Q. I have a pony that is turned out daily but needs restricted access to grazing. On the advice of my vet, I purchased a grazing muzzle. The problem is he keeps taking it off. Do you have any suggestions for how I can keep it on him? If I can’t figure it out, I won’t be able to turn him out, which would be unfortunate, as the extra movement helps manage his weight.
A. The balance of allowing easy keepers access to turnout so they can move and burn calories with the need to restrict pasture access and extra calorie consumption is a common challenge. Your veterinarian is correct that a grazing muzzle is a very useful tool, because it helps significantly reduce pasture intake by as much as 80%.
Obviously, if the muzzle doesn’t stay on your pony, its possible benefits are irrelevant. While some ponies are just not good candidates for grazing muzzles, with a little diligence and experimentation, you can successfully keep most Houdinis muzzled. A selection of different grazing muzzle styles are available, and you might find one is less irritating to your pony than others. A muzzle that doesn’t fit well, rubs, or is otherwise irritating will motivate a horse to remove it.
You should be able to get two fingers between the noseband part of the muzzle and your pony’s face all the way around. Depending on your pony’s head shape and size, some muzzles might fit better than others. The noseband will put pressure on your pony’s nose and could result in rubs, so placing real sheepskin around the inside to prevent rubbing might make your pony more comfortable.
Some muzzles come with a series of straps similar to the crownpiece and throatlatch of a bridle. Make sure it fits properly. Some just have the crownpiece, and these are likely the easiest for your pony to remove. With this style, putting a breakaway halter on over the muzzle might reduce the pony’s ability to remove the underlying muzzle. Other muzzles don’t have the crownpiece but have a series of loops you can use to attach the muzzle to a regular halter.
Whether you are using a muzzle attached to a halter or a halter over a muzzle, it’s important that the halter is a breakaway so it will break should your pony get hung up in something in the pasture. To effectively keep a muzzle on, you must fit the halter correctly. This means the part of the halter that goes under the jaw (similar to a bridle’s throatlatch) must be located above the widest part of the pony’s jaw and snug enough that, should the pony push the crownpiece over the ears, the halter can’t fall off his head completely. If you use a grooming halter with a snap attachment under the jaw, you might be able to snap this attachment to both the regular halter and the muzzle, effectively joining the two together.
A word of caution: If you can keep the muzzle on your pony successfully, do take it off at regular intervals. Ideally, a horse shouldn’t wear a grazing muzzle for more than 12 hours and should come off pasture when not wearing it. Leaving him on pasture without the muzzle might result in him eating more grass that he otherwise would, in which case you will lose the gains made while using the muzzle. Introduce the muzzle slowly over a week before leaving it on all day. Make the muzzle a positive experience for your pony by giving him a treat when you put it on and take it off. Also make sure the pony can drink with a muzzle on.
Hopefully with some ingenuity, you can find a way to safely keep the muzzle on your pony so he can continue to have daily pasture access.
I’ve had success keeping a grazing muzzle on one of my horses with two strategies. First: I can put a fly mask on over it, and he can’t get it off. Another one that works is to braid a piece of string or shoelace into his mane just behind his bridle path, tying it securely and leave long enough ends to tie around the top of the halter his muzzle is attached to. Both work. My other horse won’t keep anything on his head outside, but fortunately doesn’t need a muzzle–yet.