Spring Grass – How It Affects Horses & Ponies

Spring grass is usually a welcome sight, but how does it affect equine nutrition? In this article, we look at how to keep your horse healthy by managing its consumption of fresh spring grass. We discuss the importance of using a grazing muzzle and how to limit access to new-growth pastures. We also answer common questions about how spring grass affects horses and ponies.

Key Takeaways:

  • Spring grass is fresh forage that can be a great source of nutrition for horses and ponies, but monitoring how much and how often they graze is critical.
  • Careful management of grass intake, including time of day of turnout, helps lower chances of digestive upset and colic.
  • A good muzzle, like the Flexible Filly Slow Feed Grazing Muzzle, can limit how much grass your horse can access.
  • Horses should be gradually introduced to spring grass to reduce the risk of laminitis or other digestive issues.

How Does Spring Grass Affect Horses?

Overconsumption of spring grass can cause colic, laminitis, or other serious health issues that require prompt veterinary attention.

This is because lush spring grass contains much higher levels of sugar and carbohydrates than dried hay, as well as increased amounts of certain minerals like potassium. These can lead to digestive issues if the horse consumes too much.

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What Is a Fructan?

A fructan is a sugar-based carbohydrate found in grasses, and it’s abundant in spring grass on warm afternoons. As night-time temperatures drop, the fructans created during the day are used as fuel to promote plant growth. Fructans thus serve as an essential energy source for plant cells. 

Horses don’t have the enzymes to digest fructans properly, so they can develop colic or laminitis if they eat large amounts of fructan-heavy plants.

How Do Fructans Work?

On sunny days, plants photosynthesize and create ‘fructose,’ which is stored within the grass blades. Fructose levels vary in different types of plants, seasonally, and by the time of day.

Spring grasses, for example, usually have a higher sugar concentration than grasses growing during hot summers. Springtime grass is exceptionally high in fructans on sunny, frosty mornings when grass growth was limited overnight due to the cold.

Since fructans are nonstructural carbohydrates that horses cannot digest on their own, they must be broken down by microorganisms found in the equine hindgut before the animal gains access to the nutritional benefits of these sugars.

If you typically don’t allow access to green grass or rely on feeding hay through the winter months, your equine friend may experience digestive difficulties from suddenly indulging in spring grasses with high fructan levels.

Equines already vulnerable to colic and laminitis due to unhealthy body weight or insulin resistance may also be sensitive to fructans.

What Are the Risks of New Spring Grass Intake?

When horses eat large quantities of lush grass in the spring, they risk developing colic or laminitis due to the increased sugar and carbohydrate content in the horse’s digestive tract.

The sudden influx of food can also cause digestive issues and be difficult for their bodies to process.

How to Make Lush Spring Grass Safe

You have several options to make spring foraging safe for horses. We discuss a few easy solutions for spring turnout below.

Increase Spring Turnout Gradually

When you turn your equine friend out onto new spring grass for the first time, it’s important to give the horse’s digestive system time to adjust. Gradually increase how much time they spend out in the pasture and how much they consume.

Limit Grass Intake with a Muzzle

Grazing muzzles are an effective way to limit the amount of grass a horse can eat while allowing them to forage still and be outdoors. They work by preventing horses from consuming large amounts of food at once, which can lead to colic or laminitis.

A muzzle, like the Flexible Filly Slow Feed Grazing Muzzle, allows the horse to nibble on small amounts at a time, enabling their digestive system to process the food safely. Muzzles like this one are adjustable, giving you room to change the horse’s ability to access feed as needed.

Move Turnout to the Morning or Night

Another way to make spring grass safe is by limiting pasture time. It can be tempting to let your horse out all day, but keeping them on a more controlled schedule can help reduce their risk of digestive issues, especially if your horses’ digestive tract is upset easily.

Since fructan levels vary in plants throughout the day and are typically high in the afternoon, turning horses out in the morning or late at night may limit the level at which they eat grasses heavy with fructan.

That said, restrict grazing on spring mornings following a low-temperature night. As mentioned above, when plants don’t grow overnight, sugar levels rise as sugar excess remains stored in the stems.

Don’t Graze the Horse on Tall Grass

Grass turnout should be done in moderation and with plenty of supervision. Avoid turnout on tall grass, as it is more likely to contain higher levels of fructans. Instead, try for shorter, mature grass, which can be easier to digest.

Also, offer hay as an alternative in the pasture. Many horses love having access to both and will choose hay when given the opportunity, reducing their intake of simple sugars.

Create a Smaller Grazing Area

If you have a large pasture, consider creating a smaller area for turnout to limit how much the horse can consume. You can make the area with temporary fencing in early spring and remove it when it’s no longer necessary.

This strategy produces minimal grazing, meaning the animals eats less fructan-rich grasses, which can reduce their risk of digestive issues.

FAQs About Spring Grass

To help you make the best decisions for spring pasture time, we’ve answered some of the most commonly asked questions about how spring grass can affect horses.

Is it Safe to Use a Grazing Muzzle?

Yes, grazing muzzles are generally safe if used properly. They should be monitored frequently to make sure horses are still drinking and eating enough. Keep an eye on your horse’s behavior while using the muzzle and remove it if they appear uncomfortable or distressed.

Also, choose a muzzle designed for safety, comfort, and breathability, like ThinLine’s Flexible Filly Slow Feed Grazing Muzzle, to reduce discomfort. This lightweight and gentle muzzle allows your equine friend more freedom of movement than ever before!

Constructed with optimal airflow, the muzzle is designed to break at a force lower than that of your turnout halter, ensuring maximum safety. It’s also adjustable, giving your equine companion the best grazing experience possible.

What Are the Signs of Colic in Horses?

The most common signs of colic are restlessness, pacing, sweating, rolling, kicking at the stomach, loss of appetite, and changes in how much water they drink.

It is vital that you contact your veterinarian immediately if you notice signs of colic. Many horses that are affected by colic can make a full recovery with the help of prompt veterinary treatment.

Will Lush Grass Give My Horse Too Much Energy in Springtime?

Yes, over-consumption of spring grass can lead to more energy than usual. To avoid this, introduce fresh forage gradually and limit consumption.

Horse owners should also monitor how much the animal eats and its energy levels throughout the day. You may also offer hay as an alternative to reduce sugar intake and lower energy levels.

Don’t Let Spring Grass Trigger Laminitis or Colic

In springtime, when digestive tracts upset easily due to the sudden occurrence of rich, green plant life, horse owners must pay close attention to digestive tract health.

With preventative measures, like a muzzle, you can prevent weight gain, colic, and other issues.