Wednesday, May 15, 2019

transitioning the sensitive horse to grass

I fondly refer to Charlie as the "King of the Dings." He is thoroughbred, through and through. Charlie is sensitive, thin-skinned, and vulnerable to any injury or illness (real or imaginary....). Like, the horse might literally swell up a little bit if you so much as shoot him a mean look lol. Nothing goes unnoticed by this big gentle brontosaurus!

Charlie living the #muzzlelyfe with his best buds Iggy & Elephant
You might remember the first week I owned him, he had a brief but forceful bout with colic. Luckily it was remedied quickly with some oral banamine, a hose-down, some handwalking, and the distraction of all those godforsaken biting flies (gosh but Charlie hates those flies tho).

At the time, I chalked the colic up to just the sheer volume of change the horse had experienced in a short period. Bc. Ya know. Just five weeks prior, he was literally running a race. Then he was suddenly an "Off Track" thoroughbred, after a years-long career, and found himself bummin around the OTTB adoption facility for a week or so. And then he came home with me to a busy bustling h/j barn located on the campus of a girls' private boarding school.

Lots and LOTS of change haha.

Iggy is low-key obsessed with Charlie haha, tho of course the feeling is mutual
In retrospect, I still believe that all to be true -- but now believe the pasture change at that time possibly played the headlining role in that whole episode. Because ever since then, I've found Charlie to be extremely sensitive to changes in pasture and grass. Especially spring grass.

This point was driven home last year at this exact same time, when Charlie kept coming in from the new fresh grass feeling crummy, lethargic, bloated and anywhere on the spectrum from "third trimester grass baby" to full blown colic.

Which makes sense, right? Like, most farms in my area aren't large enough to have horses out in the big pastures year round. So most utilize sacrifice paddocks with round bales in the winter time while the summer pastures rest.

This tends to work out pretty well for pasture management purposes, but it just means that there has to be this distinct period of transition from the hay to the grass.

lol he's almost like an overgrown foal
Most barns where I've worked (including where Isabel lived) have tried to make the transition as gentle and progressive as possible. Possibly even beyond what's necessary. Think: introducing horses to the grass first for just one hour. Then the next day, add another hour. And another day, another hour. And on and on until the horses have built up their tolerances to all that luscious spring sugar. The process generally takes about a week.

The downside to that approach tho is that it's a shit ton of work. Even for farms where the manager or primary staff live on site. Moving herds of horses in and out of fields can be a real chore. Especially when the horses are, uh, not very inclined to acquiesce. Which, most horses this time of year are definitely NOT haha.

True story: the time of year immediately before the horses are released to the grass is literally my absolute least favorite. The air is perfumed with all that fresh green growth. The horses are straight up over the hay, and just want #datgrass. So they're all irritable with each other, and meanwhile literally trying to climb the fence to get to the grass. It's prime season for some really nasty wounds and injuries, ya know? And, not coincidentally, also a difficult time to move the herd around in an orderly fashion.

meanwhile, the party doesn't stop just bc charlie came in from the pasture!
Considering Charlie's current barn has a bit of a, er, different staffing situation, that degree of extra work is just kinda untenable. Especially over a longer period like a week or so. Which means they end up transitioning the horses to grass in a slightly more *blunt* fashion. Usually, maybe a day or two with the horses getting a half day out. And then? Boom, straight to full days.

This honestly is not my preference. Were it up to me, I'd do it differently. But it's not up to me, and meanwhile Charlie is overall obscenely happy with life at this farm, so I roll with it.

he's got his room-side buffet haha
This year tho, I at least tried to hedge my bets a bit by putting Charlie in a muzzle for the first 5-7 days. And to be perfectly honest, I wasn't really sure how it would go. This horse straight up refuses to wear fly masks at all, even tho he HATES BUGS OMG. But he just takes the masks off. Masks with ears, without ears. Structured masks, soft stretchy masks. All of 'em.

So.... I just don't bother haha. Considering once summer arrives he'll be on nighttime turnout anyway, it's not really a big deal. It meant tho that I really wasn't sure how he'd feel about the muzzle. Luckily tho he actually wore it like a champ!

the best view is forward, always and forever
I just picked up one of those standard black nylon dealios for $15 from consignment and added some sheepskin around the ears (must protect poor Precious's delicate skin!!), and by all accounts he was a total gentleman about having it put on. And didn't lose it once over the course of his transition period! Good boy!

