Pasture Sugars

Grass is grass, right? Wrong! That lovely green pasture you’ve diligently watered and kept weed-free can be like Jekyll and Hyde. If your horse is at risk for grass founder or has a low tolerance for high levels of sugar, a pasture that might be perfect feed in the morning can be his biggest enemy in the afternoon.
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Understanding how grass grows and how horses use sugars in grass and hay can help you better manage your equine charges.

Grass is grass, right? Wrong! That lovely green pasture you’ve diligently watered and kept weed-free can be like Jekyll and Hyde. If your horse is at risk for grass founder or has a low tolerance for high levels of sugar, a pasture that might be perfect feed in the morning can be his biggest enemy in the afternoon.

Sugars are building blocks for plant growth. Grasses create sugar during daylight hours by using carbon dioxide, water, and energy from the sun via photosynthesis. The sugar made by day is then turned into fiber for cell walls and energy for other necessary life processes. During the night sugar sources are generally depleted. Thus, the safest time of day for horses at risk for grass founder to graze is early in the morning.

Sarah Ralston, VMD, PhD, associate professor of Animal Science at Rutgers University, says 15 years ago very few people—not even equine nutritionists—paid much attention to the sugar content in pasture grasses and hay. “In the past 10 years, however, thanks in large measure to the efforts of Katy Watts (whose studies/articles are found at www.safergrass.org), people have become more aware of the need to pay attention to the cycle of sugar production in grass, for horses that are extremely prone to laminitis,” says Ralston

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Heather Smith Thomas ranches with her husband near Salmon, Idaho, raising cattle and a few horses. She has a B.A. in English and history from University of Puget Sound (1966). She has raised and trained horses for 50 years, and has been writing freelance articles and books nearly that long, publishing 20 books and more than 9,000 articles for horse and livestock publications. Some of her books include Understanding Equine Hoof Care, The Horse Conformation Handbook, Care and Management of Horses, Storey’s Guide to Raising Horses and Storey’s Guide to Training Horses. Besides having her own blog, www.heathersmiththomas.blogspot.com, she writes a biweekly blog at https://insidestorey.blogspot.com that comes out on Tuesdays.

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