Why on earth would anyone need to understand strategies for putting a horse on spring grass or any kind of grass for that matter? Aren’t horses supposed to eat all the grass they want?
If you’ve seriously decided to take on the responsibility of Helping Your Horse Thrive™ then this is an important topic to learn more about.
Before going much further, please be sure to read the first article in this series called Why Putting Your Horse on Spring Grass Can Be Harmful.
Lush Green Pastures for Horses Are Not Healthy
I want to tell you something that you’re probably not going to like.
Putting an equine companion on a perfect, lush green, chemically treated pasture is unnatural. It’s not much different than someone allowing you behind the counter at Krispy Kreme Doughnuts and saying, “Eat all you want and, by the way, that’s all you’re allowed to eat 24/7 for the next few months!”
You probably feel the same way I do. I love to eat a Krispy Kreme doughnut on occasion but not 24/7. If that was all I was eating, my body would start showing signs of rejection the first day.
In all seriousness, a common misconception, even for the health conscious individual, is that the ideal situation for a horse is for them to have access to an abundance of perfectly treated, lush green pasture grass. I can easily see why this can be misunderstood since there are many factors to consider.
When I was just a young kid, I mostly had Welsh ponies, and before them, my Shetland pony named Thunder. As time went on, I grew out of my ponies and graduated to having Quarter Horses.
An important lesson those ponies taught me at a young age was that they’re susceptible to laminitis and founder. Thunder was put to sleep at the grand old age of 16 due to her founder. If she was with me today, I could have prevented that and she would have lived a much longer quality life.
This is one example of why it’s important to become knowledgeable about natural horse care and learn to make sound informed decisions.
From a young age, I knew that turning a horse out on a lush green pasture could cause harm, but I didn’t understand why or what kind of harm. Not only that, I didn’t understand why some horses would have problems and others may never show severe symptoms.
Through the years, I learned key strategies to use to keep my horses safe if lush green pasture is abundant.
Pastures, green pastures that is, are not natural to the horse. They are time bombs waiting to go off: the greener, the lusher, the deadlier.” ~ Jaime Jackson (4=H Clinic, Little Rock Arkansas, 1993)
Key Strategies for Transitioning Your Horse onto Grass
There are many factors to consider when it comes to grasses and grazing horses. That topic is out of the scope of this short article, but what I’d like to share with you are a few key strategies that may help you avoid issues with either colic or laminitis if you decide to turn your equine companion out on pasture.
Although this is not an exhaustive list, it’s a start. Here are some tactics to consider:
- Gradually adjust from hay to pasture. It’s important to allow your horse to gradually adjust from eating a hay only diet to eating mostly pasture grass. Don’t stop feeding hay and kick her out onto a lush green pasture. First of all, horses are not meant to eat an abundance of lush green grass in a short amount of time, however, they’re designed to constantly forage. Keep in mind that her digestive track must gradually adjust to the change.
- Transition your horse over a period of time, not overnight. You may want to gradually transition your horse, not for only a few days, but over several weeks. There are no hard and fast rules. In a previous article, I discussed the importance of being aware of your horse’s manure. You may want to read that article as a companion to this one. You can easily use manure as an indicator of your horse’s digestive health.
- Be careful with horses who are metabolically challenged. If your horse is prone to laminitis or has any kind of metabolic disorder (i.e. insulin resistance) you may not be able to allow her free access to grass. It depends on the severity of your situation. Some people think a grazing muzzle is a good idea, but in reality it can cause more stress for your horse. Minimizing stress levels in a horse with a metabolic issue is critical.
- If you don’t feed your horse free choice you’re asking for trouble. If you’ve been a reader of Soulful Equine for a while and you understand the fundamentals of natural horse care, then you understand the importance of feeding your horses free choice and not withholding hay from them. That doesn’t mean free choice alfalfa (any legume) or free choice grain. It means feeding hay that is safe and low in non-structural carbohydrates (NSCs). Basically, hays that are low in sugar and starch. If you put a horse out on pasture whose digestive track is not accustomed to forage constantly moving through her system, then she will be more prone to colic. Of course colic is also caused by other inappropriate horse keeping practices; this is just one of many.
- Know the safest times of the day to graze your horse. Going in depth into NSC information is out of the scope of this article, but it’s important to understand a few fundamental concepts. Basically, high NSCs can lead to laminitis; therefore, it’s important if you’re going to graze your horse, to know the safest times to graze. This can vary depending on your part of the country. For example, in Texas, we often have sudden and drastic weather changes. One day there can be snow on the ground and the next it can be sunny and 90 degrees. During the spring, some nights are in the 40 degree range and some nights are in the 60s. This variation in temperatures can cause NSC fluctuations in the grass. Other causes of NSC changes include the amount of sun and the amount of daylight hours. For example, colder temperatures will cause grass to remain high in NSCs. On cloudy days, the NSCs will usually be lower – it depends on many factors.
- A good quality probiotic is essential. I can’t stress the importance enough of a high quality probiotic. This is especially important when it comes to transitioning your horse onto pasture or if you have a compromised horse, such as one that’s prone to laminitis. Notice I said, a “good quality probiotic.” This is an area where you’ll not want to skimp on quality just to save a few dollars.
- Avoid only grazing at night, a common mistake I see. I’ve run into this scenario many times here in Texas where during the summer months, horse guardians will keep their young horses in a stall during the day and then turn them out on pasture at night. The common excuses they give me are that it’s too hot during the day and their horse’s coat will bleach out. First of all, if my 23 and 26 year old horses choose to constantly move on their track system during a 102 degree day in Texas, then I think a young three year old will do just fine. Secondly, if your horse’s coat is bleaching out, it’s more than likely not the sun that’s doing it, rather, it’s most likely a mineral imbalance. Thirdly, NSCs are still high at night especially during times of the year where there are more daylight hours. Lastly, what’s first rule of natural horse care?
Safe Grazing Times
So, what’s the safest time to graze your horse? Early morning before the sun comes up, for example between the hours of 3am and 10am.
Sounds crazy doesn’t it? Again, it depends on your part of the country, the time of the year and the type of grasses in your pasture. It depends on many factors, but as a general rule this is the safest time to graze.
This is another reason to implement a natural boarding track system.
Most people will say their horses don’t have any problems on grass, and that may be somewhat true. Every horse and every situation is different.
One thing I do know is that as a hoof care provider, I see changes in client horses for the worst, not better, when they’re not careful about safely grazing. I usually see this during the spring, fall and during times of drought when the grass is stressed.
The majority of people will not listen when their natural hoof care provider says she sees a stretched white line, rings (event rings), or excessive flaring that wasn’t occurring before all the spring grass and various weeds popped up.
A competent natural hoof care professional can tell a lot by properly reading the hoof and can usually pin point diet issues during a trim. It’s happened to me on multiple occasions. However, many owners will not listen, which I find strange because it’s something that affects their horse’s soundness.
I realize this was a lot of information all at once and that it may be a lot to digest. I can easily take this article and expand it into an entire book. That just goes to show that there’s always so much left to learn when it comes to keeping your horse naturally – learning is never ending.
Keep it soulful,
Photo Credit – original photo modified in size and to include the Soulful Equine name and URL
You can’t go wrong by adding at least one of these wonderful books to your equine health care library.
- Founder: Prevention and Cure the Natural Way
- Paddock Paradise: A Guide to Natural Horse Boarding
- The Sound Hoof: Horse Health From the Ground Up
Check out other books we recommend that are in Soulful Equine’s Amazon store.