Question: I put a grazing muzzle on my fat gelding. He is ridden multiple times a week, but is an easy keeper. He shares 8 acres of pasture with one other horse. Should I leave the grazing muzzle on all the time or give him an hour of freedom without the grazing muzzle each day?
Answer: We know from past research that a grazing muzzle reduces intake by 30% and that some horses can become very adept at grazing through a muzzle. As long as the horse can easily access water and can tolerate wearing the muzzle, we recommend leaving the muzzle on all day for an overweight horse with access to pasture. A 30% reduction is calories (or pasture) should result in weight loss. Research has also shown that horses with access to as little as 3 hours of pasture each day can consume a majority of their daily calories and can anticipate and adjust to the restricted grazing schedule.
Owners should track their horse’s bodyweight and body condition score each month. Reduce the amount of time the horse is muzzled if excessive bodyweight and body condition is lost. Conversely, if the horse starts to gain bodyweight (or is not losing bodyweight), it might be best to house the horse in a drylot and feed a reduced calorie hay diet (i.e. mature grass hay). The goal should be for the horse to lose weight slowly but steadily. If excessive bodyweight continues to plague the horse, we recommend working with an equine nutritionist and your veterinarian to identify additional solutions for weight loss.
This article is reprinted with permission from Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.
Spring is an eagerly anticipated time for horse owners as it brings the opportunity to introduce their horses to lush, growing pastures. However, it is crucial to approach this transition with caution. Introducing horses to pasture too early in the season or allowing them to graze for extended periods can have negative consequences for both the pasture and the horses’ well-being
Allowing Adequate Grass Recovery
To ensure the health of the pasture and the horses, it is important not to turn them out too early. After enduring the stresses of winter, the grass needs time to recover. Ideally, the grass should be allowed to re-grow to a height of 6 to 8 inches, depending on the species. This regrowth period enables the roots to strengthen and store energy before being grazed.
Heading 2: Preparing Horses for Pasture
Heading 3: Pre-Grazing Preparation
Before horses are turned out onto pasture for the first time, it is essential to feed them hay. This step ensures that they do not have empty stomachs when introduced to the new grazing environment.
Gradually Increasing Grazing Time
The initial grazing period should be limited to 15 to 20 minutes. Each day, the grazing time can be increased by 15 minutes until the horses are comfortably grazing for about 4 or 5 hours. At this point, they can be allowed unrestricted time on the pasture.
Digestive Health Considerations
Allowing horses too much initial grazing time can lead to digestive disturbances. The microflora in their gut requires time to adjust to the difference in forage sources. To minimize this risk, it is crucial to gradually increase their grazing time.
Overgrazing should be avoided to maintain the health of the pasture. Ideally, pastures should not be grazed to below 3-4 inches in grass length. Otherwise, the pasture can quickly deteriorate into a bare area. Additionally, overgrazing promotes the growth of hardy weeds over desirable grasses.
Consideration for Rapid Growth
During spring, cool-season grasses can experience rapid growth, resulting in higher levels of plant sugars (fructans). Horse owners should exercise caution during this time to prevent issues related to excessive sugar intake. The use of grazing muzzles can be considered to help reduce rapid grass intake.
Manage Pasture and Horse Health
The proper introduction of horses to spring pastures is essential for the well-being of both the horses and the pasture. By following these guidelines, horse owners can ensure that their horses have a healthy transition to grazing, while also maintaining the long-term health of the pasture.