The couple days that I was there to grab him from the field myself, he was generally just out there grazing peacefully (like the pictures above), so clearly it wasn't too much of an impediment to his daily life. And the best part? The muzzle really helped limit and reduce his feelings of icky gassy bloated lethargy. Which, obvi, was the whole point.

At first I thought I'd leave it on for up to maybe 2 weeks just to be really safe.... But there was at least one day that by dinner time he was all alone up at the gate crying pitifully for someone to rescue him from his doomed plight. And... Ya know. He is a thoroughbred, and despite the dad bod he doesn't take much to get ribby.

and sometimes there are serious advantages to riding through a little rain <3
So I got us through the week where I had some post-grass plans (like schooling at Shawan!) where I wanted him to be on his A-Game, and then pulled the muzzle to allow him to finish the transition.

And? It all worked out! Aside from that first day they went on grass without my knowledge, so I hadn't left a note about the muzzle, he wasn't sickly at all through the transition to grass. And he was a good boy about the muzzle. Possibly if he had to wear it for any longer than a week or so, he'd learn how to take it off lol. But the one week period seemed to be just enough to get him over the hump without making him too too frustrated by his mouth cage lol.

My plan is to definitely repeat this process each spring, bc it really did seem to work for him. That whole "ounce of prevention is worth a pound of grass baby" thing, right? Prophylactics 4 lyfe, yo.

Has anyone else had to deal with helping their sensitive little drama queens deal with rapid seasonal changes? I know spring is a biggie for a lot of horses, but maybe preparing for fall or winter is more important for your horse? Or, if you get any say in how your horses' pastures or turnout is managed, how do you like to do it?

31 comments:

  1. The barn where I'm at is the same. Winter paddocks then pretty much straight to pasture in spring. Fingers crossed, I've had luck with my horses staying in the winter paddocks an extra week or two, then going out to the smaller fields once the other horses have mowed them down and are moving on to the bigger turnouts. I'm more worried about pony problems like obesity and laminitis tho.

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    1. oh man, yea the weight gain and potential for founder are seriously scary. that was sorta the life i had to lead with izzy too, since she was a bit of an air fern. so she ended up in the muzzle full time. that's a good idea bout staggering your horses for when the go on grass such that it gets eaten down a bit. i'm not sure it'll work exactly that way for us, but it's something i'll keep in mind next year!

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  2. it's smart to do the muzzle. my current barn doesnt have the best pastures, so it's not too much of an issue. they'll continue to get some hay through the summer. But my old barn it got BAD. and the horses would get so fat, and feeling really icky like that.

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    1. yea that's how charlie's first barn with me was -- he was out in the same field year round so he sorta got acclimated to the grass as it was actively growing. but considering that field was a bit overgrazed anyway, it was never a big deal. this barn tho... wow we have some SERIOUS pastures haha and the transition is extreme....

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  3. I am lucky to have my own place and can slowly increase grass turn out, but my one fool will spend hours staring over the fence at the grass, then get turned out on it and not eat... I like the idea of the muzzle then just kicking them out on it. Maybe I will give it a go next year.

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    1. lol what a goon tho! sometimes these horses drive me batty haha. but yea maybe the muzzle idea will be worth a shot with him too! it's easy enough to find used muzzles for cheap just to test it out

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  4. I utilized a sacrifice paddock for the first time this year and kept my horses restricted to it from December-April. It REALLY helped my pasture! (I need to mow my pasture because it's so huge, haha!)

    I took a couple of weeks to ease my horses onto the grass. I kept them out an hour at a time, then two hours, then four, then six, then between 8-12 hours (depending on my schedule). It was kind of a pain in the ass to move them back and forth all the time, but I'm colic or founder would be an even bigger pain in the ass!

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    1. that's awesome that you had the flexibility to do that with your pasture set up -- it seems kinda ideal if you can swing it, ya know? i don't know a ton about grass and pasture management, but could see how torn up and trashed ours got toward the end of last year when the ground was just so so so saturated from all the rain with horses still turned out on it...

      and yea moving them around a lot is definitely a lot of work, but seems worth it in the face of possible illnesses! i kinda wish my farm spent a little more time on that, tho our herds are so large it seems a little unrealistic...

