How Do Muzzles Impact Horses’ Grass Selection and Intake?

Researchers found the muzzles reduced horses’ grass consumption by 30% but did not impact the animals’ forage choice.
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How Do Muzzles Impact Horses
Researchers found the muzzles reduced horses’ grass consumption by 30% but did not impact the animals’ forage choice.| Photo:

In theory, turning a horse out isn’t rocket science: Bring horse to pasture, remove halter and lead rope, close gate behind you. But if you’re turning an easy keeper out in a big grassy field that happens to be the only pasture you have access to, turnout can be much more complicated—and hazardous to the horse’s health. In situations like this, many owners employ grazing muzzles to help reduce their horse’s pasture sugar intake, but how effective are these devices? And, considering that study results have shown that horses prefer certain grass species, do muzzles impact their forage selection? A University of Minnesota researcher recently set out to answer these questions.

In August 2011 Emily Glunk, PhD, and colleagues planted 10-by-20 foot plots with one of four types of grass: Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, meadow fescue, and reed canarygrass. The team employed four adult stock horses that had been acclimated to wearing grazing muzzles. In 2012 the horses had access to each of the four grass species for two days: one day with the muzzle on and one with it off.

The following year, the horses had access only to Kentucky bluegrass and reed canarygrass, because the other grasses had received significant damage during the winter. They had access to the two remaining grasses for four consecutive days: two with the muzzle on and two with it off. The team then calculated the amount of grass the horses consumed

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Written by:

Kristen M. Janicki, a lifelong horsewoman, was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Sciences from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and later attended graduate school at the University of Kentucky, studying under Dr. Laurie Lawrence in the area of Equine Nutrition. Kristen has been a performance horse nutritionist for an industry feed manufacturer for more than a decade. Her job entails evaluating and improving the performance of the sport horse through proper nutrition.

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