The winter that we have just had has been wet, windy but most of all, it hasn’t been all that cold for any great length of time.

This has meant that the grass hasn’t ever fully stopped growing and there have been a lot of incidences of laminitis over the winter this year. Things are starting to warm up now and it seems that for those that need it, the management of grazing needs to start now (if it hasn’t already).

Laminitis is a real risk for all horses so have a look at the various options available to manage grass and see which one may work for you, in your situation. There is an art to managing grass 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

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, wood chip turnout area or, in some instances, the 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. Taking off the muzzle for part of the day can back fire on you as it has been shown that they can do compensatory intake of grass managing to eat as much grass in a few hours as some horses eat all day!

Better to place them on to zero grazing with hay in a slow feeder net when the muzzle is off.

4, Race track – 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. So time is of the essence if you wish to try this option.

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. Beware as this system doesn’t always aid weight control if not managed correctly.

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 until 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 (foggage). 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.

If in doubt, consult a qualified nutritionist.