The Botanical Research Institute of Texas in Fort Worth has brought in a colorful herd of quarter horses to clean up their restored prairie. Photos by Karl Thibodeaux

Oct. 29, 2013

Some bleary-eyed Fort Worth commuters probably took a double take as they drove by the Botanical Research Institute of Texas in Fort Worth on Monday. Not the usual grounds crew, a herd of horses is munching on the internationally recognized research center’s lawn this week. 

BRIT’s restored prairie located on busy University Drive already attracted attention with its wild and woolly xeriscaping. The institute’s northside lawn, seeded with knee-high native grasses and wildflowers, aims to recreate the original Fort Worth prairie.

According to BRIT ecologist Karen Hall, maintaining it requires clearing old plant material. 

 “A prairie is like a miniature forest, the grasses are so dense,” said Hall. “Unless things happen, prairies will not stay that way.”

The horses were put on a diet of prairie grasses before they came so they’d wouldn’t introduce invasive species.

The BRIT staff recently discussed their options. Drought, fire and grazing mammals, like bison, elk and deer, typically maintained the prairies of the past. 

To keep the prairie healthy, they settled on herbivory, as it’s called, which has triple appeal. Hall said large mammals provide not only the mowing services, they also scatter seeds, help plant them, not to mention, add fertilizer.

As for finding the volunteers, horses which once roamed the continent, were chosen over other herbivores.

“Buffalo are not as domesticated and they’re harder to herd,” said Hall. “Cattle have a tendency to rip the grasses out of the ground.” 

BRIT ecologist Karen Hall with one of the ponies munching for science at BRIT. 

As a result, a dozen people-friendly quarter horses were ambling outside the windows of BRIT’s platinum LEED building beginning last Thursday.

By Monday, Kiwi, Misty, Candy and others had already chomped through a good portion of the nearly 3 acres. Hall predicted their work would be done by the end of the week. 

However, she admitted she’s already grown fond of watching them from her office window.

“My husband was worried this was going to make me want horses more,” said Hall. “He’s right.” 

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