I know that some of you are still dealing with snow and cold temperatures, but I promise, Spring is coming. In yesterday’s post, my horse Shiloh showed us that Spring is indeed on the way.
In many parts of the country, Spring means that horses will soon have access to a fresh growth of grass. I can tell you from previously living in a high desert area that grass is precious. In Western Colorado near the Utah border, grass didn’t grow all that much without irrigation.
Here where I am living now in the Midwest, grass is lush and abundant. We get about eight full grazing months. Hay is more reasonably priced here than in other parts of the country. Sounds great, right?
But if you have ever had a horse that is overweight or has been diagnosed with Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) and/or Cushing’s Disease (Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction), all that grass can cause serious health problems for your horse. You may enter Spring with dread in your heart, as do I, due to the increased laminitis risk that comes with that growing grass (Please note though: horses can and do develop laminitis other times of the year including Fall and Winter. It is NOT an occurrence limited to just Spring time).
Enter the grazing muzzle. These are designed to slow down the rate of grass consumption and reduce the overall amount eaten.
It is worth noting here that how much grass your horse can safely consume can change over time. My horse, Bear, lived with me for ten+ years with 24/7 access to grass pasture without health problems before it became an issue for him. I had a really hard time wrapping my head around the fact that the lifestyle that used to work for him was now in fact hurting him.
For information on the often inter-related issues of diet, obesity, laminitis, Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS), insulin resistance and Cushing’s Disease/ PPID, here are a few resources:
The complexity of these issues is a very good reason to have a working relationship with a local veterinarian. Your vet can help guide you on the choice of if/when/how to use a muzzle for your particular horse.
I bought my first grazing muzzle back in the day when the only option available to me was the classic Best Friends Grazing Muzzle. Since then, the number of manufacturers offering different types of muzzles has grown as has the number of horse owners who incorporate muzzle use into their horse care. Via a quick Google search, I came across grazing muzzles made by manufacturers Tough 1, Best Friends, Weaver Leather, Thin Line, Greenguard and Cashel among others.
Figuring out how to use the muzzle can be a bit of a puzzle. I had all kinds of questions when I first started using them like how to fit a muzzle, acclimate a horse to the muzzle, length of use, what to do if your horse doesn’t adjust to the muzzle, etc. Two online articles that help answer these types of questions are
I have used different types of muzzles off and on over the years. The last few years I have preferred the Tough-1 Easy Breathe Grazing Horse Muzzle for my gelding, Bear, who has Equine Metabolic Syndrome and Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction. I do add a synthetic sheepskin liner (also made by Tough-1) in strategic places where he tends to get rubs around the sides of his face under the straps as well as behind his ears, but otherwise I have been happy with this muzzle. I live in an area with very humid Summers and like how the muzzle appears to allow more air flow than some other types.
No one product seems to work for all horses unfortunately so you may need to experiment to find the right muzzle for your own horse.
Two recommendations I do have no matter what product you use is to replace your muzzles periodically and to clean them regularly. I wipe my horse’s muzzle out with a cloth at the end of each use and will let it dry (ideally in the sun) when it gets wet. An incredible amount of dirt, mud, grass, horse snot, etc . . . can get caked to the muzzle on the inside. The webbing can also develop and retain really strong odors. I don’t know whether the dirt and odors are bothersome to the horse or pose health concerns, but it bothers me.
I would also suggest keeping an extra muzzle on hand at all times. If one muzzle breaks, you will not have to wait to turn your horse out until you can obtain another. Speaking of breaking, you DO want to have a grazing muzzle with some kind of break-away safety feature to reduce risk of injury should your horse get the muzzle caught on something.
As a backyard horse owner, I try to strike a balance between giving my horses as much freedom to roam/graze as I can while also trying to keep them from getting too fat. This has been much more of a challenge than I ever anticipated, particularly with certain horses. I don’t always get this balance right. It takes continual vigilance and reassessment. Fortunately, there are more options now for maintaining our horses weight and health than ever before. I am still waiting for the creation of a magic pill for complete and easy weight control though. In the mean time, the grazing muzzle will likely remain a part of my horse-care tool box.