After a long, harsh winter, your horses, as well as you, might be chomping at the bit to get out into a lush spring. However, allowing your horses to move straight from hay to lush green pasture may harm your horses and cause laminitis or colic. But when is the right time to move into a spring pasture?
Check the Pasture
Before you even consider turning your horses out into spring pasture, it is important to check that the pasture is safe. Carefully inspect all fences and gates to be sure they are in good condition after the abuse of winter, and make any repairs as needed. Also take the time to walk carefully through the pasture to check for any dangerous plants or toxic weeds that could be hazardous to grazing horses, including burrs and similar plants. Before the horses are introduced to the spring pasture, those plants should be removed so grazers are not at risk.
Take It Slow
Spring grazing should not begin until the new grass has reached 6-8 inches in height. Then grazing should be introduced gradually, starting with just 15 minutes and increasing by 15 minutes each day until the horses are free to graze for 4-5 hours a day. At first, the horses may not be grazing much even when they are out to pasture, but eventually they will sample the grasses and other plants and begin grazing more consistently.
Keep feeding horses their usual hay diet before grazing the first several days, slowly reducing the amount of hay available. This will ensure their appetite is met without too much new pasture. The gradual change in the horse’s diet allows for the digestive tract to adjust to the new kind of food without creating upset stomachs or other difficulties.
Spring Pasture Problems
Introducing forage too quickly imbalances the types of microbes living in the digestive track of the horse, which can lead to colic or other digestive disruptions. Another common problem caused by the sudden intake of fresh spring grass is laminitis. Laminitis has been linked to too many carbohydrates or nitrogen compounds in the diet, both of which are prevalent in new growth grass or unnaturally fertilized pastures. It can also be the result of extended bouts of colic. Rather than risk this painful hoof disease, limiting the initial intake of grazed grass is a simple precaution.
So hold your horses – at least until a little further into spring.