By Vicki Glasgow

Nutritionist Harbro Limited

As winters go last winter was particularly “soft”, the grass never really stopped growing and that opportunity for the good doer to shift some pounds never really happened.

That coupled with an early spring has meant that the majority of equine land in Scotland is over-run with grass.

If you have good doers and/or those prone to laminitis this can be a particularly worrying time.

There is an art to managing grass for good doers and many options. Whatever you chose has to work for you and your horse.

Balancing act

Managing grazing is always a fine balance; plenty of grass can be a bit of a curse when you are in charge of good doers or indeed any horse that is not in a decent level of work.

Under estimation of the nutrient contribution that grass makes to the horse’s diet is no doubt, partly responsible for increased obesity in the horse population.

Grass is uncontrolled calories; you have no idea how much your horse is eating or what the nutritional quality of it is on any given day and at any given hour!

Managing grass intake

During spring and summer the most important thing to manage is grass intake.

Grass is everywhere and it is the uncontrolled access to grass that can result in horses becoming overweight and/or cresty.

There are several options for this and the one you chose will depend on your individual circumstances.

1. Strip grazing – a common choice, with an electric tape line being moved to allow horse’s access to a strip of fresh grass as and when required. This can be a reasonable option for a group of horses that need their weight managed but may not be suitable for horse’s that have already had laminitis, as the “fresh bite” may still be too much for them during the flush periods.

2. “Starvation Paddock”/ “Zero grazing” – basically a bald patch or outdoor school which allows the horse to get some exercise and be outside with his companions. The horse shouldn’t actually be starved and they should still be provided with soaked or low sugar hay, according to their body condition. This is the only option for some very insulin resistant or very obese horses.

3. Grazing muzzle – this is a good option if you are unable to fence off a bit of your field or if your pony is an escape artist. Correctly fitted and introduced, these can be very successful for some horses. Beware the serial muzzle remover!

If you have one of these in your field perhaps try to separate it from the good doers so that it can’t “be a pal” and remove the offending article.

Also be aware that some ponies can still get a fairly decent amount of grass, even with a muzzle on, once they become accomplished at it.

4. Race Track – my preferred option. This works by pushing the horses round a narrow circuit – normally round the edge of a field. It can be constructed using electric fencing.

This can work well in the summer as it means that the horse has to walk more to get at its grass. Ideally this should be set up and started before the grass starts to grow.

If you are setting up a track at this time of year, it is quite simple to strip graze the horses around it to start with.

Obviously the length of the track will be determined by the number of horses you have, two horses will not need much space if the grass is not to get out of control.

This option not only reduces grass intake but also encourages exercise, a key component to weight management.

The middle of the track can be grazed by any horses lucky enough to not be good doers or by sheep. Some people even take a hay/haylage crop from the centre part.

Later in the year it can be kept free of livestock and provide all important winter grazing.

Utilising excess

People often wonder what to do with the grass that is not being munched as it gets long and stemmy.

If you are not conserving it for hay then most people would ask a farmer to top it for them.

Try to get this done before harvest starts or you will struggle to find an available farmer. Leaving it till after harvest will be too late for the grass to rally in time for the winter.

Another option is to leave it and strip graze it throughout the winter. This can be quite effective but many land owners don’t like to do this as it can look untidy.

Sheep do a good job of keeping grass under control and are also fantastic for breaking the worm cycle.

Equip yourself

If you are continually worried about excess body condition in your horse make sure that you know how to fat score.

It is a worthwhile skill to be able to body condition score horses correctly, make it one of your goals this year to master this skill.

Used fortnightly along with weigh taping it can help to ensure that you are never in a situation where you have a horse at either extreme of the scale.

Remember that changing a horse’s weight takes time in either direction and should be done safely and slowly.

Use the help that is available from the feed companies and equine charities to keep your horse fit, healthy and the “right weight”.