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Spring Turnout Tips for Your Horse

It is that time of the year—the cold, gray winter is transforming into a warm, sunny spring and the grass is starting to grow! For normal horses the spring grass is a lovely change from hay, but for sugar-sensitive horses it is a dangerous time of year.

Things to know about spring grazing:

  • Sugar levels in grasses increase during the spring growing season when days are warm and nights are cool (40 degrees or below).
  • Grass does not grow on cool nights, so high concentrations of sugar remain in the leaves where horses can consume it.
  • Healthy horses have few problems adjusting to the extra sugar in spring grass, but for sensitive horses the high sugar content can be overwhelming and lead to laminitis.
  • Keep in mind that overgrazing stresses grasses and increases sugar levels. Keep pastures between four to eight inches in height to reduce overgrazing stress.
  • Fat or skinny horses may need more or less time out on grass. Take the time to evaluate your horse’s weight and body condition, and adjust his feeding program accordingly.
  • Design a turnout schedule taking into consideration your horse’s current body condition, sensitivity to spring grass, and changing nutrition requirements.

Spring grazing for overweight horses and horses prone to equine metabolic syndrome (EMS) and Cushing’s disease (PPID):

  • EMS and PPID horses are at a high risk for laminitis in the spring because they have trouble metabolizing sugar correctly.
  • Limit or stop grazing altogether with high-risk horses during times when nights are cold and days are sunny.
  • Limit grazing, and turn out only in the early morning hours when days and nights are warmer. Morning grass contains lower levels of sugar in these conditions.
  • Research planting warm-season grasses lower in sugar. Check with your local extension office for the best options in your area.
  • Provide digestive tract support to aid in the digestion of sugar.
  • Don’t starve your overweight horses. Click here for tips on managing your easy keeper’s nutrition requirements.
  • Remember, at-risk horses can experience the same issues with fall pastures.

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