Penrhos Home PagePenrhos home page site mapSite Map permaculture design at penrhosPermaculture Design at Penrhos

back toPermaculture for horses

[prepared for the 1998 renewal of temporary planning permission at Tir Penrhos Isaf]


Permaculture Design and Horses.


Increasing numbers of horses both locally and nationally and consequent environmental degradation.

Over the past fifteen years we have been very aware of a large increase in the number of horses kept locally; for example, between Llanelltyd and Dolgellau (two miles) numbers have increased from 3 to over 30. In the same period the number of horses has risen nationally as well. Unfortunately, the keeping of horses often goes hand in hand with poor pasture management; fields degrade to horse lawns with areas of nettles, docks, thistles and ragwort and consequent soil compaction and loss of diversity. Horses are often kept on hard feeds that are not always appropriate, the growing of which on large scales often causes additional environmental problems. Further, horses may be kept in isolation or boxed for long periods leading to various psychological disorders and consequent problems including serious injury to both horses and those having to handle them. The awareness of these challenges and our background in Permaculture led us to design courses and training methods based on the ethics and principles of Permaculture Design which could be applied locally and nationally. This strategy can be applied to all livestock.

We included horses as one aspect of our initial design due to Lyn's level of expertise (over thirty five years of experience, twenty five professionally). Lyn's involvement with both horses and Permaculture led her to follow the work of Monty Roberts and this confirmed a key element in her understanding of horses and her ability to design whole systems related to horses. She attended the ten week Preliminary Certificate in Horsemanship course designed and approved by Monty Roberts, in Oxford and also, as a guest lecturer, at Kelly Mark's invitation, gave an Introduction to Permaculture Design on that course. We have since had clients from many parts of Britain, some of whom have brought their own horses for successful re-training.


Designing sustainable systems for the keeping of horses.

Over the last eleven years the site has been developed in such a way as to provide niches for a variety of livestock including goats, cattle, pigs and in particular, horses. This has included contour fencing and electric tape to minimise damage to pastures, the planting of various forage tree species along field boundaries and divisions, the growing of early and late season green crops as cut and carry fodder, research into native fodder species and traditional practices and the development of composting techniques to make full use of animal manures.

By applying the ethics and principles of Permaculture design to the management of horses we have developed a considerable body of knowledge relating to this subject. The Permaculture for Horses Courses cover the ethics and principles of Permaculture, the environment and behaviour of wild and feral horses in comparison to those of domestic horses, equine language and behaviour, design strategies, pasture management for diversity, diet, nutrition, shelter, employment opportunities and integrating horses into sustainable systems. The results, we believe, are healthier landscapes, horses and people.


Horse related work as one of the holdings poly-incomes.

Permaculture Design is concerned with generating sustainable systems. One of its central ideas is that a poly-culture is more stable and resilient than a mono-culture. As in current thinking with regards to agricultural diversification, Permaculture Design has always considered that a poly-income (or multiple income) is more sustainable than one sole means of deriving a living. With only one form of income, changes in the market as a result of changes in public opinion, for example, can threaten the whole holding. In contrast, a poly-income allows a holding to respond more effectively to such changes in markets; the livelihood is spread through a variety of types of work and any income which is adversely effected can be reduced to a maintenance level if necessary until the situation changes.

In Permaculture design we consider somewhere between 3-5 incomes as being about right for a family holding. If there are too many different incomes the occupants can become spread too thinly and will not have enough time or resources to manage each income effectively.

From the perspective of Permaculture Design, the various incomes should reflect the qualities, capabilities and needs of the site, the individual occupants and the community. That is to say, we could consider that a particular income was viable if the site could support it (without suffering environmental degradation), if the occupant was skilled in that particular field and capable of carrying out the necessary activities and if there was a demonstrable need for the service or product in the community.

In our initial application we emphasised that we would be setting up a poly-culture where income would be derived from several related sources, all based on living at the holding. Because of our early involvement in Permaculture Design in Britain we were initially one of only a very few sites offering courses and were therefore able to attract participants from a wide area, (one student travelled by train from the Soviet Academy of Science in Czechoslovakia). As we have said in the past, as the interest in Permaculture grows in Britain so too will the number of other sites offering courses, so people will not have to travel as far as previously. We still teach a number of basic courses annually but there is now more demand for specialist courses in various aspects of Permaculture design; for example, we provide Advanced Design Courses on aspects such as Wilderness Regeneration and Smallholding Design as well as Permaculture for Horses.


Relation of horse work to other operations on the holding.

As said above, in Permaculture design, each income in a poly-income should relate to and support the other incomes. By integrating each element within the system, beneficial connections can be made. Surpluses or "waste" products from one element in the poly-culture can be turned to advantage by another element. In this way, overall inputs can be reduced. The horse aspect of our holding is thoroughly integrated with all other major elements as outlined below.

The Permaculture For Horses Courses expand our existing range of Permaculture Advanced Courses. Training of horses and owners in Monty Roberts' methods and principles provide an integral part of that service. Both cater for horse owners within the local community and the wider public and have met with a good response.

Management strategies of conservation areas on the holding, including wildflower meadow, forest clearings and marshes, benefit from appropriately timed grazing by horses. In controlled numbers and with careful timing they are the best grazers for the management of conservation areas as, unlike sheep, they do not impoverish the diversity of the sward.

Composts made from horse manure and bedding is an essential ingredient in the horticultural element of our income; that is, the vegetable box scheme, outside beds and plant propagation. We now produce over one thousand litres of compost per year (this would cost several hundred pounds to buy) and will be able to offer bags of organic compost to our food and plant customers from 1999 onwards.

We have permission from the Forest Enterprise Conservation Ranger to use horses in our contract to control tenacious species in our area of Coed Y Brenin, for surveying work and the extraction of isolated plants such as rhododendron. In our initial application and the 1994 renewal we emphasised the potential benefits of using horses to extract timber in sensitive areas.

Surplus biomass from management operations of other aspects of the holding such as soft/hard fruit prunings, high pruning of timber trees, thinnings, coppice "waste" and non toxic "weeds" provide valuable additional feed for the horses and other livestock. Thus, what were just maintenance operations become a form of harvesting.

Lastly, horses mix well with other grazing species; cattle eat over lush grasses not suitable for horses, sheep help to keep the pasture free of equine parasites and eat out the "roughs" so often seen in horse "lawns". The integration of horses with other grazing species is to the overall benefit of the livestock and the pasture.


[Planning permission at Penrhos]

Dixon 98

back toPermaculture for horses

Penrhos Home PagePenrhos home page site mapSite Map permaculture design at penrhosPermaculture Design at Penrhos