I had a question in response to my last blog post about laminitis. It occurred to me that grazing problems are so common, I should make the answer easier to find. I’ve added more to it so it covers more than just Barbra’s specific situation (just in case you read my response in the comments – you might find a bit more here)

The question seems to be what to do when your grass isn’t as suitable as you’d like.

I’ve been there myself. Some friends and I moved to a great new yard, between us we took 6 horses there. All 6 horses had enjoyed 24/7 turn out and complete soundness before we arrived (one of them I’d even ridden though a quarry completely barefoot) within days of getting to the new yard we had problems.

Highly restricted grazing gave some relief but they still weren’t as comfortable as they should have been when being led in hand over a gravel track. Within 2 days of moving to another new yard all 6 horses were completely sound over gravel tracks and turned out 24/7.

Not everyone has the option of moving yards, though that is the most obvious way of dealing with the problem. (I think that’s called a ‘shoot the dog’ method)

In terms of soil and laminitis, richer soil will get you richer grass which is more likely to cause inflammation problems. I see laminitis as an accumulative effect of everything going on in the horse. Rich grass does seem to come up trumps as far as culprits go though.

There’s a saying in fitness that you can’t out train a poor diet. In other words you can spend 5 hours a day in the gym, but if your diet is pizza and doughnuts and lots of them, you’re still going to have a fat problem rather than a 6 pack.

The same applies to a horses diet (though granted, I’ve never seen a 6 pack on a horse no matter what they eat or how long they spend in the gym). If they’re eating grass that is too rich, and that grass makes up the bulk of their diet, then you’re going to have trouble.

One option is to restrict the grazing, but sugar is addictive, and the disruption it can cause to gut bacteria can make you desperate for it (that’s in both horses and humans). You can find that your horse stuffs so much grass in, in the few hours of grazing they get that it causes other issues, not to mention the horses willing to risk life and limb to tear down a fence to get more and then refuse to be caught.

There’s a few things I’ve found that can help. First off, top of the list, is this little gemP45 (I buy the 5lt bottles when I’m feeding it). It helps horses manage grass that is too rich. Many of my clients have found that feeding it means they don’t have to work nearly so hard at various grazing restriction techniques.

Next up – how hungry is your horse? The brain tells us to eat when it needs nourishment. It doesn’t tell us what to eat (at least I don’t think I’ve developed an extreme chocolate deficiency this Christmas). If the body wants magnesium, or calcium or protein or whatever, the brain just tells us to eat, it doesn’t tell us what to eat. Nom!

This can cause a problem if the bulk of the diet is deficient in something. The brain keeps telling the horse to eat, so the horse eats more and more of what’s available – the grass – the rich grass that’s full of stuff he doesn’t need but deficient in something the body is crying out for.

It doesn’t matter what it’s high in or low in, the result is way too much of something and still not enough of something else. This results in toxicity in whatever is high and deficiency in what is missing, which causes inflammation and still a strong, primal drive to eat more. (this is one of the main reasons people who diet, and eat diet food are hungry all the time – it doesn’t have what their body needs in it)

Most commonly, you’ll find you’re too high in sugar and protein and too low in trace minerals, the problem is, when you’re too high in sugar and protein the body responds with inflammation. The thing it needs to remove the inflammation, is the trace minerals… D’oh!

So what does this mean? If we have well balanced nutrition, then the messages to ‘go eat’ will be reduced. So a good all round, balanced supplement can really help reduce the drive to eat, which in turn will reduce the amount your horse is eating, not to mention provide the trace minerals necessary to help the body deal with the toxicity from whatever it’s getting too much of.

If you’re restricting grazing by only turning out for part of the day then giving food (feed/hay whatever works) before they go out, so they’re not going out hungry can help a lot.

To be honest it can depend a lot on the personality of the horse, some horses live by their stomach, others aren’t that fussed. There’s lots of ways to do things, it’s finding what suits you and your horses, for your current environment that’s important.

Do you have any tips for helping people manage horses on unsuitable grazing? Tell us in the comments below.


P.S. Bit of a tangent, but it’s New Year, so why not hey…

Do you doubt the effect sugar has on how you feel about food? On how toxins themselves create that need to eat, and in fact make you crave more toxins? The best way to understand it is to try it for yourself. Cut out toxin filled food and sugar for a week or so (30 days would be better). It is January after all. We spend so much time looking after our horses health – what about you?

Sounds simple to say, not quite so easy to do. 

If you haven’t tried it before, you might be surprised at how your attitude to food and eating changes as you reduce the toxins in your body and replenish the nutrients.

The Healthy Horse: Feeding and Nutrition

We Are What We Eat

It's easy to see why diet is so important. The body is always regenerating, it needs good nutrition to be able to build healthy cells. Nutrition is such a confusing subject though!

