How to Introduce Your Horse to Pasture: What You Need to Know

November 16, 2020

How to Introduce Your Horse to Pasture: What You Need to Know

When picturing horses on a fresh green meadow, it seems like the most natural place for them to roam and enjoy grazing. However, for horse owners and carers, you should think twice about unleashing your ponies onto luscious pastures.

Pastures are natural for horses, that is true. However, they can cause your horse enormous problems if you introduce them to this kind of grass incorrectly. If your beloved animal has been grazing on sparse pasture or hay and suddenly switches to lush paddocks, it can become very ill. 

Laminitis and colic are some illnesses that your horse could face, along with the risk of obesity and diabetes. These illnesses can crop up if you transition the animal to rich grassy land too quickly. 

Ponies and horses differ, just as human adults and babies do. See below for the best horse care tips for each and introducing your animal appropriately for its age. 

For Ponies

If you're reading this, there's a chance your pony has potentially never seen fresh pasture before, especially if born in the autumn and winter months. Providing adequate horse care means monitoring your pony closely when moving it onto pasture. 

Modern ponies generally are a lot more sedentary than their wild ancestors, making their food consumption on certain grasses more an issue than previously. With lots of grazing and less activity, weight gain can happen quickly. Ponies can gain weight incredibly easily, and it doesn't set a good foundation for the rest of their life. 

Some risks include heart disease and obesity from incorrectly introducing ponies to pasture. Also, laminitis is a problem you want to avoid. Laminitis is quite common in ponies, with one of the causes being abrupt changes in diet. Laminitis can be a chronic health condition and is why you must be vigilant of your horse grazing. 

You shouldn't be letting your pony out on fresh pastures for extended periods, and definitely not for entire days. 

For Adult Horses 

You must be strategic with your animal's feeding routine, especially when introducing it to large areas of fresh grass. Horses are also susceptible to metabolic syndromes and laminitis, so don't be blasé about your steed spending its time on fresh grasses.  

Health problems can happen instantly if your horse feed changes, so follow a routine to ensure it stays healthy. You could start with half an hour to an hour or so each day. Slowly increase the time until you can leave the horse outside all day. 

It's best if you line your animal's stomach with hay before letting it outside. You may think this is a bad idea in terms of overfeeding. However, it's worse for them to eat fresh pasture on an empty stomach. It can potentially cause equine gastric ulcer syndrome (EGUS).

Pros and Cons of Pastures 

It's not likely that you will have your horse grazing on pastures all year round. Whether due to climate or the availability of fresh grass, you'll have to switch it to other types of horse feed. The transition from one kind of grazing to another is not an incredibly easy one, but it can be worth it. 

If you're considering whether to make the change, read through some benefits.

Pros  

  • Well-maintained grass can be all your animal needs in its diet. It provides the necessary nutrients and fibers.
  • Paddocks mimic a wild-horse situation, which means horses can gallop around and graze. The activity may reduce overeating.
  • It's not just the nutritional aspect of rich grass that can be beneficial to the horse. Pasture tends to be in wide open, outdoor spaces, which can promote the physical health of horses.
  • It's an inexpensive way of keeping your ponies fed, as you can full all their nutritional needs this way.
  • Grazing can boost reproduction in mares. Ovulation can happen earlier compared to animals kept on hay and dry paddocks.
  • Paddocks give horses more freedom than just stalls and stables.

Cons 

  • There are health risks that come with moving ponies and horses onto fresh pasture.
  • You need access to a plot of land suitable for roaming, grazing, and general safety of your animals.
  • Some fields can have plants that may be poisonous to mares and stallions. It can be harder to monitor these kinds of growth in a wild pasture, which creates a risk element.
  • In hot temperatures, paddocks may require mass watering to keep the grass healthy, which is crucial to proper nourishment for horses.

Maintaining Pasture Management 

When introducing your horses to pasture, you must know how to manage this grassland sufficiently for optimum results. The introduction, or reintroduction, of horses to fresh grass often comes after winter when spring starts to bloom. 

Letting your animals graze also means accepting a form of wear and tear to the earth. It will need maintenance. Before you ween your ponies and horses onto lush pastures, here are some things to bear in mind:

  • Through the growing season, make sure grasses reach at least six inches in height before allowing horse grazing.
  • Ensure adequate fencing around the pasture for animal safety.
  • Risk assessments: alongside managing your horse feed routine, look out for other potential hazards in the paddocks. Watch for scrap pieces of metal, poisonous plants, parasites, and holes/ditches.
  • Divide pastures to enable rotational grazing. This division ensures your animals have enough food to eat and that when the grass becomes worn, it has some time to recover.
  • Mow regularly to keep the grass at its optimum height (six to eight inches) and keep weeds at bay. Make sure the grass isn't below six inches, or it will be difficult for horse grazing.

Tall Fescue and E+

It's incredibly important when introducing your horse to paddocks and throughout their time on the fields that you are aware of the troubles lush grasses such as tall Fescue may cause your animals. 

Tall Fescue grows in abundance in the U.S, usually found in hayfields and pastures.  This plant has a vibrant green appearance and thick, rich texture. Understandably, it is a popular choice for those aiming for a healthy-looking field. 

The issue with this kind of plant is to do with an organism called endophyte, which lives within it. Endophyte can promote plant growth and help defend Tall Fescue from pests. However, when infected, it is toxic to horses. In terms of proper horse care, you must be extremely careful when allowing horse grazing on pasture. 

Toxic endophyte fungus is dangerous to all horses. However, pregnant mares can be the most vulnerable. If pregnant mares graze on this kind of infected grass, they can develop thickened placentas. This thickening can cause the death of their foals. Around 60-90 days before giving birth, you should keep a mare away from this kind of grass and be careful about altering her diet. 

Should I Introduce My Horse to Pasture?

Ultimately, it is only you and your fellow horse caregivers who can make this decision. If you are struggling to make this decision, consider some of these Dos and Don'ts of weening your animal onto lush grass:

Do

  • Consult a vet if you feel it is necessary for your horse. You should especially contact a veterinary professional if your mare is pregnant. Also, ask a specialist if you're thinking about the process for foals or if your horse has any pre-existing health conditions.
  • This process can cause risks, especially laminitis and metabolic syndromes. You should seek professional advice for horses with these health conditions or a history of them.
  • Be aware of all the risks that a change to fresh paddocks can bring. Look out for nutritional hazards and external hazards. Some mentioned earlier include parasites and fungal plant infections.
  • If you have decided to bring your horses onto fresher fields, do it slowly. Line their stomachs before they graze on any lush grass.

Don't 

  • Make the change suddenly and leave your horse or pony to graze all day on pasture when it's not used to it.
  • Let your animal overeat when starting a new type of feed.
  • Let your pasture become lowly maintained and overgrown. It can cause certain risks for your animals, including more pests. It also encourages them to gorge on the grass if there is a lot of it.

Conclusion 

If you're reading this article, you probably do practice horse care properly. You likely understand how potentially dangerous something so seemingly harmless can be. Having read this thoroughly, you should be more clued-up on the benefits and the downsides to introducing your horse to pasture. 

Having all the information is essential, and it is sometimes hard to obtain information unless it comes to you. It's why we invite you to Join Our Mailing List! When you do, you become part of an informed, horse-oriented community. Caring about the lives of horses is our number one priority. 




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