When the spring season is here, it brings the opportunity for horses to enjoy fresh pasture. While pasture affords a nutritious and economical way to provide forage for your horses, there are some general concerns that need to be kept in mind to assure the health and safety of your equine friends. The greatest danger of laminitis occurs with cool season pasture grasses, like fescue, orchard grass, timothy, etc., as they are the forages with the highest concentrations of fructans. Fructans are sugars that are not digested in the small intestine, but are fermented in the large intestine to produce lactic acid and increase the risk of colic and laminitis.
While many horse owners don’t have enough pasture for the number of horses they own, others may have too much. A mature horse on good pasture of two to three acres or more can easily consume more calories than it needs to meet and maintain daily energy requirements and can become obese.
I would recommend introducing horses gradually to pasture in the spring, only allowing 30 minutes to one hour grazing the first day for sensitive horses and slowly increasing the time by an hour per day until a full day of pasture grazing is allowed. A grazing muzzle to limit intake on a newly introduced pasture or to reduce intake continuously for an easy keeper on an abundant pasture is a good management tool to utilize to reduce intake. Sometimes it is necessary to even dry lot an easy keeper until the sugar content has decreased as we go into the summer season.