There's so much advice, and so many different choices, how are you ever supposed to figure out what's right for your horse?

About the author

Debs is a practicing Equine Podiatrist with over 15 years experience, author, and educator.

She’s here to show you how to simplify your horse’s management painlessly so you feel in control and have a straightforward system that works for you.

When she’s not working you can find her playing with her own horses, watching geeky sci-fi or baking epic cakes.

  • Wow, just read this and it answered a question in my mind, since getting progressive earth premium supplement, my horses aren’t eating all their haylage overnight, I thought I had a bad bale but it smells and looks like lovely dry fluffy meadow hay.

  • Hi peeps, I know this is a very old post but just wondering what you all think about leaving a field to grow long into standing hay (we had to abandon our biggest field this year as one horse got lami due to new cushings diagnosis and the other is already suffering from cushings and is overweight and on emergency rations). Therefore we have this field not grazed since march which I dare not use. I was reading that as grass finishes seeding, it then uses a lot of nutritional value, i.e. Less sugars. Do you think we can strip graze this field later in the year and use over winter for forage? My two are only out in the fields now for about six hours a day then in on soaked hay all night, I think we will probably keep them like this til next spring now. However, if the field was usuable maybe we could get them out more permanently, what do you think? Thanks for any feedback

    • My best advice is try it and see. If you’re worried start with the horses out there for just an hour or 2 and monitor their pulses before and after they go out. While there’s lots of theories about what the grass is doing, and I’m sure all those theories are sound, I’ve found that in practice, unexpected things happen 🙂 It can depend so much on weather, ground conditions, the horse’s personal metabolism. really the best way to tell is to test it with your horses on your field. Start small and monitor things.

  • Two words – Paddock Paradise. It is the most efficient horse keeping system for barefoot horses I have ever heard of. I set up an interior fence 10-20 feet inside the outside perimeter fence of the 10 acre field. My neighbor hays the field and I lay the hay around the track for my three horses to eat year-round. High forage, low sugar, movement, natural ground – most excellent for barefoot hooves and happy, healthy horses. Reference Jaime Jackson.

    • Yes it can work really well, I’ve used one for a few years. Didn’t this year (for reasons far too boring to go in to), we tried something else that worked quite nicely too. Unfortunately for many people who use livery yards, a track system simply isn’t possible.

      In an ideal world. I’d use a track and yard system. I’m close to achieving it…

  • Hi Debs
    Just re-read it and see I wrote probiotic when I meant gut flora at one point! That’s what you get for rambling.

    Agree, all situations and all horses are different and need different responses to different problems. I have been at several yards over the years and if I could change one thing it would be the “we always do it this way” attitude which probably suits the least horses and least owners. Its because there is no simple answer that I think we should look at every conceivable aspect of care which might have any effect rather than just one or two.

    If I drink lots of champagne I get drunk very quickly. If I have a big meal beforehand it takes me a lot longer to get drunk, if I sip it slowly over a long period of time likewise. And if I have a pint of water before I go to bed I don’t wake up with a hangover, which, as we all know, is due to the liver being unable to cope. If I was a horse, champagne would probably trigger laminitis.

    I would be mortified if someone said “get her off the champagne” or took me out of the pub so that I had no access to champagne in the first place and you would never see the question
    “how do you deal with good champagne?” on a blog!
    Its my response to it and especially the reason why I respond as I do which has to be managed and if its managed well, then I can enjoy it as much as I like.
    Which as far as I am concerned is good news……….

  • Hi Debs

    Re grass issues – I moved my horse to a new yard two years ago and she is on her own 3 acres of glorious ground which we are not allowed to tape off in any way!! The first summer they fertilized it with nitrogen based fertiliser (did I mention she is barefoot……?) and groan,
    double groan, we weren’t exactly laminitic, more pre-laminitic slightly off slightly footy and general not OK and also very, very fat.

    I bought a muzzle just incase anyone ever said “put it on or she will die” but really, its not an option, I may get it on once, but certainly not twice.

    So – these are my solutions which worked for me and my mare, she is still grazing 3 acres, the right weight, happy, healthy with great feet and still having some glorious gallops twice a week.

    I can really recommend chatting to Roger Hatch (bless him, he talks about bushels) and I have used his L94 but I use it quarterly and then more regularly we have –

    Western Salts – quite amazing history, read it up

    Equinourish – It should be given daily long term and having been on it for two years so we now have 40ml per day as a sort of maintenance dose which is not quite enough but I am on a budget. You can increase dosage to maximum if you have any sort of flare-up, ie reaction to worming, overeating, etc. I bite the bullet and buy 5 ltr containers to save money.