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  5. Every barn I've been at has had the grass transition. Some have demanded that the owners do the gradual transition - which seems fair given what i was paying. Now I do it myself. The front paddock has grass coming in in the spring so that helps. I then start turning them out into the back field going back from dinner time (so an hour before dinner, then 2 etc). ONce they are a couple days on 1/2 a day I let them at it. This works well. Except that once Irish tastes the grass he begins to be a real dick about NOT being on grass. Like tantrums, fence charging, refusing to eat hay etc. I ignore it, knowing he will put the weight back on once he's over all day.

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    1. the way you do the transition sounds a lot like how they ran it at isabel's farm, and at the first farm where i learned to ride and do chores etc. it's a lot of work but i really don't remember ever having any issues with sick horses. whereas at charlie's farm now, we definitely see a lot more colic during seasonal transitions. usually just small cases that are easily resolved, but still.

      also haha irish's tantrums don't surprise me in the least. it's like the horses morph into full blown asshats as soon as they start smelling that fresh green growing grass! they're like actual junkies lol

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  6. Yeah the grass transition is a tricky one. I haven't boarded anywhere that had actual pastures, so I didn't have to worry about it much. Having the boys at home now, I do have to plan it out.

    I have a sacrifice paddock with a few tendrils of green grass coming in now (better than hay omg!) that they are on Nov-May. I usually can't start transitioning to pasture until June if it is a wet year (like this year!) My pastures are also on the smaller side for 3 big guys, so are a bit overgrazed, which imho, isn't a bad thing. All of them are ok on grass, but I don't want them fat as ticks either.

    My one older gelding has colic-y symptoms spring and fall but it has never gone to a full blown colic (fingers crossed). In the fall he gets soaked feed with electrolytes, but haven't figured out the cause in the spring. He is a weirdo. lol

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    1. Oh - and Copper the mini either goes in a smaller sacrifice paddock all summer if he has a friend or out with the big boys in a grazing muzzle so he isn't alone. He is so sad with the muzzle, but it is better than the alternatives.

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    2. ya know it's really interesting to me how priorities shit a little bit between big herds and smaller herds. i can totally see how wanting a field to be a little over grazed with a smaller might make a lot of sense, esp if they're easier keepers. whereas since i've always boarded at middle- to -larger scale barns (think: at least 4+ distinct herds with 6+ horses each, tho usually more), managing the pasture is a different sort of animal bc it's so so so expensive to have to buy forage for that many horses year round. just another example of horses fitting into a variety of settings tho haha.

      and yea the electrolytes are so useful for charlie through the summer into fall too. in spring honestly it just seems to be all that rich sugar all at once that sets him off. seems like research shows that horses actually are designed for fairly low quality forage constantly, vs sudden surges of the rich high quality stuff, which is exactly what happens in spring. go figure lol....

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    3. lol obvi i meant *SHIFT up there.... whoops haha!

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  7. I remember up north always being a bit worried about spring grass. Everywhere I boarded had small sacrifice pastures and round bales all winter and did various forms of a gradual return to green pastures come May/June.

    Down here the grass grows year round so they are always out in grass. It makes keeping weight off my air ferns a bit tricky but also prevents the sudden transition from dry forage to fresh forage. Trade offs.

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    1. yea definitely trade offs with everything.... part of me thinks i'd LOVE to be in a situation with year round grass, tbh. tho i'm a born and raised marylander so i guess i'm pretty accustomed to this method of horse keeping. and actually, somewhat selfishly, esp in the coldest months it's kinda nice to not have to go hiking across the great wilderness of a giant pasture to catch my horse!! lol...

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  8. Phoenix also wore a muzzle this year to transition to grass. He, like Charlie, will get so excited and overstuff himself until he feels sick. He didn't actually do a full colic last year but he was uncomfortable, not eating grain, and kicking at his belly for a few evenings. So he went out in a muzzle for part days and then over a few weeks I phased it out. Over this past weekend he finally transitioned out of the muzzle. It was hard for me to put him in a muzzle when he is currently still underweight but he was so much more comfortable and honestly didn't care that much about wearing it. I picked up a greenguard for him and had no issues with rubs, etc.

    PS it's amazing how fast they can eat down a pasture!

