By: Larissa Cox
Spring, in many parts of North America, is finally upon us and even our horses are pawing in their stalls wanting to get their first taste of the tender spring grass. We, as owners, must take care as we transition our horses from hay to pasture ensuring our horses have a gradual introduction to pasture which allows for their digestive system to adapt to change.
However, the transistion from hay to pasture for the insulin-resistant poses some issues and extra caution must be taken.
Horses love fresh grass and if allowed, will eat large quantities of it resulting in an overall high NSC consumption. So, when is a good time to turn out our horses? Believe it or not, temperatures and sunlight play a significant role in the amount of NSC accumulation in the grasses. Truly, there isn’t a perfect time to turn out our horses, but a reasonable rule of thumb is in moderate climates it is best before dawn until around 10:00am. Then, turn out again at night, starting at about 11:00 pm.
When the night temperature is below 40 degrees F, the grass is too high in NSC, so caution should be taken. Once temperatures are above 40 degrees F at night, the lowest NSC level is before the sun rises. The NSC level is highest in late afternoon, after a sunny day.
Many of us test our hay, but should we also test our pastures? The answer is yes! A pasture test can give results for digestible energy (horse), crude protein, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, copper, zinc and manganese – sulphur, molybdenum and selenium can also be requested. All these nutrients are necessary at the right levels for optimum health of your horse. Testing the sugar and starch levels will help with determining if the hay is suitable for sugar sensitive or insulin resistant horses.
For the long term heath of pasture, periodic soil testing is also recommended. On the basis of the soil tests, decisions can be made on which soil treatments should be applied to improve pasture health.
There are many variables in managing horses, many of which are out of our control but one aspect we can control is their nutrition for maintaining optimum health. As horse owners, we need to be knowledgeable on any metabolic conditions our horse may have and feed accordingly. But we always need to ensure that the feed our horses are eating is of high quality and contains all of the necessary vitamins and minerals. When in doubt, contact your veterinarian or equine nutritionist for help.