Should you use a grazing muzzle year-round?
I absolutely love and cringe at the same time when I read the comments that a grazing muzzle is cruel and “unnatural” for horses. My only response is that LAMINITIS IS THE ABSOLUTE CRUELEST thing that can happen to your horse. And a grazing muzzle plays a large part in reducing that risk, and for some horses, a grazing muzzle year-round is the best thing you can do for them.
Why use a grazing muzzle all year long
- Many horses need weight control. Overweight horses have a higher risk of laminitis, joint issues, overheating, and equine metabolic syndrome. And losing weight for such a large animal takes a long time and much effort.
- Horses are helped by the self-control of a muzzle. A horse poses a significant danger of digestive upset following a gorging session. It’s a short distance between being on pasture and laminitis for some horses, it’s similar to the horse that busts into the feed room for a buffet. It might be that your horse needs to wear a slow feeder on his gorgeous face to slow him down, or you can use a muzzle only when lush spring and fall grasses cover the landscape.
- A horse in a muzzle can help to preserve the pastures at the same time. If you have small pastures, or grass that doesn’t grow well for whatever reason, a slow feeding muzzle can help keep your pastures healthier. No pasture that is eaten down can benefit your horse or your farm. Root structures are preserved, and there will be fewer muddy spots for your horse.
- Since muzzles can reduce the amount of pasture that your horse eats by as much as 85%, he can stay out longer doing his horse thing. I double-dog dare you to say that’s not good for most horses to be out as much as possible. (I would insert a winky face emoji if I could figure out how to do that).
Seasonally, there are lots of reasons to keep the grazing muzzle on.
- This is the time of massive growth and the greening of the earth. Pastures are waking up and stocking fructans and starches and other dangers. Let’s just call them “sugars”.
- Spring is risky because of the massive growth of pastures and grasses, and also because horses are not used to eating this much quality green stuff. It’s digestive overload, and horses need to be slowly introduced to such lush and delicious pasture. Acclimating your horse to spring grass takes time, slowly increasing the amount of turnout onto the grass. Muzzles help with this.
- One school of thought is that you can just turn your horse out for a few hours. But horses learn to gorge, which lands a bunch of sugary grass in their bellies in a short amount of time. This is a lot like the horse that busts into the feed room. A muzzle provides slow feeding over time, so your horse can stay out longer. This is better for his digestion and his brain. And his body. So many good things from staying out longer.
These wildly colored muzzles are great for the fashionista horses out there.
- I keep the muzzle on during summer because my barn’s summer turnout schedule means he’s out longer, and all he’s doing is eating more. In some areas of the world, the rapid green growth continues from spring all the way to fall, so the risks of spring grass continue. Also, any increase in turnout hours means more calories – and some horses don’t need that.
- There’s also a danger of a summertime drought – which can also make your pastures hoard sugar in an attempt to survive the drought. In which case, at-risk horses stay at risk beyond the spring.
- In the fall, we have learned that this is the riskiest time for horses to be eating their delicious grass. Not only do pastures have a spring-like spike of laminitis-inducing ingredients, your own horse increases the risk! Your horse’s levels of ACTH naturally increase in the fall, and increased levels of ACTH go hand in hand with increased risks of laminitis. Cushing’s disease is closely related to ACTH levels, and having your horse checked for this will give you an idea of his risk levels all year long, and especially in the fall.
- The other charming thing that happens in the fall is that your horse starts to pack on the weight to prepare for winter. Sometimes this is good, sometimes this is dangerous. Muzzles for the horse that’s out nomming in the fields can temper a massive weight gain in the fall.
- Fall temps also bring about sugar spikes as the evenings get colder. Temps below about 40° overnight lead to sugary and frosty morning pastures.
- I keep the muzzle on for a few reasons in the winter. Mostly, it’s to save the precious grass that’s left. While some farms have plenty of grass to nibble on in the winter, smaller farms may need to stretch their pastures until the warm weather arrives.
- The muzzle also stays on to help prevent digestive system upsets. In the winter, pastures are often not safe due to excessive mud, frozen ground, or icy conditions and horses are not allowed out. This might last for days, or days, or longer. You want to make sure your horse’s system acclimates to grass after an absence, and muzzles help do that.
- But, if there’s a chance that a horse will drink with a muzzle, and then promptly get iced to his whiskers, skip the cold weather muzzling and find another way to keep your horse chewing for as long as possible. Small hole feeders are a great substitute.
- Many horses do well with a muzzle for part of the year, some need a muzzle all year long. Do what’s best for you and your horse, and know that’s there are no set rules about using a muzzle all year long. It’s not cruel to help your horse lead a more natural and slow feeding life while helping to keep weight problems and laminitis at bay.
For the latest in stylish grazing muzzles, I like the following. You can shop here.
The best muzzle in the land – order one here! Also in raspberry and black colors.