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  • August 24, 2023 4 min read

    Everything You Need To Know About Spring Grass

    Horses and ponies are eagerly awaiting the first taste of spring grass. You may have already noticed that paddocks are becoming fuller and greener earlier this year due to a warmer winter. So, the grass is starting to grow rapidly. However, we must take steps to discourage our horses from overindulgence, as this can lead to digestive upsets and laminitis for some horses and ponies. In this article, we will explore some ways that we can prevent digestive upsets, as well as avoid laminitis. 

    What makes spring grass different?

    Before we explore some ways to limit our horses from overindulging in spring grass, it is important to understand what makes this grass so different, compared to other seasons. Firstly, the first grasses of spring contain a lot of water, up to 80%! It is also often low in fibre, soft, and easy to chew, making it easy to eat. Pasture grasses during spring can also accumulate high levels of sugars (glucose, fructose, sucrose), starches, and fructans, which make up nonstructural carbohydrates (NSCs). 

    The combination of high NSCs and the fact that spring grass is easy to eat can cause digestive diseases associated with rapid fermentation, and chronic metabolic disorders (e.g. Laminitis). Almost all horses will experience some sort of digestive disturbance due to spring grass, which is generally looser and more watery manure caused by the higher water content. 

    What you can do to prevent digestive upsets 

    There are a variety of ways in which to prevent digestive upsets caused by spring grass, which are detailed below. 

    1. Introduce the new grass slowly 

    Just like when we introduce a new feed, it is important to introduce new grass growth slowly. This can be achieved by limiting the amount of grass intake via a grazing muzzle, feeding a high-fibre breakfast before turning out (so their tummy is nice and full), or by providing hay in the paddock so that it limits the amount of grass eaten, but also boosts the amount of fibre the horse receives. Sudden changes to feed can also cause colic, so be sure to keep a careful watch over your horse. 

    2. Increase fibre 

    Providing access to hay will help increase the overall fibre content for your horse. Remember, spring grass has very little fibre. So, feeding more hay will help to reduce loose manure and minor digestive upsets. Also, adding beet pulp or another super fibre (e.g. lupin hulls, soybean hulls), will help to increase the overall fibre in your horse's diet. 

    3. Feed psyllium husk 

    Colic can also be prevalent in the spring months. This is because the shorter grass is sweeter, and so the horse will be looking for new shoots, which means they can also pick up sand. To prevent sand accumulation you can fee psyllium husk pellets such as Sandflush or EAC In Sandout. 

    But what about laminitis or weight gain

    There will be some horses and ponies that are more susceptible to laminitis or weight gain, and this will need to be closely managed. Listed below are some ways that you can prevent laminitis and weight gain.

    1. Limit grazing 

    For horses and ponies prone to laminitis or weight gain it is crucial that grazing is limited. A good quality grazing muzzle can prevent your horse from eating up to 80% of grasses! Limiting time on pasture, however, may not be the best idea, as research has shown that some horses can increase their feeding rate, and so consume the same amount of grass! 

    2. Consider the time of grazing 

    The time at which horses are turned out is an important consideration as NSCs are lower at certain times of the day. Between 3 am and 10 am fructan levels are at their lowest, whereas they peak around midday to mid-afternoon. Hence, if horses are turned out between 3 am and 10 am they will naturally consume grass lower in NSCs. 

    3. Regular mowing 

    Regularly mowing your paddock can reduce the amount of sugar the grass can store, in some instances by up to 18%. Hence mowed grass may be safer for laminitis-prone horses. 

    4. Paddock rotation 

    Horses that cannot be kept off pasture (e.g. don't have access to a stable) may benefit from being in a bare paddock. This will certainly limit grass intake. Just remember to provide access to hay to ensure sufficient fibre is being consumed by your horse. 

    5. Watch for cresty necks 

    Did you know that if your horse has a cresty neck, it is at increased risk of laminitis or other metabolic diseases? So, watch out for hard, cresty necks as this can be a sure sign that a laminitic episode may be imminent. 

    6. Check Body Condition Score regularly

    If you know your horse is susceptible to weight gain, its Body Condition Score must be regularly recorded. This can be done by taking and keeping photos of your horse, with comparisons being done regularly, or by taking measurements of their girth. Also, pay particular attention to fat deposits on the neck, wither, rump, and ribs.  

    Spring is a glorious time of year, and whilst spring grass has the potential to wreak havoc on our horses' health, we do have tools up our sleeves to limit any digestive upsets or metabolic diseases. Make sure to keep a close eye on your horse, so that any changes in their health can be acted on promptly. 

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