Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Grass - facts and fantasies!

Grass is something that is causing much soul-searching, angst and stress amongst horse owners at this time of year, and particularly amongst owners who keep their horses barefoot.

There seem to be pages and pages being written online at the moment, and if you have a quick scamper about on some of the forums you can find anything from statements that grass is the perfect all natural food for horses to statements that its tantamount to poison...!

The entertaining thing is that when I was first interested in barefoot, 7 or 8 years ago, barefoot horses were all kept out 24/7 - partly no doubt because it was at the time when barefoot was synonymous with Strasser trimming, and part of her mantra was for horses to live out, unrugged and on grass all year round.

Now, the pendulum has swung the other way, and some people think barefoot horses must never get even a sniff of grass - of course thats true for some horses, but not for others.

So I thought I would have a go at another bit of barefoot myth-busting (!)...

Myth 1: Grass is a perfect natural food for horses

Not true - horses are browser as well as grazers, and from an evolutionary perspective have evolved to eat a wide variety of plants. Grasses are part of the picture, but horses need more than a few species of grass in order to get the variety they need.

Myth 2: Barefoot horses should not have grass at all in Spring/summer

Not true. It depends on the horse and it depends on the grazing. It IS true that many horses will go footy when sugar levels in grass rise - and they are highest during the day in Spring and summer. As a result, many barefoot horses (but not all) have healthier hooves if they are turned out at night rather than during the day.

Equally, some fields are safer than others. Highly fertilised rye-grass in a warm, lowland area is probably the most dangerous - very few horses will tolerate grazing on this without developing hoof problems. Old, upland pasture with a wide variety of plants and a good mineral balance is probably the safest.

We are very fortunate at Rockley that all our grazing is the latter, and so most horses can go out here at night even at this time of year.

Myth 3: Barefoot horses have more problems with grass than shod horses

Not true. When you see a shod hoof with ripples, flare or a stretched white line (which is very many shod hooves) then you are seeing a horse with dietary problems, more often than not. The problem with shoeing is that it makes it much more difficult to spot slight deteriorations in performance - like a previously rock-crunching horse becoming footy. In a shod horse, its much easier for footiness to develop into full-blown laminitis simply because the warning signs are not as easy to read.

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