Wahoo spring is here! April 17 2018
Wahoo!! I think it is safe to say spring has arrived! It really did feel like winter and the snow was never going to end. The ‘Beast from the East’ has left its mark on our fields, crops and landscape. The colder weather has left us about a month behind where we would usually be by this time in April.
I know we won’t be the only ones happy to be thinking about putting all those heavy winter rugs away and pulling out some lighter ones. It's also that time of the year when the competition riders among us start thinking about the show and events that are on the horizon. The great thing about springtime is the days start to stretch out which means there's a heap more daylight hours to get things done which is a welcome relief after those dull, dark bleak winter days.
The better weather also encourages riders back into their saddles so they can start getting their horses/ponies fitter and ready for those all-important summer shows. However, bringing our four legged friends back into consistent work takes a bit of thought and planning so they are fit, healthy and well prepared for any competitions you hope to take them to.
Getting off to a good start
This week’s blog is focusing on spring grass and the importance to starting the season well. Horses that get a good start to a busy season will be much better prepared for all that is going to be asked of them. If your horse is in tip-top condition at the start of the showing and competing season, they are much more likely to maintain condition throughout what is often a quite demanding and challenging time for them.
A well balanced nutritious diet
You need to make sure your horse is being fed top quality feed and that you go about bringing them back into work slowly. This allows them to get back into shape both physically and mentally. You can't rush things at this stage; you need to go through the process always taking your horse's condition into account when you consider the amount of work you are going to be asking of them.
After such a wet, cold winter where our fields in the UK have either been literally underwater, covered with snow or a mud bath, it’s tempting to increase turn out for our horses at the first sight of green grass. Luxurious spring grass is nature's way of restocking important nutrients after a horse has survived a winter. Plus the abundance of grass coincides with the natural foaling season, providing mares with the high levels of protein and calories they need to support milk production. However, as lovely as it is, to see the majority of fields actually looking green again rather than brown, this change in grass composition causes all kinds of challenges for horses and owners. After a few weeks of milder weather, our horses seem to be bouncy and full of beans! Here’s why:
What are ‘Fructans’?
The reason why your horse becomes a monster for a couple of weeks a year is down to powerful soluble carbohydrates in the grass called ‘fructans’. Fructans are a type of sugar that is a by-product of photosynthesis and is used to aid plant growth. On sunny days, ‘fructose’ is produced in large quantities and stored within the blade of grass which is why grass is at its most sugary when it starts to shoot up in the spring time. When it cools off at night, these fructans are then utilised as fuel for growth.
Fructans are higher in the seasons when the weather is cool: spring and autumn. They are still present during hot summers, but not usually at levels that can be dangerous.
How do ‘Fructans’ affect horses?
Fructans are a non-structural carbohydrate that horses cannot digest. They’re broken down by the microorganisms in the equine hindgut first so that they can be absorbed. Horses love to eat grasses that are high in fructans. Those that are unaccustomed to grass turnout, that have been on hay all winter or that are already prone to colic and laminitis can have their digestive tracts upset easily by high levels of fructans.
Here are some facts you need to know about Fructans
- In over grazed fields than in lush grass
- When night-time temperatures drop below 5 ˚C because the grasses do not grow, so the excess remains stored in the stems
- In mature grass that’s 8-10 inches long
- In the afternoon/evening on a sunny day.
- In new spring grass that’s 3-6 inches long
- In the morning when days are sunny and nights warm
- In rainy wet weather.
SPRING GRAZING CHECK LIST:
- Slowly introduce your horse to spring grazing
- Monitor your horses weight carefully
- Provide your horse with supplements to help their digestive system cope with the change, such as pre and probiotics, which will support the good bacteria in the hind gut
- Be particularly careful with horses/ponies predisposed to laminitis, including horses with Cushing’s disease (PPID) and IR and EMS:
- If the temperature is below 5 ˚C at night, you may want to consider an alternative option to grass turnout (such as extra exercise, turning out in a sand school/ ménage, horse walker)
- On bright and sunny days, where temperatures are warm, consider turning out for a couple of hours in the morning only, where NSC levels in grass are lower. Wearing a muzzle during this time may also be recommended
- Monitor your horse for any early signs of laminitis- it is a common misconception that only fat native ponies will suffer from this, in fact any age or breed of horse may be affected
Saying all of this to have a happy horse the key is to let them be “a horse” as often as you can so they get to run with their buddies which is not only important for them mentally, but physically too! We just need to make sure that we look after our furry friends and their ever growing spring tummies!
Key: NSC (Non-Structural Carbohydrates)