Horses are amazing creatures that thrive when they can eat forage all day long and wander for miles to do so. Modern horse keeping has disrupted the natural order of things. We keep our horses in paddocks and stalls and determine the makeup and content of their meals, including hay and fortified feeds. We even give them treats! Then we turn them out to graze, often in thick and lush pastures. These patterns of contemporary feeding and less natural roaming can easily, and too often, result in a fat horse.
Weight gain for horses has consequences
What are the possible consequences for a horse that gains weight? Their physical fitness suffers in a number of ways. The extra weight a horse carries places unnecessary stress on his joints and soft tissues of the lower legs. His cardiovascular system may also be strained to compensate for the added weight, making fitness a challenge. Overheating and trouble regulating body temperature are also possible fitness-related consequences. Overweight horses are also likely to develop metabolic disorders like insulin resistance and Cushing’s disease.
Even on a small pasture, a horse can pack on the pounds. Photo by Mike’s Photos on Pexels.
Beyond basic muscle conditioning and skeletal wear, horse weight gain can contribute to a range of health problems. There’s also the risk of lipomas - tumors of fat - as they age. Horses are also at increased risk for developing laminitis in their hooves. Laminitis is a life-threatening inflammation of the soft tissues inside the hoof. It is a real threat to many horses.
When to use a muzzle
We all want our horses to have that time on the grass, to play, eat, and hang out with their horse buddies. As horse owners, the best and most responsible thing that we can do is be proactive and try to prevent our horses from putting on excess pounds in the first place. This is where the grazing muzzle comes in!
You can help keep your horse’s weight in check with the use of a grazing mask or muzzle. What is a muzzle?
The grazing muzzle is a piece of training equipment - in the sense that using one trains him to eat less for better health. Think of a grazing muzzle for horses as a kind of wearable slow-feeder! Designed for use when your horse is grazing on pasture, a grazing muzzle attaches to a halter and allows them to eat less grass than they would otherwise.
The benefits outweigh any grazing muzzle problems
As with any new accessory, a horse’s main issues with starting to use a grazing muzzle come with adjusting their normal behaviors to accommodate it. For instance, your horse will have to figure out how to nibble through the slats to grab small bits of grass. Don’t worry; horses are extremely intelligent and resourceful creatures, and where food is involved, horses adapt and figure this part out really quickly!
Horses are used to grazing throughout the day. Photo by Mabel Amber on Pexels.
A grazing muzzle encourages a horse to exercise his mind and body. He will be allowed to move around as he nibbles, and his mind stays working by solving the eating puzzle presented by the muzzle. By limiting his access to pasture grass, you are reducing your horse’s risk of developing laminitis. You are also helping your horse maintain a healthy weight.
Muzzles can also have an environmental impact. In drier times, the weather doesn’t always cooperate and support a lot of grass. If you have a number of horses grazing in a small pasture, using grazing muzzles will allow the land you do have to retain more grass over a longer period of time and reduce the risk of erosion.
Choosing a muzzle for your horse
Consult with your veterinarian to help you determine if your horse’s health and weight warrant the use of a grazing muzzle. When deciding if you need to add a grazing muzzle to your horse’s routine, you and your vet should consider several factors:
- Your horse’s weight
- His diet, including hay, feeds, and treats
- His current exercise routine
- His medical history: arthritis, metabolic disorder, hoof problems
Nellie is wearing a GreenGuard Grazing Muzzle. Photo by Alicia Chester.
If you decide that a grazing muzzle is part of the plan, be sure to find one that fits your horse’s head comfortably. You also want a muzzle that won’t slide off his snout. Horses are quite clever at removing things that interfere with their access to food. We refer to these escape artists as “Houdini horses.” Horses are much less likely to try to remove a muzzle if it fits comfortably and allows for them to breathe easily.
Keep your horse healthy with a safe and reliable grazing muzzle!
Liv Gude is the founder of Pro Equine Grooms, a community devoted to the best in horse care.