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Spring Grass

From: Betsy Harrison

Hi Jessica,

I am really learning alot from your mailing list and web site. I hope you can help me with this question:

The grass is getting a lovely shade of green here in Pennsylvania and I worry about our pony getting too much, too soon. Can you suggest a good way to break him in to the grass without any colic or founder problems. Should I be more concerned about our pony or our Arab?


Betsy Harrison

Hi Betsy! You are right to be worried about spring grass; it's all too easy to founder a horse or pony by turning it out onto grass very suddenly.

Call your vet and ask his advice in this situation -- he knows your horses, their condition, their medical history, and he also knows your pasture.

Good pasture is a good source of nutrition, and early grass (before flowering stage) can pack a LOT of energy and a LOT of protein content. Putting a horse out on good pasture with no preparation is very much like opening the feed-room door and saying "Go on in, have all the oats you want."

In very wet areas, such as the Pacific Northwest, horses may be UNDERnourished instead of overnourished by their pastures. What looks like thick, rich green grass is actually grass that has grown too rapidly and has an excessive moisture content -- horses can graze this all day and all night and still not manage to get enough nutrients to keep them healthy and in good weight.

Unless it's been a very wet spring in PA, you shouldn't have THAT problem. ;-) But you will want to consider what types of grasses make up your particular pasture, and how lush the pasture is, before you begin turning horses out to graze.

If you are making that spring switchover from hay to pasture grass, begin by feeding your horse and pony their normal breakfast, and THEN put them out to graze for an hour. They won't graze quite as frantically if they are full of hay and grain! Then bring them back in, and watch them that night and the next morning. If they have slightly loose stools, that's probably just a matter of the increased water intake -- don't worry, as long as they show NO indication of having a colic or founder reaction. If they're fine, do the same thing -- breakfast followed by an hour or an hour and a half of turnout. Bring them in after that time, check them that night and the next morning, etc.

Do this for the next three or four days, then start leaving them out for two and a half hours, then three, then four, until -- at the end of ten days or so, they are spending five hours grazing with no ill effects. By that time, their digestive systems will have made the necessary adjustments, your horses will be producing the new intestinal bacteria that they need to digest their pasture grass safely, and they should be able to stay in their pasture all day. Keep checking on them regularly, though, at at ANY time, if you find a horse showing even the slightest signs of colic or lameness, take the horse OUT of the pasture and CALL YOUR VET.

If you have a horse that tends to be colicky, or has foundered in the past, be sure to observe that horse carefully and talk to your vet about a pasture-introduction protocol. You may need to increase such an animal's pasture time more gradually -- adding fifteen minutes a day, say, for two or three weeks. You may also have to restrict this horse's pasture time -- your vet will be able to advise you. Think PREVENTION, not CURE. It's worth the effort if you can avoid colic and/or founder!

As always, your vet will be your BEST source of information -- these are ideas and methods for you to consider, and perhaps they will help you ask him some questions that you might otherwise not have considered. ;-)


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