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Laminitis, Horse Feeding and other Facts for your Grazing Horse

Grazing Misconceptions and Horse Feeding Facts

  • Founder can happen after feeding your horse too much fresh green grass.  TRUE.

  • Fresh grass is high in carbohydrates (sugars) which can cause stomach upset in grazing horses. Grasses under stress often produce high levels of a type of sugar called fructans. Horses have trouble digesting these sugars and the sugars end up in the large intestines, where bacteria multiply and break them down. The overgrowth of fructan-digesting bacteria upsets the normal balance of the digestive tract and produces toxins that lead to laminitis.

  • Grasses produce fructans after photosynthesis, which is dependant on sunlight. The sugar levels are NOT increased by rain or dry weather.

  • Grasses produce fructans when stressed, which can be the result of a drought, frost or rapid growth during intense sunlight (especially after rain.) Regarding horse feeding, it is FALSE to believe that sugar levels are only high in spring and fall or when the grass is lush and growing rapidly.

  • It is FALSE to believe that grazing horses are safe in pasture that is not fertilized or maintained. Long grass tends to accumulate fructans.

  • Overweight and insulin-resistant horses are the most susceptible to founder or laminitis. These horses can also develop a mechanical form of laminitis from excess pressure on their laminar attachments.

  • Hay is safe: FALSE. Hay can contain up to 30% fructan, depending on the conditions when the hay was cut. When horse feeding, steam all your hay for founder prone horses, to reduce carbohydrate/ fructan levels.

  • Safe horse grazing time: Turn your founder prone horse out late at night or very early in the morning, when the grass is not in the flowering stage to avoid laminitis.

  • Use a grazing muzzle for the rest of the day, to allow your horse as much ‘turn out’ as possible.