Caring For A Horse At Grass: All You Need To Know
With the arrival of spring and summer we begin to see better weather, longer days to ride and more grass for our horses to eat. This improved weather often means horses spend longer at grass and as there is usually more grass available, there are certain risks attached to this change of routine.
Whether you’re starting to put your horses out for the summer or you keep your horses at grass all year round, there are a number of things to consider, including the horse food they’re getting.
Despite grass having a number of benefits for your horse, UK grazing does lack certain essential minerals. Therefore, it’s imperative that just because they are at grass, you don’t forget to feed them a balanced diet. You can do this by adding a broad spectrum vitamin and mineral supplement or balancer into the diet or if these options aren’t practical, a mineralised lick is an alternative option. The downside to licks is that you don’t know how much your horse is consuming each day, especially if they are in a group with other horses but offering a lick is certainly preferable to nothing at all!
Vitamins and minerals are important for general health and well-being as well as aiding recovery after exercise.
Competing A Horse At Grass
There is no reason not to compete a horse from grass. The pasture itself will make a significant contribution to the horse’s protein and energy requirements.
Protein is needed to build and repair tissues including muscle. It’s important to consider both the quality of the protein, as well as the quantity. Made up of amino acids, some of which are essential, protein is found in different levels in different feed materials. If your horse has poor muscle tone and definition then feeding good quality source of protein such as soya and alfalfa can be beneficial.
Assuming you are feeding a balanced diet, the only additional supplement to consider is one that contains electrolytes. Horses competing from grass are still going to sweat and lose electrolytes. They will probably have to be added to the feed which can be fed damp to help absorption.
Watch Out For Laminitis
Horse and ponies that are prone to laminitis must be carefully looked after when at grass as the sugar in the grass can be a trigger factor for an episode of laminitis. There are a number of ways to do this including using a muzzle to reduce the amount of grass they can eat, turning them out in a smaller area or using a track system. It is still important that a horse or pony prone to laminitis receives sufficient fibre so it may be necessary to offer forage such as hay, possibly with some straw mixed in, to provide fibre without too many calories.
In addition, you will need to feed a supplement or low calorie balancer to ensure the diet is balanced which can be mixed with a light chaff. A light chaff would provide a low level of calories but also needs to be low in sugar and starch so look for molasses free options.
There are low calorie chaffs available that have added nutrients which can be fed as the sole source of nutrients if used as the recommended feeding rates. These often contain methionine, biotin and zinc to promote healthy hoof growth.
As well as ensuring that your horse receives a balanced diet whilst at grass, other key factors to consider when caring for a horse at grass include:
- Ensuring there is always fresh, clean water available.
- The horse has company whilst turned out.
- The fencing is secure and safe.
- There are no poisonous plants or trees in the field.
- Your horse has shade in the field and/or shelter for different weather conditions.
- You check your horse every day at grass.
- Appropriate pasture is available for the number and type of horses.
- You help to protect your horse from flies with fly spray and fly rugs.
- You rug your horse appropriately depending on the weather.
If you require any additional information whilst caring for a horse at grass, don’t hesitate to contact an equine nutritionist.