    Protexin – big hitting probiotic for emergencies, I have used a whole tube in desperation with no ill effects, just a very sparkly horse the next day rather than the morose one with belly-ache I left the night before

    I only feed Marksway Timothy Horsehage as long fibre fodder, all year round, twice per day
    Timothy is the lowest protein content, 3% less sugar than hay, one third water, it fills her up, takes longer to chew and can be stored for months in sealed bags, its dust free and if you shop around, about the same price is good hay. It is the main part of breakfast so she does not go out to the paddock and make a pig of herself at first light.

    Breakfast is really important to us, it seems to regularise things and set the digestion up for the day and this continues all year round, even when grass is lush, even if its only a handful or two morning and night, it keeps the probiotic balance constant 24/7 and its part of our routine.

    When hard feed is really not required as there is just too much food, I was using NAF Pink Powder sprinkled on thin apple slices fed by hand but NAF now have a new balancer, also easy to feed by hand.

    Very very light rugs only at all times – keep that metabolism burning.

    Mine is over 30, so we can not exercise off extra weight, neither can I restrict her grazing in any way as we are not allowed tape so consequently we bring in at night, every night, even if its 10pm until 6am to get her off the grass for a few hours. Quite frankly, with the summers we have had recently, its nice to get both her and her barefoot feet dried off for a few hours so that she can lie down in the dry and get some really good rest. If the weather turns out nice the stable is fly free, an added bonus and best of all, I get a much better quality of exercise from her when I ride and that too is important to keep metabolism good. When out at grass 24/7 she turns into a sort of “dead slug” mode and its pointless tacking up!

    When I worm, or when there is anything “unusual” in her life, new horse arriving, the hunt nearby, I pre-empt it with extra probiotics and an increased dosed of Equinourish and keep them up for a day or so after the unusual event has passed. In winter, I can add Western Salts too but in high summer when she only really wants balancer and a handful or two of something there is nothing to hide the salt in.

    Best of all – regular massage to keep the lymph system running at its best. You can do this twice daily with a body brush or with your hands if necessary, start at the rump and work forwards, working on both sides evenly all the way towards the heart. There are lots of books and info on the net

    The most important thing for me is to have her body functioning like a well-tuned engine and then a laminitic reaction is much less likely, what type of grass you are on becomes much less of a threat and there is no longer any such thing as the wrong grass, only the wrong regime.

    Happy hacking

    • Hi Jen,

      Thank you so much for your detailed reply. There really is no right or wrong way to manage things, as long as what you’re doing works for you. This is such a good example of why there’s no simple way of answering. All pastures and horses not to mention owners and yard rules are different.

      It seems like such a simple question ‘what can I do about rich grazing’ but the answer is anything other than simple. Whole books have been written around the subject after all!


  • Hi Debs, can you clarify what you mean by “rich” grass please? Is any grass when fructan levels are high considered rich, or are particular grass types richer than others? And do you think it’s best to avoid fertilising grazing altogether (even with fertilizer designed for horse pasture?)
    Thanks, Anna 🙂

    • I’d class rich grass as anything that’s not suitable for your horse. ‘Rich’ is a term people use and understand but if you look too deeply it doesn’t mean much. Just as eating a rich meal, could mean a number of things.

      I don’t pay huge amounts of attention to fructans, the model simply doesn’t hold up well. I read a great blog post about it a while ago – I’ll find it for you…

      Grass management in that way is a huge field, one I’m not expert in, for the simple reasons that few of my clients actually have enough control over their pasture. Providing a load of information they can’t follow increases their problems and it’s my job to reduce them 🙂

      That said, in general I avoid fertilising (or most fertilisers). I’m sure that many soils are nutrient deficient (as far as I know there’s been a world wide shortage of magnesium in soil for over 50 years or something like that). If we took the time to figure out what our soil was short in, what we really needed in it, and then fertilised with that no doubt we’d get good results. Thing is, that’s a bit like feeding a nutritional supplement to your field, which might get results – but boy I bet it costs more than supplementing your horse!

      Fertilisers tend to be designed to ‘make stuff grow’ rather than give good nutritional content to what is growing. Hence things like NPK are used so often.

      Different grass varieties are higher in sugar, or fibre or whatever but again, we don’t have a huge amount of control of what our field contains. The species of grass that dominates tends to do so because the environment supports it best. While you can reseed with more horse friendly grasses, you often find that a year or 2 down the line you’re back where you started.

      That all sounds rather defeatist, and I don’t mean it to. It’s possible to change your grazing, and certainly someone with more expertise than me would have a better chance of success, but it does require a huge amount of time, effort, man power, and no doubt money. All of which might be more effective spent on the horse.

  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}