After a long winter, spring has finally sprung and with it comes fresh spring grass. Believe it or not, fresh grass can cause more harm than good, which is why knowing the facts can help you to manage your horse’s time at grass safely. After all, we want to know everything our horse food contains and we should view grass in the same way.
Non-structural Carbohydrate Risks
There are a number of risks associated with non-structural carbohydrate intake including colic, laminitis and, weight gain. Grass contains simple sugars, which are produced during the day via photosynthesis, and fructan (the storage form of sugar found in the stem). It’s important that your horse avoids a high intake of fructan and/or sugar to try to reduce the risks of problems.
The levels of carbohydrates in pasture can fluctuate, making it difficult to predict the safest time to turn your horse out. It is recommended to turn out late at night and bring in by mid-morning to try and ensure your horse consumes the least sugar possible.
A grazing muzzle can be used to help to restrict intake of spring grass. Muzzles are not always popular, but they are an effective way to control intake – assuming you can keep them on your horse or pony. It is possible to try and plait the forelock over the muzzle to keep it on!
Prolonged use of a grazing muzzle can result in your horse’s teeth wearing unevenly; ensure that they are checked regularly by an equine dentist or vet. Monitor your horse’s teeth, body condition score and teeth during the time your horse wears its muzzle, so you can act accordingly if there are any significant changes. Also monitor the muzzle to ensure that it doesn’t rub your horse or pony.
Beware of late frosts which can sometimes occur in early Spring in particular. When it is bright enough for grass to photosynthesise but too cold to grow (under 5C) then sugar accumulates in the grass. This can present a danger to those horses already vulnerable to laminitis so keep them off the grass altogether if possible.
Removal From Grazing
A rapid growth of grass in Spring makes this period a high risk for horses very susceptible to laminitis. If you know your horse/pony is prone to this disease, turn them out for limited time periods, restrict the amount of grass they have access to, or in some cases, remove them completely from grazing. If you choose this option, you should replace the grass with a low sugar hay or appropriate hay replacer.
Hopefully this guide will help you to manage your horses’ intake of spring grass and keep them safe from possible dangers that spring grass presents. For more information about spring grass management, contact your vet or an equine nutritionist, who will be able to advise you on how to manage your turnout and help to prevent any risks associated with spring grass for your horse.