Did you know that spring grass can be too much of a good thing? Grazing horses on spring (along with fall) grass may lead to laminitis, especially if you have an "easy keeper" who is also predisposed to IR (insulin resistance), EMS (equine metabolic disorder), PPID (pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction aka Cushings), etc.
Laminitis= inflammation of the laminae; essentially, it is the inflammation of the connecting tissues between the hoof wall and the coffin bone.
· Horses are meant to eat forage right? Forage means pasture, right? So how can letting them chow down on fresh, lush, green grass be a bad thing?
o 2 reasons: digestive upset can occur from excess carbohydrates (sugars) in the grass. This overload is a common cause of laminitis. The grass may also contain high level of fructan (sugar). This is considered a non structural carbohydrate (NSC) and is often produced in higher quantities when a plant is stressed. Unlike starch, the horse in unable to break down fructans in the same way. This may then lead to a buildup of fructans in the large intestine which leads to multiplying of fructan digesting bacteria when then upsets normal gut flora and function, thus leading to laminitis.
· What's the deal with fructan?
o Fructan is dependent upon photosynthesis which is dependent upon sunlight. This means cloudy weather actually lowers the fructan in the grass. (as the day goes on and the sun rises, so does the sugar/starch. They are highest prior to sunset).
· If my horse shows rib that means he's not susceptible, right?
o Not necessarily true. An IR horse does not always present as overweight. Learn to identify signs of IR. These signs include a cresty neck, and "fat pockets" that are not evenly distributed. These may be found over the withers, behind the shoulder, at the tailhead, a "swollen" sheath, and "puffiness" over the pocket of the eyes (there should be an indent there).
· So when is it the "safest" to turn out horses??
o The safest time to turn out is late night and early mornings when the grass is not stressed by frost, drought, or in the flowering stage of growth. Be sure to introduce your horse to pasture gradually. This means start in small increments of time and build up. This will allow his intestinal flora time to adjust.
· What can I do to minimize this risk?
o Dry lots~ having a dry lot to keep horses on during the critical times is ideal. You can more readily monitor what your horse is eating.
o Grazing muzzles~are a great option for limiting grass intake and still allowing your horse to graze. The muzzle is a great option until you can get a dry lot in place.
o Small mesh/hole hay nets and slow feeders~are a great option for keeping forage in front of your horse and slowing him down.
o EXERCISE!~ keeping your horse in work and fit will also help to minimize the risk.
o DIET!~ nutrition is the foundation to wellness and health. Be sure to feed your horse an appropriate diet that is forage based.
o Know that not every horse has the same needs. They are individuals and as such, have different requirements and approaches based upon their varying needs. These needs will be determined by their metabolism, activity level, breed, health, and age.
o Monitor insulin/glucose levels and weight, and minimize/avoid over-vaccination and drugs.
Want to really dive in and stoke the inner nutritional and hoof geek? Here's a few websites for you:
(one of my favorites and an INVALUABLE resource about grass)
Further links from my website: