When can you stop using a grazing muzzle?
Grazing muzzles have a clear purpose: to reduce the volume of pasture grass a horse can eat. But can you stop using a grazing muzzle?
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What happens in your horse’s digestive system
- Muzzles also reduce the volume of sugars and starches landing in your horse’s hindgut – a key component to laminitis and colic risk mitigation. It’s as if you were to eat a bag of chocolate candy in 5 minutes or that same amount over 12 hours; you are less likely to get a stomach ache.
- In the horse’s body, sugars have an express ticket through the digestive system. When they land in the hindgut, the resident microbes do the food breakdown. Some microbes work on the fiber; others eat the sugars and starches.
- If a truckload of sugars arrives, those sugar-eating critters gorge themselves, producing wastes that can alter the pH of the hindgut and create gas, hence the colic risk. When the pH changes, some microbes may die, leaving endotoxic remnants. These endotoxins can pass through the gut wall and into the bloodstream, eventually triggering laminitis.
- Grazing muzzles slow this down, allowing the hindgut to process food at a safe pace. Not all horses are at high risk for this situation, but it’s worth knowing.
Why do some horses need grazing muzzles?
- There are two primary reasons to use grazing muzzles – for overweight horses and those with high laminitis and colic risk.
- For overweight horses, grazing muzzles allow slow feeding of pasture but with reduced calories. At-risk horses still need the companionship, movement, and freedom of turnout, with a tool that reduces the sugars and starches. Muzzles act like a wearable hay net.
What about a few hours of grass instead of all day with a muzzle?
- Fewer hours of grass pasture could be great for the overweight horse – as calories are limited. BUT – they may miss out on the other benefits of turnout.
- For laminitis risk reduction, a few hours naked-faced can be the equivalent of letting them eat a bag of grain. The volume of sugary and starchy goodness is too much for their hindgut microbes to handle. Letting your horse spread out the bag of chocolate candy reduces that risk and allows the hindgut’s microbes to work safer than without a muzzle.
When can a horse stop using a grazing muzzle?
- Muzzles can come off when your horse’s risk of laminitis and colic are safely managed and your horse’s weight is appropriate.
- In both situations, your horse should be able to maintain a low laminitis risk and proper weight without a muzzle. It’s easier said than done, and the laminitis and colic risk of metabolic disorders may be life-long and constant. For example, a horse with PPID (formerly known as Cushing’s) will have this condition forever and will be managed with medications and lifestyle changes. You can help insulin-resistant horses with diet, exercise, and weight management.
- Your vet is the best resource you have to determine your horse’s appropriate weight and risk level for laminitis and colic.
Transition your horse out of a grazing muzzle
- You create a diet change every time you alter your horse’s food or feeding mechanism. This applies to removing the muzzle from your horse’s life. Take about two weeks to acclimate your horse to muzzle-free grazing.
- You may find allowing your horse some muzzle-free time at the end of their turnout is best. If you remove the muzzle at the beginning, they may outsmart you and avoid catching.
- Also, the end of turnout time means he’s already been walking, socializing, and eating all day. Nothing new, just a little bit more grass.
Should you alternate days of muzzle wearing?
- This answer is a resounding no. Inconsistency is equivalent to changing the diet daily. It’s feeding chocolate candy all day long, then only allowing a few pieces over a day. Your horse will end up with hindgut whiplash. Which technically isn’t a thing, but it can still be upsetting to your horse’s digestive system.
When is the grass safe for high laminitis risk horses?
- Sometimes it’s never safe for some horses. The risk depends on your horse’s metabolic status and your pasture situation.
- Don’t depend on the color of your pasture grass to determine its sugar and starch goings-on. Grass will fool you! Generally speaking, grass will increase its sugary goodness when stressed out.
Things that stress grass out:
- Chilly mornings – below 40ºF seems to be the consensus among experts
- Hot afternoons and direct sun – all of those UV rays are triggering the plant to grow, which requires sugary fuel.
- Mowing – oops, it’s been beheaded and needs to start growing again
- Going to seed – reproduction takes energy
- Very short grass – will it survive? Better hoard those sugars to grow.
Fall can be riskier than spring
- In the spring, some horses face a gorgeous bloom of delicious and fast-growing pasture. It’s a diet change and a surge of sugars.
- Don’t let the fall fool you. Sometimes, there’s a late growth spurt, lots of rain to fuel growth, and chilly mornings. BUT – your horse also has some changes going on. In the fall, a horse’s natural hormone levels will change to prepare for winter. For metabolically challenged horses, these two factors increase metabolic risk.
- Some horses may be metabolically normal all year, but teeter into the danger zone in the fall. Knowing your horse’s metabolic status provides you and your vet with more accurate information about when pasture is safe. Testing for PPID and equine metabolic syndrome (EMS) is easy and affordable.
The decision to use, and subsequently remove, your horse’s muzzle should be a decision about your horse’s health. Your vet can test your horse for metabolic issues that increase laminitis and colic risk, and help you determine when it’s safe to remove a muzzle.
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Safety break-away halter for grazing muzzles.
The best muzzle in the land. Also in raspberry, blueberry, and black colors.
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Good reading if the hoof is fascinating to you!
EquiShure is a hindgut buffer that can help Cushing’s in horses as well as IR horses to balance their hindguts.
Equithrive Metabarol is also designed to support metabolic health
Quiessence is a supplement to reduce cresty necks, and may reduce the chance of founder.
Heiro is designed to help horses with IR, which can happen with Cushing’s