Spring is well and truly here and I have needed to change strategies with my fat horses and ponies to keep them from foundering this year.
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I ran out of the lovely long grass that is so full of dry matter that I save and use to get my horses through spring so successfully and two of my miniature ponies started busting out of the long tree guards where I save the long dry grass for the mini’ s spring eating. So two of the little beggars are getting out onto the shorter sweeter grass – No doubt you can hear me yelling NO! from there!
So between running out of the dry grass for the big horses and the minis busting out, I’ve got the lethal combination of shorter, sweet spring grass and a bunch of fat and vulnerable horses.
They tested up to put some magnesium chloride and bicarb soda and copper pipe in the water trough in addition to the seaweed and rock salt that I normally give them in a feeder. The testing that I refer to is a kinesiology test. In this case they tested up for two cups of mag chloride and 600 gram of bicarb and three feet of copper piping to go into the large cattle trough – those quantities would no doubt be different on a different property.
And most importantly, I had a separate water source with no minerals added to it, so that they could choose plain water if they needed it.
I also managed to get my hands on some oaten hay. I didn’t have to actually mortgage the house to buy it this time, (lucky for me because it’s Sue’s house!) but it WAS groaningly expensive. Grass hay wouldn’t have worked with as much rich sugary green grass as they are on because they wouldn’t have eaten it – but there is something about oaten hay that they will still eat even with all that spring grass.
So the oaten hay that they are getting once a day is giving them good dry matter to turn into the fibrous mat that they need in their stomach to slow down their digestion and process their food properly.
No runny poos – which means I must have that right! Have you ever noticed the horse lover’ s preoccupation with the quality of the horse manure? Laughing here. Do any other animal lovers have as much attention on sh..?
I unapologetically rug some of my horses – Cat’s old horse Pepi who was happily unrugged for most of his life but is miserable now in cold wet weather, Oliver the young Warmblood has been used to rugging all his life I think and comes from the snow country and simply doesn’t do cold and wet and miserable, Bobby the star of the show who has been rugged all his life and very much likes and appreciates it, UT who lost most of his teeth earlier this year and needs extra TLC and Celtic Peace who is having trouble with his stay apparatus (can’t lock his legs and sleep properly standing up like most horses) and loses weight at the drop of a hat.
HOWEVER, they are all vulnerable to laminitis symptoms on this very sugary spring grass – so on the last nice spell of weather that we had, I took off all the rugs and left them off.
When the changeable spring cold wet weather came back, I left the rugs off – giving them extra oats to help generate some warmth, some extra oaten hay to help generate extra warmth and gave them instructions to do lots of running around to keep warm – which will help them use up the sugar in that grass. And on a couple of rough weather days, I gave them some fresh garlic for an immune system boost as well.
Then I kept a close eye on Pepi and Oliver. On one particularly miserable cold and wet and windy day I almost rugged them, but when I went out and checked their body warmth where they were standing under the trees – they were still warm under their bellies and not shivering. So I left the rugs off.
And it’s working! Two spring feet trims and no signs of blood in the feet – woohoo!
Miniature ponies and the short spring grass.
Being locked up on super short green grass is not an option for vulnerable horses like my miniatures, because the toxicity of that stressed grass tends to founder them anyway. And yards with bare dirt, even with unlimited hay, don’t work so well either – their quality of life sucks and so very often horses on bare dirt end up with Cushings disease (I have another article about that here on this website.)
And happy movement is sooo… important for these little fellas, which is why I like the long narrow tree guards with unlimited long dry grass – even if the grass is a bit old.
I save the long dry grass like what is in the tree guards around the outside of the property for the miniature’s spring dining, but unfortunately this year the little beggars wouldn’t stay in there.
So in desperation I tried grazing muzzles for the first time this year and am pleased with the results. The miniature ponies are running with the big herd very successfully in all that spring grass, getting to stay with their mates and do lots of running around. They can still groom each other. They can’t play quite so effectively with the big horses without nipping at their legs, but hey, that’s a small price to pay.
They don’t like them much – but given the choice of bare dirt and hay by themselves or muzzles , spring grass and staying with the rest of the herd, they thought that was the best option.
Caroline brought up a good point – some horses can get quite distressed with grazing muzzles – so use your early warning feeling that something is Not Quite Right, that I teach you about in the free lessons The Six Keys to Happiness, to work WITH your horse or pony for the best short term solution.
So if a grazing muzzle is your short term choice, keep your eye out for any behaviour changes that indicate your horse or pony is getting distressed and change something.
Just as a bit of an eye opener for the owners of ponies – I run my miniatures in with my big horses for MOST of the year.
The key to not having them founder in unlimited grass seems to be the fact that I rotate my paddocks so that they rest and grow VERY long grass. The ponies go into paddocks where the grass is so tall (and dry because of that) that I cannot even see them in there because the grass is way over their heads. It’s hilarious – they look like sharks swimming underneath the grass when the herd gallops along playing and you can see the movement of the grass where they are galloping along with the herd, but you can’t actually see them.
Interestingly, they stopped pigging out as much as they used to and two of them who had been leaning towards Cushings with long coats in the middle of summer, improved their health to normal healthy, short, shiny coats.
I digress … back to tips to stop your horses and ponies from foundering this spring.
Sue’s feet trimmer noticed their grazing muzzles (that will only go on in short spring grass until it gets long and dry again) and told me of a better brand that has holes around their noses and is more comfortable. So I cut mine up to have their little nostrils free and now they are much more comfortable – almost content about it. And they do get extra oats for their hardship!
The thought of how much damage they could do to their bodies if they got the muzzles off, even overnight, made me shudder – so I gather mane from both sides of the strap behind the ears and plait it up so that the muzzle cannot be dragged off.
To summarise my strategies for getting vulnerable fat horses through spring successfully:
Long – very long grass with lots of dry matter.
Grazing under trees on grass with lots of dry matter ( the trees seem to take some of the sugar out somehow.)
Grazing muzzles with their nostrils free.
Bare dirt with unlimited hay so they don’t get stomach ulcers (see an article about how they NEED hay all the time under those circumstances to stop stomach ulcers from developing.) Special hay pillows that slow their eating down work well with this option. (Bare dirt and hay is not my option of choice.)
The magnesium chloride and bicarb additions to my normal mineral regime of seaweed meal and rock salt is I think a significant contributor to the success to getting through spring successfully on this short sweet grass this year. See this website for more details about that.
The oaten hay is giving their bodies both the warmth that they need to go unrugged and the digestive mat in their stomachs to process their food properly.
A good feet trim with low heels and rolled, short toes that keep the feet nice and tight, so as to NOT produce mechanical foundering. (I just thought I would throw that one in even though it wasn’t further up the article!)
Plenty of room and playful companionship to encourage running around to burn up the sugar.
Lots of happy exercise with their human! See The 9 Keys to Happiness lessons again, you’ll find the link to them right at the top of the Training Programs page.! 🙂