Grazing Horses in Spring: That’s How It Works

The winter is over and the sun warms the heart and soul of horse and rider – no wonder because in this weather it’s just fun to be outside in nature (and nibble on the green grass). So that your darling doesn’t spoil their stomach right away, we give tips on grazing horses!

Always with Tranquillity

When the first warm rays of sun fall on the meadow and the grass shines a lush green, many horses can hardly wait. However, caution is imperative when the horses are brought back to pasture after a winter in the stable.

Here it is always important to take one step at a time. Short grazing times become longer and longer until it can be all day again. This process is also known as “grazing”. The horses are slowly getting used to the juice feed again.

A Tricky Thing for the Stomach

Only a few horses are on a winter pasture, even in the cold season. Instead, it is mostly hay, straw, and mineral feed that is fed from October to March. Fresh treats in the form of carrots and apples are of course also included. But basically, the horse’s stomach has adjusted to digesting dry roughage. This means that it is also equipped with the appropriate bacteria.

However, fresh grass from the pasture is processed by other bacteria, which are virtually non-existent in winter. The horse’s stomach takes care of generating these again, but it needs time for it. And that’s why grazing is so important.

Consequences of Grazing Too Quickly

You may see the nice weather and fresh grass and think that you will do your horse something good if you put him out in the pasture all day. Unfortunately, even if the basic idea is good, you will do the opposite.

The horse’s stomach has become so used to the roughage that the digestive bacteria cannot cope with the abrupt change. You simply cannot digest the weed in large quantities. As a result, the horses often suffer from diarrhea and droppings. Even colic and metabolic diseases such as laminitis can be triggered by grazing too quickly or not at all.

Grazing Despite Winter Pasture

It is also a widespread misconception that horses that have stood in a winter pasture or in an open stable do not have to be grazed. But they too had limited or no access to fresh grass in winter and were given hay or similar roughage.

If their stomachs are confronted with the fresh green grass of a spring and summer pasture, they often rebel in a similar way. So make sure you limit the grazing times a little at the beginning. The paddock can be a good alternative here if you don’t want to put your horse in the box.

Good to know: Even if you want to change pastures within a season, it makes sense to follow the grazing steps. If the flora is very different or if the previous pasture has been grazed enormously, the stomach may also have to slowly get used to the new food.

The Right Time – When to Graze?

Most horse owners start grazing between March and May – depending on how long and heavy the winter was. But there are also other factors that favor a day for grazing or make it rather unfavorable.

These are especially important if your horse has a sensitive stomach. Then not only the grazing itself but also the wrong weather on a wrong day can have negative consequences.

Grazing in the Sunshine – Better Not…

Sensitive horse stomachs in particular often cannot cope with too many fructans in the grass. These form in particularly sunny weather, when not all of the energy can be absorbed by the grass. The lush green also reacts to frost and drought by storing energy and thus forming fructans.

In addition, the pasture should not have been mowed beforehand, if possible. Because in this case, too, the grass triggers a kind of protective mechanism that locks in energy. Horses with poor digestion can experience diarrhea and droppings as a result of grazing in such conditions.

Cloudy and Rainy – Yes, Please!

Conversely, this means that the weather must neither be too sunny nor too cold. Sensitive horses are therefore best left out on pasture for the first time on a rather cloudy, rainy, but nevertheless spring-like warm day.

The night is also ideal for getting the horses used to the pasture. In the dark, the plants use up all the energy they have collected during the day because they can no longer photosynthesize themselves.

Caution! A single, warm, rainy day is not enough to get the horses used to the pasture. So be sure to take a look at the weather forecast for the near future to find out whether the weather will stay that way and whether now is a suitable time for grazing!

Grazing Horses: a Schedule

In order to be able to graze horses properly, one thing is needed above all: time. The process can easily take up to six weeks. Only after this time can the animals spend the whole day on the meadow as usual.

Before Going to the Pasture: Preparations

Before the horses go out to pasture for the first time, they should definitely have eaten properly. In this way, the animals are already somewhat saturated with hay and straw and do not overeat on the fresh grass. The flora of the small intestine is also stimulated and processes the fresh feed much better. Additional food to support the stomach and intestines can be found in our shop.

Once that’s done, it’s best to find a spot where fresh, lush grass will sprout. You can also use a halter and leash for the first few days to lead your horse to the right places. So you will have no problem forwarding it again after a few minutes.

The First Week: Baby Steps

Once you have found a suitable time to graze, it is best to start with 5 to 10 minutes of grazing time. Depending on how sensitive your horse’s stomach is, the time is kept shorter or longer.

After the third or fourth day, you can then increase the time by 5 to 10 minutes a day. Most horses have a grazing time of 45 to 60 minutes after the first week.

The Second and Third Week: Split Stay

Once your horse has got used to about an hour’s grazing time per day, start to let it out to the pasture several times a day. Around the ninth day, your animal will be allowed to graze for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening. In the meantime, it still has sufficient access to dry roughage.

Increase this time every two to three days by about half an hour for each pasture. On the 22nd day, you will usually have a grazing time of 4 hours per pasture. The break between the grazing times has shrunk considerably here.

The Fourth Week: Reach the Desired Time

In the fourth week, you then extend the grazing time again by half an hour until the gap between the two-time windows closes. Your horse is now ready to spend the full day in the pasture and you have successfully grazed.

By the way: If you have to interrupt grazing for several days, you should definitely start over. The bacteria only develop if fresh grass is actually fed every day.

Also pay attention to signs of colic (e.g. lying down and rolling) and laminitis (e.g. relieving the front legs, warm hooves, and lameness). If this occurs, check with your vet and go slower with grazing!

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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