This time of year, grazing conditions vary greatly across the country. In some places, it’s been summer for a month! Other parts of the country are still dealing with the temperature swings and rain common in the spring.
Regardless of where you live, all horse owners have one thing in common this time of year— the grass is growing like crazy, which means we all have to take extra steps to keep our horses safe from fructans (a type of sugar found in grass).
“All horses, but particularly those with metabolic issues, are susceptible to fructans,” said integrative and complementary veterinarian Dr. Joyce Harman, founder of Harmany Equine. “If these sugars pass into the hind gut before they’re digested, they can kick off a process that will cause laminae to fail, leading to a laminitic attack. Metabolic horses also have a difficult time using glucose, or sugar, as fuel and store excess sugar as fat.”
So how can you keep your horse safe from these pesky fructans? Insulin resistant or not, keep your horse safe with these steps:
Assess your horse. If you see your horse multiple times daily, you’re much less likely to notice unhealthy changes in his body until it’s too late. Consider using a weight tape every 10 to 14 days to ensure he remains at a healthy weight. If he’s gaining, adjust your grazing plan accordingly.
It’s also a good idea to feel his fat pads (neck crest, croup, ribs, etc.) weekly. If the texture of the fat changes from soft and pliable to hard and lumpy, he needs to lose weight.
Grab a Muzzle. Muzzles allow a horse to behave normally in the pasture in terms of exercise and socialization without running the risk of over-grazing.
Dr. Harman recently designed a state-of-the art muzzle that is totally customizable, from molding it to a horse’s head shape to determining how much, or how little, grass is available to a horse, and even offers 50 percent more breathing room than traditional muzzles. Her Harmany Muzzle is also made of a medical grade plastic with Kevlar fibers, making it much lighter than other available muzzles without sacrificing durability. Bonus— it’s easy to keep clean with soap and water. Watch it in action here. Learn more about it here.
Don’t overgraze. Most horse owners don’t realize that the greatest concentration of sugar in grass lies in the three inches closest to the ground. If you allow your horse to overgraze, he’s getting way more than his fair share of sugar.
Watch the weather. Though most bouts of laminitis happen in spring and early summer when grass growth is most intense, the weather plays a large role in the sugar content of the grass.
Keep these things in mind:
– Typically, your horse is safest with the standard hot, dry weather that’s common in the mid-late summer months.
– Grass that’s stressed (either overgrazed or in a drought) will be high in sugar.
– Rain leads to rapid plant growth (and increased sugar content), particularly after a drought.
– Unseasonably cool temperatures (either a dip in the evening or several days of much below-average temperatures) will increase sugar content in grass.
On the contrary, tall, course grass is less rich, so your horse can safely eat much more-just be mindful because he can get much more with each bite.
Strategize turnout. On a typical summer day, fructan levels in the grass peak in the sunniest part of the day (usually around noon), slowly declining throughout the evening, and hitting the lowest point in the late evening/early morning hours. If you want to maximize your horse’s healthy grazing, let him out to graze just before you head to bed, then bring him back in early in the morning.
Supplement Your Horses. Some vitamins, fats and minerals help improve insulin resistance by helping turn sugar into useable energy. Dr. Harman commonly prescribes flax, magnesium, chromium and vanadium for horses who are IR. Some of her favorite supplements are:
•Omega 3 fatty acids (flax, hemp, chia seeds) These all help regulate sugar metabolism, making it safer for horses to be exposed to grasses. These are a key ingredient in any equine weight loss program, as well as for any horse with IR.
•Milk Thistle: this herb has always been know for its effects on the liver, but current research shows that it is very useful for IR. You can get milk thistle extracts at most health food stores, use 2-3 times the human dose. Get it here.
•Vanadium is a mineral that is often overlooked in treating IR horses, yet some respond much more noticeably to vanadium than they do the popular chromium. Get it here.