As the spring season approaches, green pastures will begin to prosper again! This is the best time of the year for your horse to get essential nutrients from grazing. Though it is tempting to immediately let your horse roam in the pastures, it is important to transition your horse slowly to spring grazing. There are specific recommendations to follow in terms of optimal grass length and amount of time grazing per day to ensure a healthy pasture and horse. A slow transition reduces the risk of digestion problems and increases the amount of healthy pasture available for grazing.
Horses will eat as much fresh pasture as they can to fill their stomachs, plus they enjoy the taste! If your horse is left unsupervised to graze in the beginning of spring, it can lead to numerous health issues and a further unfruitful pasture. The spring grazing season should begin after the pastures reach at least 6-8 inches in grass length. This grass length is to ensure maximum health of the pasture and your horse. Once pastures reach 6-8 inches, you can introduce grazing to your horse for 15 minutes each day. After introducing your horse to grazing for 15 minutes each day, you can gradually begin increasing their grazing time. Each consecutive day, increase your horse’s grazing time by 15 minutes until four to five hours of grazing time is reached. After the four to five hours have been reached, unlimited grazing time can occur for the rest of the season.
Follow a schedule to properly introduce your horse to spring grazing.
Days 1-3: 15 minutes per day
Days 4-5: increase time by 15 minutes per day (until 4-5 hours is reached)
Day 16+: unlimited grazing time allowed
Just as your horse's health is important, so is your pasture’s. Your horse’s health is dependent on a vibrant and healthy pasture. Pastures need enough time to grow before grazing can begin. If the grass is grazed too early, prior to 6 inches of growth, the plants may lose their photosynthetic ability. If grazed too early or too often, the plant will lose competitiveness and root structure. This will cause the pasture to wither and die. In place, the pasture will be filled with growth of weeds or other unwanted plants. Grazing must stop when the grass length reaches three to four inches. When the pasture is too short to graze, move your horses to feed at a paddock or dry lot. Once the pasture has regrown to the optimal length of six to eight inches, horses may begin grazing again.
Optimal Horse Health
During the winter, horses spend increased amounts of time indoors and mainly eat hay or grain. The winter diet for horses is extremely different from the spring and summer diet. Green pastures provide more nutritional value for your horse than hay. A grazing diet supports the overall immune system as well as nerve and muscle function. In general, spring pastures are the most optimal diet for horses. The spring season is when your horse can thrive the most! These luscious pastures are high in sugars, protein, 85% moisture, and vitamin E. In contrast, hay is only 15% moisture and can lack nutrients. Microbial populations in the horse’s gut need time to adjust from their winter to spring diets. This is a major reason why it is very important to gradually transition the horse’s diet from winter to spring. Sudden changes in your horse's diet can cause major problems in their digestive tract. Another issue with early overgrazing is that early pastures have high non-structural carbohydrates (simple sugars, starches, and fructans). These are wonderful nutrients for your horse, however large quantities of these nutrients can result in laminitis or founder in horses. These diseases cause inflammation of your horse’s bones, more commonly in horses that have metabolic problems such as Equine Metabolic Syndrome and insulin resistance.
This spring, it is important to slowly introduce your horse to pasture grazing. It is also essential to follow the recommended schedule for introducing gradual grazing. Slowly introducing grazing will allow for optimal digestion and a healthy microbial population. Remember to allow for optimal pasture growth of six to eight inches before letting your horse out to graze. If pasture levels get too low, around three to four inches, remember to allow for regrowth or else your beautiful pasture could wither. Remember all of these tips and your horse will have a great spring season!