Peter Fishpool of www.horsesupplementsdirect.co.uk offers his advice…
Spring has finally sprung and after a long, wet winter it is tempting to turn horses out into spring pastures at the first sight of the sun and the growth of fresh grass. However, spring grazing should be introduced slowly to protect the horse’s health and ideally delayed until grasses reach 6 to 8” in height, to optimise the health and longevity of the pasture.
Whether your horse has been stabled for the majority of the winter or you’re managing the switch from winter grazing to spring grazing, let’s take a look at the reasons behind staggering the return to maximum turn out time and higher quality pasture.
The equine digestive system
Although hay and grass are the same concept, there are significant differences between the format of the forage. Dried hay is approximately 15% moisture compared to fresh pasture that is 85% moisture.
The horse digests food-sources by fermenting fibre in the hindgut and this relies extensively on the microbes present in its gastrointestinal tract. If the food provided to the horse changes the microbes cannot necessarily adapt quickly enough and if the microbial populations don’t have time to adjust to the change, large numbers can die, while others flourish, which can lead to digestive dysfunction such as colic.
Laminitis can result in the sensitive laminae of the foot weakening and becoming inflamed, and in extreme cases the rotation or a drop of the pedal bone.
It can occur for many reasons, but it is often linked to obesity and the ingestion of grass which is highly rich in sugar and starch, such as lush spring grass.
Concentrations of fructans concentrations have been found to be highest in the spring, lowest in summer, and intermediate in autumn.
Because horses are selective grazers, and are known to find feedstuffs with elevated sugar content highly palatable, avoiding or restricting grazing in the early spring can reduce the chance of rapid intake of grass and resulting laminitis.
The grass in our paddocks requires sufficient growth before our horses are offered access to grazing the lush fields. Photosynthesis (the process of converting solar energy to chemical energy) occurs mainly within the leaves of plants, and if the leaves are grazed too early (prior to 6” tall) or too often, plants can lose their vigour, competitiveness, and root structure due to the lack of photosynthetic ability. Without this the grass will die back, and overgrazed areas can be replaced with undesirable weeds.
Build the time at pasture for your horse gradually limiting the risk of digestive implications such as colic or laminitis.
If your horse is moving from winter fields onto spring fields, make sure all equines are moved together to prevent separation anxiety – it may be wise to worm all the horses and ponies prior to moving to the new fields.