With spring just around the corner in the Northern Hemisphere, many owners are looking forward to turning their horses out onto grass for longer, or for the first time since autumn.
But with spring approaching, it is essential to be mindful of the risk of laminitis. Feed manufacturer Spillers has produced eight eight top tips to help keep horses safe as the seasons change.
- Act sooner rather than later
The grass starts to grow actively when the soil temperature consistently reaches 5oC and can be full of calories! For every kilogram (dry matter) eaten, your horse could be consuming up to 75g of sugar and 500g of Water Soluble Carbohydrate (WSC). Studies have shown that ponies turned out un-muzzled can consume up to 5% of their own bodyweight in grass. If the same applies to a 500kg horse, this would equate to a whopping 1.9kg of sugar and 12.5kg of WSC per day from grass alone.
- Slim your horse down now
If your horse is overweight use what’s left of winter to instigate a slimming programme. Reduce feed or change to a lower calorie alternative and switch to a lower energy forage. Soaking hay for at least three hours or even better up to 16 hours will reduce the WSC level, making it safer for those susceptible to laminitis.
- Use fewer rugs
Fewer rugs or no rugs at all will cause your horse to have to burn off a few extra pounds to keep warm.
- Restrict time out at pasture
Consider turning your horse out at night when the grass will contain less fructan (storage form of sugar). Install a strip grazing system to moderate the amount of grass your horse has access to but remember to back fence to maintain a consistently small field size.
- Try a grazing muzzle
A grazing muzzle can reduce intake by up to 80% but it must be properly fitted, allow drinking and you must allow your horse to get used to it before leaving it on for long periods.
- Feed an alternative safe source of forage
For horses and ponies at very high risk consider removing them from pasture altogether and feeding them a suitable forage/ short chopped fibre, preferably one that has been approved by the Laminitis Trust.
- Beware of late frosts
On sunny, frosty mornings, fructan can accumulate to high levels and this may trigger the cascade of events that can lead in laminitis.
- Up the exercise
Regular exercise will help keep your horse’s waistline in check and support a healthy metabolism.