself to a narrow range of options and a focused response.”

Richardson and other Mill Ridge personnel have been pleased with the results.

“It is a complete 180 from last year,” Richardson said. “This year, we lost no mares or foals. The pasture renovations are what turned our foaling season around.”

Richardson said the farm plans to renovate one field each year until they remove fescue from all the fields through which pregnant mares rotate.

“It’s a big investment, especially the pastures we totally killed off and reseeded, but when you compare it to the cost of one trip to the clinic with a mare and foal or the loss of a foal, it’s not really very expensive,” he said.

Horse farm owners and managers who are interested in learning more about pasture evaluation should start with their county extension agent for basic recommendations and help in taking soil samples. They can get more detailed recommendations and samplings through UK’s Horse Pasture Evaluation Program.


Jimmy Henning, 859-218-0749; Krista Lea, 859-257-0597