Train your horse to wear a grazing muzzle
- The beauty of muzzles is their absolute simplicity for horse owners. Grazing muzzles are a hay net for your horse’s face, creating that slow-feeding scenario that supports many aspects of your horse’s health. And muzzles are not just for early spring, you can use them all year long.
Benefits of grazing muzzles
- As your horse munches away on grass pasture in his cute “face hay net,” his grass intake shrinks! Your horse eats a smaller volume of non-structural carbohydrates – those sugars and starches, in addition to calories. He’s also decreasing the speed at which those sugars and calories hit his digestive system.
- The danger to most horses in lush pasture, or horses that are new to grass pasture, is the “gorging on grain” effect. It’s the big-space equivalent of breaking into the grain bin.
- Starches and sugars zip through to the hindgut. There, the microbes have a literal PARTY, eating all of those sugary snacks. Then all of their waste products hit the gut hard and fast, changing the hindgut’s pH.
- When the pH changes, other types of microbes die, and their little corpses and the sugary microbe poop create gas, colic, and a distressed digestive tract. Enter laminitis into the mix.
- There is a higher risk of laminitis for horses with equine metabolic disorders: Cushing’s disease or Insulin Resistance. But – any sudden change to a pasture routine creates the perfect storm for digestive upset and colic.
How to train a horse to use a grazing muzzle
- The goal is to teach your horse that the muzzle means grass and freedom. It’s black and white – your horse wears a muzzle, he eats grass. Your horse is not wearing a muzzle, no grass.
Take baby steps. Luckily, since pasture is involved, those steps go pretty quickly.
- Step 1 – Let your horse wear his halter and basket in the grooming area or stall. LOTS OF PRAISE. It may be possible to feed a small treat through the basket, if you provide treats by hand. This also gives your horse a clue that he can eat through a small hole.
- Do this for a few minutes, over a few day’s time. You want him to anticipate a reward by wearing his new hay net!
- Step 2 – Take your horse for a hand-graze on some pasture grass. Let him figure out how to maneuver the tasty treats through the bottom of the muzzle. Try to avoid short grass, as the reward is tiny. Also, avoid tall grass, as it folds over and is harder to grab. There’s a happy medium here!
- Hand-grazing gives you the chance to check the muzzle fit, too. Keep plenty of room around his face, and his chin shouldn’t be hitting the inside of the basket. The bottom of the muzzle should be parallel to the ground so he can pick it up, set it down, and chomp.
- Do this for a few days or longer until your horse has figured out how to nom successfully. Always praise and reward along the way!
- Step 3 – Turn your horse out for a short time wearing the muzzle. Gradually increase the amount of time on pasture grass over days and weeks. A steady increase of grazing time acclimates his digestive system to this new food and way of eating.
- Your horse should develop only positive associations throughout this process. He will adjust to the amount of grass the muzzle provides! Keep the end goal in mind – a happy horse, with great mental health, enjoying longer periods outside on his favorite snack.
Muzzle = Grass. No Exceptions.
What NOT to do when introducing the muzzle to your horse.
- Do not give your horse confusing signals by allowing part-time use of the muzzle. Pasture access is contingent upon using the grazing muzzle.
- Part-time use of a muzzle gives your horse a mixed-signal and may encourage him to find ways to remove the halter on his own. You will also be throwing all of the benefits of a muzzle out the window! He will be able to shovel so much grass into his adorable face.
Other helpful tips for pasture turnout with a muzzle
- Remove any posts or tubs that he may use to pry the muzzle off. Hotwire fencing is great to have anyway and will keep your horse from taking down the fence.
- If your horse goes out in a herd, evaluate the herd’s members and their needs for a muzzle. For a low-ranking herd member to wear a muzzle, all horses in that group should wear one, so the playing field is equal. For a high-ranking member, he can wear one, and the other horses could go without if necessary.
- Always have a breakaway halter attached to a grazing muzzle. While we don’t want our horses to pull them off, we REALLY don’t want them to get stuck on something and end up in a tug of war. Nylon turnout halters are made safe with a leather crownpiece.
- Halters should also be secure around the throat latch, and for truly skilled horses, you can braid a thick chunk of mane and run the crown piece through the braid. The fit of the halter is just as important as the way the grazing muzzle fits.
- Make sure the circumference of the muzzle can fit into your horse’s water source in the pasture! Many manufacturers have an information page on their website detailing what automatic waterers work. You can always put a muck tub or small trough out there, too.
- Keep track of your horse’s weight. While these face baskets restrict caloric intake, it’s a balancing act and you don’t want your horse’s weight to swing either way. It’s easy to use a weight tape to measure your horse every week or so.
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