Spring grass, so very green and vibrant, and watching it emerge in the paddocks after a winter of hauling hay in driving rain and gales, has surely got to be one of life’s most precious moments! But, as with everything, spring grass comes with a health warning. Small ponies’ behaviour is often blamed on spring grass, and most of us has at some point been on a horse that has acted out of character in the Spring. But rather than simply writing it off as “naughtiness” let’s consider our horses’ behaviour as information.
Horses and ponies tend to be cooped up throughout the winter, fed on hay, with limited turnout. Their bodies and minds adapt to this, and then the Spring comes. We change their routine overnight to suddenly be out for 24 hours a day with beautiful lush Spring grass that is an entirely different food from the hay of the winter. Then we wonder why their behaviour changes!
But what is it in spring grass that causes the problem, and to what extent should we be concerned about the effect of spring grass on our horses? It is worth noting that spring grass can cause more problems for horses that have been stabled all winter, as supposed to horses that have lived out through the winter. As the spring grass begins to grow in the damp and sunny weather it accumulates non-structural carbohydrates or NSCs, which are essentially sugars and starches. The additional NSCs can cause the gut flora to become out of balance which can lead to issues such as colic or laminitis.
The NSCs increase in the grass throughout the daylight hours, so are higher in the grass by the afternoon, than in the morning. However if the temperature is below 4.5 C at night the plant cannot use up its NSCs, so they are still present in the grass in the morning. What this means for you in a practical sense is that it is better as a general rule to allow your horse to graze in the morning, but restrict grazing by the afternoon, unless the night has been cold when it may be better to try and find an alternative to grass turnout. Consider using a grazing muzzle or strip grazing to help reduce grass intake.
However with careful management of your horse’s grazing, you can help them to adjust from winter to summer, in a healthy and happy manner. Remember spring grass is good, but as we all know too much of a good thing…
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