The Perils of Lush, Beautiful, Oh-So-Delicious Spring Grass

If your horse is sugar/starch sensitive, an all-you-can-eat buffet of spring grass can spell serious trouble. Jody Webb suggests some preventative measures.

From Jody:

Spring is almost here! I know, I know, you didn’t think it was going to happen did you?

Now that spring is almost here our horses are going to be itching to get outside and that grass is going to start growing. It’s also going to start sweetening up and many horses out there can’t tolerate that sweetness. So what can you do to help?

First of all, determine if your horse is in a “danger” category regarding sugars and heavy starches. Has your horse had a laminitis attack before? Foundered? Navicular? Cresty? Cushings? Over 12 years of age? Already get an overload of sweets in their regular diet? Any of these conditions can lead to a dangerous situation for our horses who are suddenly turned out on a field full of spring grass and allowed to eat to their heart’s content.


Cresty neck from diet of only spring grazing.


This is not a draft — it’s an Arabian… about 100 pounds overweight from a straight diet of of spring grass and barely walking from foot pain, an early indicator of laminitis.

As a person who is approaching my “midlife crisis” years, I am very aware that I have to watch my sugar intake more so than I did 15 years ago. I also own two very “sugar sensitive” horses, so control of sugars is always on my mind. However, most people in the horse world don’t stop and think about how sugar and grain intake affects their horses.

Is your horse sugar or grain sensitive? A horse that gets really cresty (thick buildup in the topline of the neck) could be a horse who is headed for an attack of laminitis and possibly founder. But not all sugar sensitive horses are “chubby bunnies.” Many difficult to put weight on horses also have sugar issues. If your horse is “too much too handle” or “more whoa than go” or “spooky” when on grains or sweet hays/grasses, you may have a sugar sensitive horse.

While that horse many not be so sensitive as to have an attack of some sort when young, as that horse ages it will become more sensitive to sugars in its diet the same way that people do. It may have a midlife sugar crisis that can lead to permanent health issues.

Though it is not a 100% guarantee that your horse will never have sugar related issues, there is much you can do NOW to protect your horse from future problems. The first is to put your horse on a low sugar/controlled starch/higher fat diet. Read the labels on your feed bags! If the foods contain grains (oats, wheat, corn, etc.) pass these up for Low Starch or Low NSC or Low Carb feeds. Grains have limited nutritional value but add to overall sugars and starches and it can cause many problems in the modern equine diet. However if you want a “grain” in your feeds, go for single ingredient grains such as rice bran, or a small amount of whole oats or barley which add B vitamins. All of the “Bs” can also be covered in Nutritional Yeast without adding additional carbs or calories to the diet. Replacement foods with healthy fats such as flax seed and camelina will provide omega 3s and vitamin E, which not only produce a shiny coat but are healthy for joints. Black oil sunflower seed and coconut meal may be higher in omega 6 but also provide more sustainable energy levels than grains without a “sugar rush.” Corn, canola, soy and vegetable oil are as unhealthy for horses as they are for humans so only use these if other choices are not available.

With regard to hays, avoid super sweet, over “fertilized” hays. If it smells like candy, it will have the same affect! If it is super green and glows in the dark, it will be high in nitrates. This also applies to spring grasses and late fall grasses as well. High nitrates have been shown to have adverse effects on both humans and animals. Horses may develop loose stool (leading to lack of nutrient absorption), ulcers, and other intestinal problems. Fertilizer is good, but many hay producers believe that the more they use, the brighter green the hay the easier it will sell. And they are right. As horse owners we have come to believe that the best hays are as bright green as a field of grass in spring but this is not true. Dried hay should never be as green as spring grass!

If you look at my horses, you will notice they are well muscled, shiny, have healthy energy, and if I do say so myself, rather gorgeous! It’s not that they have perfect conformation, or that I groom them every single day — it’s the diet I feed them shining through! But most people who look at my hay think it doesn’t look green enough to feed to cows as it is well matured and possibly even rained on. However it is low in sugar/starches and it is treated as the bottom of my horses’ diet pyramid, not the focus of their entire diet. Because of this, if my horses are heading out to pasture, it will be only for very limited time after the dew is off the grass (dewy grass= higher sugar content). I’ll do this daily until I am sure there will be no changes in their stool. Once they are out on pasture I will limit their other feeds to adjust to caloric changes.

If you take these simple precautions, you can avoid the pitfalls of turning out your horses on spring grasses and can plan on them having a healthier future.

Jody Webb is the “Solepreneur” of AverageJo Equine, with a line of all natural supplements for horses and dogs. Her Wild Horse and Wild Dog line of products is the focus of years of research with the goal of taking your pets away from chemical laden feeds and supplements and taking them back to as close to nature as is possible in a tamed environment. With her three horses, two dogs, two cats, various rescue horses and their individual issues, there are plenty of willing volunteers with which to perfect each product. This desire came upon finding her then new horse Gideon was suffering from a metabolic disorder called EPSM. Though this disorder can never be cured and there will always be lifelong health issues for Gideon, he has gone from a cranky, underweight and severely in pain train wreck to a sassy and healthy looking beast! Jody is now taking her knowledge learned from owning such a difficult animal to moving on and helping other horse and dog owners have healthier, happier pets. Her writing comes out of the joys and pains of owning such a challenging animal. Learn more about all-natural horse products at Jody Webb’s blog, WildHorseProducts.coms.


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