Avoid the Hidden Dangers in Horse Grazing

Avoid the negative health effects of abundant grass on horses. Give painful laminitis and other related problems the kick with these simple tips.

Spring and summer in New Zealand are seasons of fun, community, and getting outdoors. Often paired with pleasant thoughts about relaxing in the sun and spending time with loved ones and the special animals in your life, the transition from spring into summer can be a very pleasurable one.

For horse owners, however, this time can often be tinged with danger and alertness as concerns about laminitis rise. Laminitis is an inflammation of the hoof that causes a horse great pain and can lead to permanent structural damage.

Hooves are very complex structures, which contain many different parts that work cohesively to ensure the health of a horse. If the hoof structure is damaged too severely, the horse can often not be saved, even with veterinary intervention.

This condition is very serious if not caught. Fortunately, however, by understanding what causes laminitis, we can take steps to ensure the health of our horse. The main perpetrator is grass grown in hot, damp conditions. These conditions arise when spring turns into summer, when there are warm sunny days and cool nights.

Grass grows through a process called photosynthesis, which converts sunlight, moisture, and carbon dioxide into nutrients that create development. When the transition from spring to summer comes, the rate at which grass photosynthesises is increased and so are the nutrients it produces. These nutrients are starch and fructans, commonly known as sugar.

Research shows that horses have trouble digesting these large quantities of sugars, so they pass undigested in the horse’s gut, causing laminitis and acidosis. Acidosis, as the name suggests, is abnormally high acidity in a horse’s hindgut, which leads to decreased appetite, colic symptoms and ulcers.

There are several ways to prevent your horse suffering from laminitis or other related illnesses. The first is to be aware of the potential dangers of hot, wet spring grass, particularly when your part of the country is experiencing higher than normal temperatures and rain. Another way to help your horse with their struggle against laminitis is to restrict how much grass they consume, and instead feed hay or grain.

With education and these simple steps, laminitis should not be feared. As long as horse owners take preventative measures to ensure their horse’s health, both owners and their horses can enjoy the benefits of long, hot days in spring and summer together.