Q: How do I determine how
long to allow my horse to graze on green pasture this spring? I have a 20 yr old
gelding and an 8 yr old mare...are said to be in good health by our vet.
A: First of all we need to get
our terminology straight. Laminitis is what you are trying to prevent by
intelligent control of grazing time. Founder is the word that is properly used
to describe the physical results of laminitis. Be sure to read my article
on laminitis and founder.
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If laminitis is your concern, there are a few rules of thumb that you should
concern yourself with. Horses that are worked regularly do not generally get
laminitis. Horses that are thin do not generally get laminitis. Horses that are
fed a balanced diet do not generally get laminitis.
Watch your horses' weight. Exercise your horses daily. Keep your eye on your
horses' crests. If the crest appears to be growing larger than would be
considered normal proportions for the neck, and upon palpating the crest you
find it is getting extremely firm, your horse should be taken off of the grass.
Your eyes should be your Number One guide. You have to ask yourself, "Is my
horse fat?" It has been my observation that very few horse owners have the
objectivity to gauge whether their horse is overweight or not. Most feel that
their "child" is perfect, especially if it is overweight. Keep telling
yourself that excess body fat is at least as detrimental to the horse as it is
to a person.
If your horses have been on grass up until now, then the above observations
should be taken seriously and you should check your horses daily. If they begin
to gain weight or get "cresty" you should decrease their pasture time
as much as it takes to maintain a good healthy body condition.
If the horses are just now being introduced to grass, then do not allow them
over 3 or 4 hours per day of pasture to begin with for the first month. If they
maintain proper body weight and do not appear to be developing crests, you can
increase the 3 or 4 hours by one hour each week.
Some horses can tolerate fairly lush pasture full time, while others will
founder on a few skimpy blades of green grass. A diligent and observant owner is
the best preventative for laminitis.
The Village Blacksmith