Friday, April 11, 2014

Spring 2014

Greetings Everyone,

Spring brings about many challenges, especially whether or not to allow your horse to graze on newly grown pasture.  There are certain "rules" we follow regarding the night time temperatures, time of day, amount of sunlight, etc. but the bottom line is  -- spring grass tends to be higher in sugar and later in the summer season.
Do we restrict it? Perhaps -- it truly depends on the horse.  Horses will typically overeat pasture, not only because it tastes good, but because they have been confined to eating hay and now have this wonderful food that they crave.  What's interesting is that horses who have hay most of the time will eat pasture at a much faster rate than horses who are allowed to grazed on pasture 24/7.

What are your experiences? How many of you have horses who have developed laminitis during the spring? What are your success stories?  What are your frustrations?  Let's see what we can figure out.


  1. Do you think that horses that have been on hay while pasture is dormant eat more when pasture is available because they have been meal fed 2-3 times a day on the hay rather than fed continuously through slow feeders such as the Freedom Feeder as an alternative to pasture? These nets have the capacity to allow them to continue to have hay available 24/7 and the 1.5" holes mimic the feel of pulling grass from pasture.

    1. Hi Melissa,

      I know that horses who are fed hay, in a restricted manner (with gaps in between feedings) will gorge themselves initially when given hay free choice (even with a slow feeder such as the Freedom Feeder). And, as you have correctly indicated, they will eventually slow down and eat more normally, once they get the message that the hay is always available.

      But, it has been shown that horses who receive hay instead of fresh pasture, will overeat pasture when they are allowed to graze. I am not certain if studies have examined free-choice hay vs restricted hay regimens, but I gather that because they far prefer pasture, they will consume much more per hour, than those horses who are on pasture 24/7.

      Mimicking pulling grass from pasture is certainly worthwhile, and goes a long way toward helping horses feel more like they are grazing. But, I'm sure you'll agree -- if a horse can enjoy living grass, it would be best for their overall health. My goal is to get them back to a metabolic condition where they can enjoy fresh grass again.

      In the meantime, and to help them get there, your Freedom Feeder is an excellent choice.

      Best wishes,
      Juliet Getty

  2. Many thanks, Juliet, for this topic. In my geographic location (the lush Pacific Northwest), local nutritionists describe our grass as 'rocket fuel'. The vets jump up and down about being careful with it. Our horses are on pasture almost all of the year, with hay supplemented in the winter months. In spring the herd has a break from pasture for a month while the grass roots regenerate, and then are slowly re-introduced, adding a half hour at a time, to their summer schedule of 3 hours in the am, sacrifice field for middle of the day, and then 2-3 hours again in the pm. The herd seems to accept this schedule and graze, play, snooze and relax while in the field. My vet wants me to muzzle our 21 yr old (very fit, well exercised) pony when the herd is on the spring grass fields because she previously became laminitic at a boarding facility which had free feed 24/7 (hay + pasture). I understand you have seen grass muzzles be very stressful for horses, and I agree they are not ideal. However, if I don't muzzle, I have two choices, either leave her on the grass as much as the other horses, which my vet cautions against, or remove her from the grass earlier than the other horses. If I separate her from the herd, she will also be stressed, and get into the habit of eating the grass even faster to make up for the lost time. She does not appear to us to be upset by the muzzle. We take it off when she comes off the pasture at mid-day, and if her weight is good and there are no signs of metabolic issues, it stays off when she is on pasture as the summer progresses. I feel this is a success story in that we have avoided further damage to her without the appearance at least of undue stress. But, I am interested in your take on it -- do you believe we could achieve the same result without the muzzle, despite her earlier experience with full unrestricted access?

    1. Hi Jenna,

      What I am "hearing" you say is that your current regimen is different than the one your pony experienced that led to laminitis. Currently, all of your animals are slowly re-introduced to pasture, building up to 3 hours in the am, pulled off of pasture in the afternoon, and then allowed to graze at night for 2-3 hours. But, your pony became laminitic when she had pasture (and hay) 24/7. These two scenarios are quite different. And it may be that she can enjoy the same feeding pattern as the rest of your horses because she would not have grass 24/7.

      Nevertheless, I understand your concern because once a horse experiences a laminitis attack, the likelihood of another is higher.

      Grazing muzzles affect different horses differently. Some have become so adept at getting grass through the small hole, that it really doesn't offer much change. And because she has to work very hard to get grass, she may even be eating more than she would without it. You would have to watch her closely to see if this is the case. But, if you feel that it is, in fact, working and she is able to get some, but not a lot of forage, it may be worthwhile to use for a short period of time. I recommend that a grazing muzzle (if well accepted by the horse) be used for no more than 3 hours at a time.

      I am not clear about the time of day you allow for grazing in the pm. The "most dangerous" time of day is around 5:00 pm, after a sunny day. So, you could consider putting them out at night, around 9:00 pm and letting them stay out all night, bringing them in around 10:00 am the next morning. This would help them slow down their consumption of pasture, since they would not be as restricted from it, and they would get the health benefits of eating fresh grass.

