If and When to Let Your Metabolic Horse Graze

While it is nice to see your horse turned out on lush green pasture, for anyone that has had a horse with laminitis, it can cause major anxiety. This rings true when you have a horse with insulin resistance, equine metabolic syndrome, or a history of laminitis because they are very sensitive to sugars. While most of these horses do best if they are dry-lotted and fed low NSC hay, this can cause boredom and increase the chance of developing bad habits.

If you do want to turn out your sugar sensitive horse, there are some important things to consider: when to turn them out, for how long they should be out, and what kind of pasture they are being turned out on. It isn’t recommended to leave horses with metabolic issues turned out continuously. This can lead to more metabolic issues, and they are at a much higher risk of developing laminitis.

Type of Pasture Plays An Important Role in Grazing

When horses are getting turned out on growing pasture in the spring, or irrigated pastures that grow continuously throughout the summer, this is when the most sugar will be in grasses, and raises the most concern to horses with metabolic issues. If your horse has access to a dry pasture where the grass has gone dominate, these plants are typically lower in sugars, and therefore, your horse can be allowed to graze for a longer period of time.

Considering Sugar Levels With Time of Day for Your Metabolic Horse

When deciding what time of day to turn your horses out on growing grass, it is necessary to consider when the level of sugar is the lowest. Sugar builds up in grass with more exposure to sunlight and can take several hours for sugar levels to drop after the sun goes down. For this reason, it is best not to turn sugar sensitive horses out on pasture before 3 AM and take them off by 10 AM. If it’s very overcast photosynthesis in the pasture is reduced, and therefore sensitive horses can graze a little longer.

However, if temperatures drop below 40 °F at night, grasses don’t utilize the sugar they have stored to grow. Therefore, the sugar content of the grasses stays high. In this case, you won’t want to turn your sugar sensitive horse out in the morning after cold nights.

In addition, typically, the majority of the sugar stored in grass is in the bottom 3 to 4 inches. Grass that has been grazed down this much would carry higher risks for your sugar sensitive horses. So, you are better off to let your horse graze taller grasses and let short grasses recover and grow.

Each Metabolic Horse is Unique

When considering pasture turnout, it is important to consider the sugar sensitivity in each and every horse. Some horses are so sensitive that any amount of lush grass sets off their metabolic issues, while others can be managed to give them some time to graze and stretch their legs. Turn out is important for the health of all horses, so look at options for dry-lot turnout for very sugar sensitive horses, or possibly a grazing muzzle, which would allow for turnout and limit their grass intake.  After all, you want your horses to all be healthy in both body and mind.

About Dr. Kelsey J. Nonella Ph.D., P.A.S.

Kelsey J. Nonella, Ph.D. is an equine nutritionist who was riding horses before she could walk. Her love for horses drives her to help educate people on what their horses’ needs in order to have happy, healthy horses. Kelsey went to Cal Poly receiving a Bachelor’s of Science in Animal Science and then onto West Texas A&M, where she got her Masters and eventually her Doctorates in Equine Science. At A&M, Dr. Nonella did extensive research on Selenium within horses. Click here to view her research. Kelsey’s colleagues have mentioned her as one of the United States equine Selenium experts.
View all posts by Dr. Kelsey J. Nonella Ph.D., P.A.S.

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