Horses Grazing Summer Pastures

Regulate grass intake to prevent excess weight gain when fields are at their greenest.
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Regulate grass intake to prevent excess weight gain when fields are at their greenest

Succulent swathes of summer grazing pasture can provide temporary relief to a horse owner’s wallet in the form of reduced hay and feed bills. But at the same time, many owners report unwanted weight gain in horses consuming this lush forage–particularly if the animals come out of winter months already overweight (British researchers recently determined more than a quarter of 127 study horses were obese heading into the spring grazing season).

"Horses love fresh pasture," says Brian D. Nielsen, PhD, PAS, Dipl. ACAN, professor of equine exercise physiology at Michigan State University’s Department of Animal Science. "They’ve been on hay all winter long, and as soon as there’s a little bit of green in the pasture they will ignore the hay and go for the green.

"It’s very palatable … and it’s high in sugars so there are a lot of calories there," he continues. "It’s a great situation because you (might not need) to feed hay anymore, and you can put some weight on hard keepers. A little extra condition on a horse may not be that big of a deal, but overweight horses with insulin resistance (a reduction in sensitivity to insulin that inhibits cells’ ability to transport glucose out of the bloodstream and store it as glycogen) are more inclined to develop laminitis (inflammation of the interlocking leaflike tissues attaching the hoof to the coffin bone). On lush green pastures blood glucose can go up. If the insulin goes too high that might precipitate laminitis."

While there’s no "one-size-fits-all" way to control a horse’s potential weight gain and ensure he still gets the nutrients he needs, understanding what you’re up against can help you make informed decisions

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Written by:

Sharon Biggs Waller is a freelance writer for equine ­science and human interest publications. Her work has appeared in several publications and on several websites, and she is a classical dressage instructor.

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