Spring is just around the corner! As the ground warms up again, the grass starts growing again too. And when the grass has grown strong enough, your horse can go out in the meadow again. Lovely, of course. But how do you make the transition to the pasture as smooth as possible for your horse to get used to grass?
Grass starts to grow when the ground temperature reaches between 5°C and 8°C. Grass growth is optimal between a ground temperature of 12°C and 20°C. When the soil temperature exceeds 25°C, grass temporarily stops growing. So a mild and moist spring is optimal for grass growth.
Transition in rations
If your horse is off grass in winter, the switch to grazing is quite drastic for the digestive system. Going from a diet of dry hay to juicy and sugar-rich grass really takes some getting used to for the bacteria and yeasts that digest all the fibre in the large intestine. These micro-organisms need to adapt to the new dietary composition. Therefore, always ensure a gradual transition from hay to grass. Otherwise, your horse will get diarrhoea or even colic.
Preventing obesity and laminitis
When a horse has rich grass with a high sugar content available, obesity and laminitis are lurking around the corner. This is a particular risk in draft horses such as Irish Cobs (Tinkers), Haflingers and Shetlanders. But even in warmbloods, ponies and Friesians it is good to pay attention to the composition of the pasture. To make the transition to pasture as smooth as possible, start with an hour on grass. Sensitive horses should only be grazed for half an hour at first. Increase grazing slowly and keep watching your horse very carefully. Soft manure or slightly warm hooves are signs that you are going too fast. If so, scale back the duration of your grazing immediately. To prevent your horse from eating a lot of grass very quickly when it goes out to pasture, give it some dry hay beforehand, so that it does not go out to pasture with an empty stomach. On days when there is a lot of sugar in the grass, you can also leave your horse in the paddock a bit longer, with hay. This is for example on sunny mornings after cold nights. On the internet and in special apps, you can find so-called ‘fructan alerts’ that can help you on your way. In some cases, a grazing mask can be useful.
Horse pasture versus cow pasture
Many pastures are full of ‘cow grass’, or English ryegrass. This grass contains high levels of sugars and protein because cows need to produce as much milk as possible. A cow is a ruminant with four stomachs and has a totally different digestive system than a horse. Horses have only one stomach and much of the digestion takes place in the large intestine, using microorganisms. Horses are adapted to eating long-stemmed, rough grasses, herbs, shrubs and trees. In nature, they also have to put in a bit of effort and walk a lot for that. A green meadow with lots of ryegrass is too much of a good thing for almost all horses. So in your horse pasture, always choose a variety of grasses and herbs that are suitable for horses. These contain more minerals and less sugars. This suits the gastrointestinal system and the needs of horses much better. In addition, you should fertilise a horse pasture less heavily and certainly not with artificial fertiliser. That produces grass that is too rich, which can cause obesity and laminitis. Summer itch and eczema also get worse from fertiliser in your meadow. A grassland rich in herbs is best fertilised with pasture minerals from the Bering Sea. These also contain all the trace elements your horse needs to get through its diet.
Tips for a smooth transition to pasture
A smooth transition to fresh grass at pasture is very important to keep your horse healthy. Our tips:
- Provide a horse pasture with suitable grasses and herbs
- Do not fertilise your meadow too heavily and certainly not with artificial fertiliser
- Use meadow minerals to keep the meadow healthy
- Always feed your horse some hay before he gets used to grass
- Start grazing slowly
- Use a grazing mask if necessary
Eerste curve grasgroei en bodemtemperatuur. 2014. WUR. https://edepot.wur.nl/338038
Kruidenrijk grasland sluit beter aan bij natuurlijke dieet paarden. 2023. LTO Noord. https://www.ltonoord.nl/programmas/biodiversiteit/actueel/paardenhouderij-kruidenrijk-gras-sluit-beter-aan-bij-natuurlijke-dieet-paarden