      Getting back to your pony... you may want to test your pasture so you can have a better sense of what your pony is consuming. Then, you may feel more comfortable allowing her to graze without the muzzle. And don't forget exercise -- movement, even 10 minutes a day, makes a big difference in her metabolism.

      Best wishes,
      Juliet Getty :)

    2. Many thanks Juliet. You are so right, the conditions under which our pony foundered before were very different. Both environmental and physical -- she is very fit now, exercised pretty much every day, 2 dressage lessons/week, trail riding & conditioning for limited distance endurance riding. So, her metabolism is going to be quite different from her former life as well.

      She is good at getting the grass thru the muzzle hole but I think it still slows her down. She never has it on for more than 3 hours.

      You raise good points about when we are grazing our herd. We have started the process of spring grass transition with a 30 minute graze period from 8:30 pm to 9:00 pm. After a week of this, we will extend the time period to 8:00-9:00. The following week we add 30 minutes in the morning, 9:30-10:00, and shift that one backwards the next week so they have an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening. Similar additions incrementally after that until we are up to 3 hrs am, 3 hrs pm. That should get us thru the worst period of spring grass. During this time we make sure the horses have hay on board before they head out to the grass. They come off the pasture at night but the sacrifice field is ~2 acres and has grass also. Just with 6 horses that grass doesn't get really long if they are on it alot.

      I am now researching where I can get our pasture tested. I would love to have her graze without the muzzle!

    3. Hi Jenna,

      Sounds like a good plan. Just keep in mind that the earlier in the evening you get, the more sugar/starch there will be in the grass. Once the sun sets, the grass starts to use up its own sugar/starch for energy, so by 9:00 pm it has significantly lowered; therefore, it would be better to move toward the later hours, rather than earlier ones (of course, it wouldn't be reasonable for you to get out of bed at midnight to let them in!). But, do what you can to avoid putting them out while it is still very light outside.

      You can send in a pasture sample to Equi-Analytical Labs: They have instructions on how to test pasture; you'll want to call or email them to get a forage collecting kit. It would be good to get the minerals, too, so I recommend their Equi-Tech test. I believe they still charge $28 for it. I agree, this would be the best way to know if your pasture is safe -- test at two times of the day for the best information.

      Juliet :)

  3. Do you think it could be because of the nutritional deficiencies in hay vs pasture? The horses are eating more hay because they are trying to get their needs met? I've seen supplements (Equipride by Sweet Pro) claim that when the horses are fed the supplement they consume less hay because they are getting their nutritional needs met more. It's a tough balancing act when there isn't any fresh pasture like those of us in California. Thanks for your wonderful insight and input Juliet.

    1. Hi Melissa, I am very reluctant to suggest that horses will eat less hay if their vitamin/minerals needs are met and conversely, they will eat more, if they need more vitamins/minerals. I suppose there could be some impact, but I do not think it would be significant.

      My horses get hay and pasture 24/7. They choose pasture, of course, but they do not eat less of it because they also get a vitamin/mineral supplement. At least, not that I would notice. They eat what they need to maintain digestive health and to provide enough calories.

      I do notice, however, that they eat less hay when they have enough forage and did so even in the winter when there was no pasture. When they have enough forage, they are comfortable and are not chewing and chewing to relieve the discomfort of acid accumulating in their stomachs. But of course, I'm preaching to the choir!

      One last thing... when hay is highly digestible (low NDF), horses eat more of it than when it has a high indigestible fiber component. If they naturally ate more to get what they needed, they would eat more of the poor quality hay, but they typically do not.

      A lot of it boils down to the individual horse, his overall health, caloric needs, and digestive condition.

      Juliet ;)

  4. I am new to this idea of free access to hay. I had two horses. One, a Morgan 19 yrs old, died two weeks ago. He had Cushings. We were trying to figure out what to do with him as spring was coming. He was doing fairly well after foundering last fall. It was so sudden...he colicked and died. My other horse is about 8 years old with metabolic problems. She is in a different location. The vet told me to be sure she didn't gain any more weight. We were thinking of how to use a feeding muzzle. Long story short, I moved her to a place with large dry lots but continuous, lab-tested Timothy hay. She has lost weight! She is looking the best she has ever looked. This theory really does work!

    1. Greetings (name?),
      I am so very sorry to hear about your Morgan.

      When you mention a feeding muzzle, that would not be what I refer to as free choice. Muzzles severely restrict the amount of grass that the horse can eat, and this can lead to a very sluggish metabolic rate. So, the horse loses weight, but can gain it back very quickly. Furthermore, grazing muzzles are stressful, leading to a stress-induced elevation of insulin, which can cause laminitis.

      I hope you'll read a couple of my books in the Spotlight on Equine Nutrition Series. I recommend the one on "Equine Digestion" as well as the "Easy Keeper" and even the one on "Cushing's" to help slow down its progression. Here is the link:

      My best wishes,
      Juliet Getty