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    1. so amazing haha, and while i'm sorta in awe of the lusciousness of the pasture right now, i know by july or august it might look entiiiiirely different. that's good to hear that P did well with the muzzle too, it sounds like he and Charlie are basically the same with their "fat kid in a donut shop" tendencies lol. also i really really like those greengaurd muzzles but haven't really been able to justify the cost to myself for something i'm only going to use one week out of the year.... tho maybe if i see one on consignment i'll snatch it up ;)

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  9. I can't imagine that amount of grass!! I'm glad you found a solution that works :)

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    1. thanks, me too! i hate when chuck feels crummy, esp bc it makes me back off in my riding discipline, and then we run into even more troubles lol.... but yea, maryland definitely has some luxurious pastures for horses!

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  10. We don't have sacrifice paddocks. Part of this, I think is because KY bluegrass is like nothing else I have ever seen. Nothing stops that stuff from growing hahaha. So the horses' transition from hay bales to spring grass naturally happens pretty slowly, as the grass grows up. May typically wears a muzzle anyway, but I have given her a day here and there to enjoy a night out without it. Honestly, I had way more problems with her digestive system when she was on more grain than I ever had with her on grass.

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    1. having grown up and lived in maryland my whole life, i like to think the state is basically paradise for horses haha. but kentucky is something else entirely, all those giant pastures and that amazing grass, they really do live the life out there! re: the grass vs the grain, i honestly think it's the seasonal change that causes more issues for chuck rather than specifically the grass. he's a change-averse kinda guy lol

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  11. Living in california we just don't get that amount of grass anytime of the year (or at least anywhere where I boarded) so I never had to take that stuff into consideration. It is interesting though and you definitely get an A+ for problem solving!

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    1. thanks haha! and yea california is definitely an entirely different proposition when it comes to horse keeping. i'd probably have to relearn basically everything i thought i knew about horse and barn mgmt if i ever lived on the west coast!

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  12. We're still transitioning the horses to grass as we speak. We've been doing the +an hour every day thing and today I dug out the muzzles so we could put them out for longer. We took about a month to fully transition them to grass when we first moved here though as living in CA they'd NEVER been on grass before.

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    1. i can't imagine what a massive change that must have been for your herd! glad they seem to be doing well tho, and i definitely would likely approach the transition in the same way that you have were i in a similar situation. we almost never regret being a little careful with the ponies!

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  13. My horse has pretty much exactly the same issues/symptoms. I've found two things so far that really help: 1) getting him out on grass before it starts to grow, so that he can adjust gradually as it comes in, and 2) supplementing magnesium and chromium. A muzzle did not work well for my horse for a couple reasons, so getting him out on grass very early allows for a gradual transition. I started supplementing the magnesium/chromium (MVP Carb-X) last fall and that more than specialized digestive/gastric supplements has stopped the bloating and lethargy. I do also supplement pre/pro-biotics to help with watery stool. ARGH why do horses have to be so delicate?!

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    1. oh man, yea the idea of getting them out a little early sounds wonderful. honestly, were i able to make different choices about my horse's day to day turnout situation, i probably would do a few things differently. alas, his boarding barn is huge and there isn't much room for highly individual plans outside of cases of injury or acute illness. the chromium thing is interesting to think about tho. i've only seen that fed to horses with thyroid or similar type issues (and am moderately obsessed with how delicious some variations of that supplement smell - like cake!!), but hadn't thought about how it could be applied toward other dietary sort of issues. should charlie end up in a more chronic type situation vs just the acute onset at point of transitions, supplements are definitely something worth looking into!

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  14. I never got to watch out for B's reaction to spring grass sadly as we didn't really end up getting any :( But an interesting thing to look out for aside from the "spring crazies"

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  15. I see so many of my clients carefully transitioning to grass (as well they should). I've been lucky in that my horses have always lived out 24/7 in pastures that either weren't super lush or that came in slowly enough that it wasn't a problem. Even my Fat!Pony didn't have a problem with spring grass (though we did muzzle him the first spring since he'd come from a stall environment). The trade off has been that constant access to the pasture means lots and lots an lots of mud coming out of winter every year.

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  16. Oh man- he sure is a sensitive Sally, huh? Although I get it with Jack. I don't think his is grass-related so much as he was just SO tired when they switched to night turnout- I don't think he was sleeping much and the transition really took a lot out of him!

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