How to Introduce Your Horse to Spring Pastures

by Caitlyn Andrews May 09, 2016

How To Introduce Your Horse to Spring Grazing

Spring is finally here. Horses are shedding their winter coats, it's warm enough to ride and the pastures are full of lush, green grass. It's tempting to turn your horses out on the spring grass during the day, but there are a few things you should keep in mind.

Horse Pasture Management

The first thing to consider when letting your horses out to graze in the spring is pasture health. Pastures should be allowed adequate time to grow before letting any livestock graze on it in the spring. If the grass is grazed before it reaches 6 inches tall the plants can lose their vigor and root structure due to a lack of photosynthetic ability. This can lead to the grass being replaced with undesirable plants or weeds. Let your pasture grass grow to at least 6 inches tall before allowing your horses to graze to get your fields off to a good start.

Rotational Grazing for Horses

Rotation is critical for pasture health. Even if you let your pasture grasses grow to 6 inches before turning out horses, you can run into problems if horses are allowed to overgraze. Once the grass has been grazed down to 3 or 4 inches you should rotate the horses to another field. If you only have one pasture for grazing then move the horses to a dry lot or stall temporarily to let the pasture recover (ideally back up to 6 inches). Again, overgrazing can hinder the growth of grass and allow undesirable weeds to take over a pasture.

Prevent Laminitis in Horses

One of the most important things to remember is that horses need a gradual transition to grazing. Not gradually introducing grass into your horse's diet, or allowing too much grazing for a horse at high risk, can result in laminitis. Laminitis, otherwise known as founder in horses, is a painful disease that affects a horse's feet. It's particularly prevalent on ponies that graze on lush pastures. The good news is that laminitis can often be prevented.

While founder is often attributed to excessive amounts of grazing, hay, grain and feed, laminitis can also occur as a result of severe colic, enterocolitis, or trauma to the soles of hooves. If your horse is overweight, not yet adjusted to grass, or has another condition that places them at risk for founder then make sure to restrict their grazing time, particularly in the middle of the day when plant sugars are at their highest.

Adjust your horse to the rich spring grass by slowly introducing them back to the pasture. Start with 15 minutes of grazing, and keep adding 15 minutes to their grazing time each day until you reach 4 to 5 hours of consecutive grazing.

For more on Laminitis in Horses see the Merck Vet Manual article.

Caitlyn Andrews
Caitlyn Andrews


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