Balance Your Herd's Grazing
A reader asks: "I have an older horse who has trouble keeping weight on, and a younger horse who is a very easy keeper and gets too fat in the spring when they are on the grass together. I‘d like to be able to keep grazing them together, but I know my gelding should not get as much time on the grass as my mare needs. Any suggestions?"
Sensible weight control is every bit as important for a horse's health as it is for a person's, so you're right to be concerned. It can be hard to give each of our horses exactly what it needs when you pasture them all together, but the psychological benefits of herd grazing make it well worth the effort.
A grazing muzzle can be a great help in a situation like this. It fits loosely over the horse's muzzle, allowing only a limited amount of grass through its small holes, thus slowing down the easy keeper's grazing. It can take a while for a horse to get used to a muzzle. At first he may try to rub it off, or run away from it, but most horses will figure it out and adapt in an hour or two.
The muzzle allows your easy keeper to be out grazing with the rest of the herd while limiting how much grass he can eat. Put it on him before you turn them out together. I like to feed a small amount of hay first, just so he doesn't start out on a completely empty stomach; once he gets good at grazing through the muzzle I will stop the hay. Depending on just how easy a keeper he is, leave it on for a few hours a day and then remove it for his last few hours on the grass, to allow him a little free grazing time.
A few words of caution when using a grazing muzzle:
- Introduce your horse to the muzzle for the first time on a day when you will be able to keep an eye on him, just to make sure he doesn't get into trouble before he gets used to it.
- Adjust the muzzle so that it is tight enough to stay in place, but loose enough to avoid rubbing him raw and to permit his jaws to work as he grazes.
- A horse can drink from an open trough through a muzzle, but not from an automatic waterer with an opening too small for the muzzle, so be sure to provide access to a trough.