Does your horse need a grazing muzzle?
Horses can benefit from grazing muzzles in various situations. Some horses absolutely need a grazing muzzle. Most commonly, overweight or horses at risk of laminitis do well with muzzles. Grazing muzzles reduce calories and the speed at which sugars and starches end up in the hindgut.
- When lots of sugars quickly enter the hindgut, as is the case with breaking into the feed room and having a buffet, the microbes there FEAST. Endotoxins and a change in pH of the hindgut can leak through the digestive tract into the bloodstream, landing in the hooves. This digestive cascade puts hooves at risk for laminitis and the entire digestive system at risk for a colic episode.
- Eating pasture without a grazing muzzle mimics the “pony in the feed bin” scenario for laminitis-risk horses.
- Quick reminder – grazing muzzles are hay nets that your horse wears. That is all. And as a bonus, horses wearing muzzles walk in their pastures MORE than their naked counterparts. BAM – double benefit – movement and slow feeding!
Muzzles act like hay nets that your horse wears.
Overweight horses definitely need some weight management with grazing muzzles if they have access to pasture. Extra pounds on a horse’s frame can lead to these problems:
- Added strain on hooves and legs. They have to carry and move that extra weight around.
- Increasing arthritis. Arthritis is already uncomfortable enough, and that stress on joints makes arthritis more painful.
- Thermoregulation disturbances. Overweight horses have a more challenging time cooling off. That extra weight is pure insulation.
- Cardiovascular and pulmonary stress. It’s difficult to move blood and oxygen through a body with extra layers.
- The build-up of fat around internal organs. The extra fat surrounding internal organs may interfere with the actual function of that organ.
- Increased risk of laminitis. Laminitis is all tied up in your horse’s metabolism and how sugars and insulin work in the body. Overweight horses are likely to develop equine metabolic syndrome (EMS), of which laminitis is a trait. More on that particular dilemma in a minute.
- It’s easy to think that slicing calories is key to weight loss, but it’s usually not. A horse that loses weight safely eats from slow feeders, uses muzzles, and constantly eats while increasing movement and exercise. A significant reduction in forage can be detrimental to overall health, and no weight is lost is achieved. To help your horse lose weight, keep feeding 1.5% to 2% of your horse’s body weight in forage.
I see a cute pony with a huge future in racking up vet bills.
Metabolic issues and the need for grazing muzzles
- The two significant metabolic issues to note are EMS and pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID), formerly known as Cushing’s disease.
- EMS is a collection of conditions, including obesity, laminitis, and insulin resistance. The horse cannot effectively use insulin to regulate sugars with insulin resistance. This results in elevated insulin levels, which create a higher risk for laminitis.
- PPID stems from a horse’s pituitary gland and causes a chain reaction of hormones, ultimately creating insulin dysregulation. Horses with PPID may also develop insulin resistance concurrently.
- When a horse has insulin dysregulation, any sugars in their diet must be carefully monitored. It’s not just reducing them, as you would by switching from a fortified feed or ration balancer to mineral and vitamin supplements. Reduce sugars in the entire diet and slow down sugars in the digestive system.
- Spring and fall grasses are exceptionally talented at mimicking the horse in the feed room situation. So much lush grass in spring and stressed grass in fall gets risky for many horses.
Your horse can only grab a little bit at a time – and more openings mean more air flow.
- As a general rule, horses should only have changes to their diet made over two weeks or so. It could be a change of hay or feed, or moving from one pasture to another. It also means that sudden spring grass or moving from a dry lot to grass needs to transition slowly. Grazing muzzles make that happen.
- Another transition is moving a horse from a few hours of pasture to a full day, or night, of pasture. Turnout time is a diet change, and wearable hay nets are helpful. Some horses are susceptible to pasture and become gassy and colicky. Slow down that gas production with a grazing muzzle.
Preserve pasture for winter grazing
- Not all of us are blessed with year-round pasture that stays viable all 12 months of the year. When fields are dormant in the cold, horses not wearing muzzles can quickly wear them down to bare bones. You may end up with a muddy lot for a few months, root damage, and bored horses. The spring grass transition becomes smoother when you maintain some winter pasture with muzzles.
This pasture is about to head into winter – without grazing muzzles, it will be a muddy mess soon.
Depending on your horse, muzzles may be a year-long thing! And that’s great – especially since you are putting your horse’s health first.
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