Manage spring grazing to reduce laminitis risk

New pasture growth poses risks for horses prone to laminitis. Here are some precautions to take as fields go from winter brown to spring green.

When introducing your horse to a lush pasture in spring, limit his grazing sessions to just 10 to 15 minutes for the first couple of days.

Most horses are eager to chow down on the first green shoots of spring grass. But new pasture growth poses some risks, particularly for laminitis-prone horses, who may develop the devastating inflammation of the hoof’s soft tissues after ingesting too much sugar-rich early growth grass.

Here are some precautions you can take as your pastures are transformed from winter brown to spring green.

  •  Restrict grazing time if necessary. When introducing your horse to a lush pasture in the spring, turn him out on it for only 10 to 15 minutes on the first day, then increase the time by five or 10 minutes per day, to give his intestinal flora time to adjust to the new, richer food source.
  • Feed hay prior to turnout. Offer your horse his normal hay ration before turning him out. If he’s already eaten his fill, he’ll be less likely to overindulge on grass.
  • Use a grazing muzzle. These devices, which fit over the muzzle and restrict the amount of grass a horse can bite off at once, can reduce the amount he can graze during his turnout time. Grazing muzzles are especially useful for controlling the calorie intake of obese horses as well as protecting the health of those prone to laminitis. If your horse is at risk for laminitis, ask your veterinarian how much grazing and turnout might be acceptable, given your local conditions. For some, especially those adept at getting their muzzles off, year-round turnout in a dry lot might be the only option.

Even after you’ve started turning them out on pasture for longer stretches, horses may still need supplemental hay to get all the nutrients they need. Many toxic weeds grow quickly in the early season, before the grass is well established. If your horse is getting all the nutrition he needs from grass and hay, he’ll be less likely to sample different types of plants.

This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #426.




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