Spring Pastures

In most areas of North America, pastures are coming to their verdant peak.  This beautiful flush is also a powerhouse of nutrition for the horse.

Spring grass has abundant supplies of  vitamins and omega-3 essential fats which likely contribute to the undeniable bloom and gleam of horses on young pastures.  They often top 20% protein in the early growth stages. Fiber levels are low; calories and digestibility at their peaks.

With feral horses coming out of winter in poor condition, foals on the way, spring grass growth is literally life-saving. There are many differences between that scenario and today’s typical domesticated horse.

Natural prairies, steppes and savannas are different from well maintained pastures. Their grasses also have superior nutrition in the spring but pastures for domestic animals are seeded and fertilized so the growth is much more dense. The feral horse must travel a lot further (exercise!) to get the same amount of grass. The domestic pastures are also typically “improved” strains of grasses that will withstand a lot of traffic, grazing and weather extremes. Improved grasses have higher simple sugar levels.

Access to spring pasture leads to weight gain for any horse that does not have high calorie requirements, like the lactating mares and growing foals.  It also is a drastic diet change from hay, often resulting in soft manure or even bloating and abdominal discomfort. Gradual introduction to spring pasture, supplemental psyllium to increase fiber and a high potency probiotic can help the digestive tract adapt to the diet change.

The most well known potential danger of spring pastures is deterioration of the hooves.  While it has been claimed that any horse may develop pasture-related problems, the research does not support this.  Study after study over the last decade and a half, including over multiple year periods, has found that high insulin levels are the risk factor.

Ironically, many breeds that remain true to their ancestral feral form, like Shetlands and Icelandics, are among the most at risk. However, in their natural habitat grass was neither abundant nor the sugar-loaded variety available to domesticated horses.

The only sure way to protect horses at risk is to keep them off pasture, especially in the spring, or use a completely sealed muzzle. If you play with fire and lose, immediately take the horse off pasture and feed  only hay known to be less than 10% sugar and starch combined or soaked hay (soaking lowers sugars).  The safest carrier for supplements is a small amount of beet pulp which has been rinsed, soaked and rinsed again to remove excess sugar or molasses.  Hoof trim should be done according to radiographs.

The horse is otherwise best supported by ingredients which are directed to nitric oxide production. https://wp.me/p2WBdh-Hl . The herb Gynostemma pentaphyllum (Jiaogulan) is a powerful stimulant for nitric oxide production. This is helped by providing the precursors for nitric oxide in the form of L-arginine and L-citrulline. Antioxidants also combat oxidative stress which inhibits the activity of the enzyme that produces the beneficial nitric oxide inside blood  vessels [eNOS – endothelial nitric oxide synthesis].

Spring grass is nature’s most powerful tonic but there can be too much of a good thing. Utilize it wisely.

Eleanor M Kellon, VMD

About Dr. Kellon

Graduate of University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School. Owner of Equine Nutritional Solutions, www.drkellon.com, industry and private nutritional consultations, online nutritional courses. Staff Veterinary Expert at Uckele Health and Nutrition https://tinyurl.com/vdxfex5h .
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7 Responses to Spring Pastures

  1. Deborah Tompkins says:

    Grass, good old Dr Green… except for those who inflate like a pull cord raft. So how do we determine the fine line between high sugar short stressed graze and unstressed lower sugar but more available blades grazing. If a horse gets limited turnout is he better off on the short where there is less to pick but is higher in sugar or out in the older taller grasses where he can get a real mouthful …?


    • Dr. Kellon says:

      It depends. If the horse has EMS and abnormal insulin, neither may be safe and you are risking laminitis. For horses with normal insulin and weight gain issues the high sugar stressed grass has more calories usually. A muzzle and limited turnout is your best solution.


      • Deborah Tompkins says:

        trying a different approach since he must graze in season (or I can’t keep him) and nothing left on him survives even one day. taking the old fashioned route of an ounce of prevention to avoid the pound of cure. Although he is a poster boy for IR and Cushing he has not been tested. He gets to graze a poor pasture(4 acre) by sections and timed turnouts and hay is available. he is on Remission (11 cents a day) and Vitex 1600mg (22 cents) plus cinnamon 1000mg (3 cents) these are added to his once a day 4 oz of pelleted mineral supplement Nutrina Safe Choice (for fatties) and an ounce of whole oat to get him to eat the rest. his hoof angles are kept up every 5 weeks. Most important he works, he did over 1000 miles last year and is up to 350 so far this year. Horses evolved on graze and movement, I do not know why more people do not take real exercise as a serious step in keeping a horse sound. My boy is half pony and half draft, 18 years old, down to 1425 pounds, never been shod and is and has been barefoot sound.


  2. Maria Hamajova says:

    Is hawthorn also suitable for feeding horses?
    If so, which part of Hawthorn? Leaves, flowers, or fruits?


  3. Hi Doctor Kellon,
    Do you think it’s safe/ok to combine MSN with Jiaogulan?


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