As we welcome in the spring season your horse will be eager to enjoy the fresh green grass if they aren't out already, especially if they’ve been eating hay all winter. But how do you manage horses in spring grass and when is it safe for horses to be turned out?
Turning out is vitally important for your horse’s health and well-being. They will love being out in the pasture, getting exercise and the freedom to play and interact with other horses. This will also allow them to enjoy natural behaviours like roaming and mutual grooming.
What are the Benefits of Turning Out Your Horse?
Movement and Healthy Muscles
Long periods standing still can cause swelling in your horse’s legs, known as stocking up. This usually improves once activity levels are increased.
Blood circulation is vital for healthy hooves and your horse is likely not going to get enough exercise whilst stabled over the winter. Soiled bedding can also lead to hoof problems.
A Healthy Gut
Research has shown that horses with more freedom to roam outside may develop colic less often that stalled horses. A lack of regular movement can affect the motility of the gut and lead to what is known as impaction colic. This slowed motility is also thought to be a factor in equine gastric ulcer syndrome.
A Happier Horse
Horses are intelligent and sociable herd animals and will quickly become bored and frustrated if kept indoors with little natural light. This can result in obsessive or unhealthy behaviour, including compulsive stall-walking and leg injuries from pawing or kicking stable walls. Being able to see other horses is important for your horse’s mental health. Ideally you should make sure they have the chance to regularly run and play with other horses.
Horses breathe much easier in the fresh air as we do, and even in well ventilated, clean stables dust and stale air can cause issues. Worse, if bedding is not fresh, decomposing ammonia can increase your horse’s risk of respiratory problems like pneumonia.
Tips for a Successful Spring Turnout
Most horses will benefit from being outside as much as possible but there are a number of issues to look out for at this time of year to make sure your horse is happy and healthy.
The lush spring grass is a natural source of nutrition for horses. It provides them with essential vitamins, minerals and fibre as part of a healthy diet. However, spring grass is also high in carbohydrates called fructans, especially during April and May. These are broken down by your horse’s gut into sugars and starch. This can in turn lead to digestive problems like colic as well as laminitis and Cushings. It's important to make sure your horse is not overgrazing during the spring months.
Introduce Pasture Time Slowly
This is especially important for horses who have been fed on hay during the winter months. Start for an hour a day and gradually increase over a period of a couple of weeks, increasing by 15-30 minutes each time. If you have to miss a day due to bad weather repeat the duration you last turned them out for another day. Once you’ve reach around the 5 hour mark they should be ready for unrestricted grazing.
Time it Right
Grass fructan levels can reach their highest on sunny afternoons, so try to turn out during the morning or late at night if you can. Also be mindful that fructan levels in grass are highest towards the base of the plant so it’s a good idea to move your horse on to fresh pasture once it gets below around 3 inches tall.
Limit Grass Access
If you would rather give your horse more time in the fresh air, try introduce strip grazing where you give them access to a limited amount of grass using fencing. Once the grass within that strip has been eaten down you can gradually move your fencing to the next section of paddock. Alternatively, you can consider using a grazing muzzle, particularly if weight is an issue.
Supplement the Diet
Using a gut balancer for horses like Equilibra can help to support your horse’s digestive system, including helping to stabilise conditions in the hindgut, bolster natural gut defences and support beneficial bacteria. It’s also worth looking at supplements to help prevent and/or manage laminitis particularly for those horses who are susceptible to it. A good laminitis supplement should provide anti-inflammatory support and help to maintain a healthy blood flow to the hooves. See our full range of equine supplements here.
How Much Grazing Space Does my Horse Need?
Ideally you should allow at least an acre per horse but this also depends on the size of your horse, whether they have easy access to a stable and what the ground is like. It also depends on whether they are turned out full time or whether they are also stabled during the winter months.
Check your Paddock Regularly for Poisonous Plants
There are a variety of plants, shrubs and trees that are poisonous to horses and pones. A check of the paddock should be done fairly regularly, ideally when you do your daily picking. Common poisonous plants in the UK are foxglove, deadly nightshade, ragwort, yew, privet and rhododendron as well as buttercups in larger quantities.
Ultimately, how and when you turn your horse out also depends on their individual needs. With good pasture and feed management your horse can happily enjoy being outside during the lovely spring weather.