Pasture management - preparing for spring
Aim: Understanding why spring pasture affects horses/ponies and how to manage our pasture to protect at-risk horses/ponies.
Horses evolved as free-ranging grazing animals, meaning constant access to good quality long stem roughage (hay/grass) is fundamentally important to a horse’s diet. However, not all horses can have free access to pasture especially during spring.
Spring provides the most ideal conditions for new grass growth, providing consistent sunlight and rainfall. All green plants are autotrophs, meaning that grass uses the process of photosynthesis to create energy from water and sunlight in the form of glucose (sugar). Therefore, sunny days are ideal for producing sugar and NSC (None-Structural Carbohydrates) content increases. During the night grass utilises its own energy to grow which lowers sugar/NSC content. Frosty nights stress the grass which causes water/sugar retention for survival. Grazing during the daylight or frost causes the horse/pony to have a spike in sugar/NSC intake. This can be particularly harmful for horses/ponies with EMS, Laminitis, Cushings or even encouraging fizzy/hot behaviour.
Spring Pasture Management
We must prepare our pastures for our horses/ponies that are at risk to the ‘spring flush’ or have sensitivities to high sugar intake. We can do this by:
Control Grazing Through Rotation Or Strip Grazing
Rotational grazing system is when large paddocks have been divided into smaller paddocks. Rotational grazing allows owners to limit their horses/ponies access to pasture. This technique also allows pasture to regrow, improving forage productivity.
Strip grazing requires moveable electric fences or portable fences to control the amount of pasture intake horses/ponies receives.
Both grazing systems allow the horses to mimic natural grazing behaviour and a chance to exercise and interact with other horses/ponies.
Night-time & Yarding During The Day
Pasture does not photosynthesise during the night (utilising sugar/NSC to grow), therefore sugar/NSC levels are at their lowest. Unless there is frost, then it is recommended to keep your horse/pony off the pasture completely.
Muzzle grazing is the alternative option to yarding or rotational grazing. It allows the horse/pony restricted pasture access and controls overall grass intake, this in turn can assist in reducing sugar/NSC intake and weight management. Please ensure the muzzle is fitted appropriately so the horse/pony can eat and drink.
Removal From Pasture
If your horse/pony is recovering from laminitis or currently has laminitis and cannot have access to any pasture. Please ensure they have constant access to long stem, low sugar roughage such as Rhodes hay, Teff hay, Lucerne hay, Meadow hay or even a sugar tested hay.
Spring Diet’s for Obesity and EMS Horses/Ponies
For horses and ponies prone to obesity and EMS, we can provide very low starch/sugar diets and still meet roughage requirements through low sugar/starch hay. The most common mistake we find owner’s make is immediately restricting access to roughage (pasture and hay) and putting them in a yard or ‘The Jenny Craig’ paddock. This not only negatively impacts the horses/ponies’ digestive system but their overall health and well-being.
All horses/ponies require a minimum 1.5% of their body weight in roughage per day for optimal health and wellbeing.
- Calculation: Bodyweight (kg) x 0.015 = Roughage (kg) per day
We recommend horses (especially the good doers) be provided hay in a slow feeder. Slow feeder hay nets or tubs increase the horses/ponies time spent eating. This acts as a boredom buster, mimics natural grazing behaviour, and increases time spent chewing and producing saliva which contains buffering factors that protect the stomach and prevent ulcer formation.
We also recommend providing a hard feed (concentrate or full feed) or a vitamin/mineral supplement to meet their essential nutrient requirements alongside roughage.
For good doing horses on a roughage only diet or a very small hard feed we recommend HYGAIN® BALANCED®. BALANCED® is a concentrated option, meaning a small feed can be provided to meet the horse’s nutrient requirements without causing excess weight gain.
- Example: 500kg horse at maintenance requires 500g BALANCED® per day to meet nutrient requirements.
For poor doing horses that require weight gain or larger amounts of feed to maintain condition (and can be sensitive to starch/sugar) we recommend HYGAIN® ZERO®. ZERO® is a full feed, which means larger quantities are required to meet the horses nutrient and calorie requirements.
- Example: 500kg horse at maintenance requires 1.5kg – 2kg ZERO® per day to meet nutrient requirements.
Please ensure you are following the recommended feeding guidelines, to meet your horse’s essential vitamin/mineral requirements (alongside roughage).
For ponies/horses that must be restricted from lush green pasture and spend majority of their time within a yard and stables, we recommend adding BONAFIDE® to the diets.
Grazing animals derive their K1/K2 vitamin through green growing pasture. Natural K1/K2 is involved in activating osteocalcin, which assists in bone formation.
BONAFIDE® is a patented and unique source of bio available, water-soluble Vitamin K1 and K2 to aid in the strengthening of bone density and integrity.
Type of Horse
Type of Feed/Supplement
Appropriate Feed/Supplement Option
Very Good Doer
- Spring provides the perfect environment for grass growth, which promotes high levels of sugar/NSC.
- If pasture is completely restricted, it is absolutely essential to provide minimum 1.5% of the horses/pony’s body weight in roughage per day.
- Laminitis, Cushings or EMS horses/pony’s require low sugar starch hay options. Avoid cereal grain hays!
- To meet horses/ponies’ nutrient requirements, they will require a fully fortified feed or supplement.
- If horse/pony do not have access to green pasture consider adding Bonafide®.
If you would like further assistance choosing a feed best suited to your horse or wish to have a nutritional consult, please don’t hesitate to get into contact with our Nutrition team: firstname.lastname@example.org
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