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10 March

Stress Free Turnout: Spring Grass

author image Kate Jupp Kate Jupp
Stress Free Turnout: Spring Grass image

At long last Spring is on its way, with this we can start to turn our horses out more and they will be loving the lush spring grass. ‘Dr Green’ is how many old school equestrians refer to this rich grass, as it is a highly nutritious part of our horses’ diet, so what do we need to worry about?

Whilst the increase in freedom is great for our horse’s mental wellbeing there are key physiological issues to be aware of:

  • Spring pasture- associated laminitis
  • Digestive issues
  • Obesity

How can spring grass cause these issues?

The warmer temperatures alongside an increase in sun and plenty of moisture at this time of year means the grass will be growing far more rapidly than most other times of the year. This generates higher than normal levels of Non-structural Carbohydrates (NSCs) also known as ‘fructans’, which get broken down during digestion into starch and sugars.

After a long winter when our horses and ponies have often been in for prolonged periods of time and mainly fed a diet of hay and hard feed and they are not used to these high levels of NSC’s. If the changes are too sudden the normal gut bacteria can become disturbed which can provoke digestive upset and even colic. The raised levels of sugar in the blood stream can also trigger episodes of laminitis, EMS, and lead to obesity.

How can we reduce the risks?

For most horses a gradual change from stabled routine to spending more time in the field is the key. Turning out either early in the morning or late at night for just a short time reduces risks, as the NSC levels in the grass are lower during the night than the day. If your horse has been spending a lot of time out already consider bringing them in for a few hours to make sure they do not gorge too much rich grass.

You can also consider feeding a supplement like DeTox or GastriX to help the liver with the increase pressures and support the digestive system. The liver is a remarkable organ and all other organs depend upon it. It works extremely hard and is involved in many vital functions, such as regulating energy requirements following digestion, processing, and eliminating toxins and hormones from the body, producing vitamins, and regulating blood clotting. The liver is involved in carbohydrate, fat and protein metabolism and maintenance of blood glucose levels.

For horses and ponies prone to laminitis, EMS, or suffering from Cushing’s disease, look to manage your pasture as effectively as possible. 

  • Grass NSC levels are highest at the base of the plants.
  • Keep horses and ponies on grass that is 6-8 inches high and move them if the grass height is below 3-4 inches to prevent them grazing the base of the grass.
  • Avoid turning out when a cool night is followed by sunny days as frosty nights cause sugars to accumulate in the grass making it riskier.

Look at feeding supportive supplements like Insu-lite for ‘good doers’ to help regulation of blood glucose levels.  It may also be worth looking at using a grazing muzzle as these can decrease the intake of grass dramatically and allow longer periods of turnout.

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author image About Kate Jupp Kate Jupp

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