(Post Updated as of December 2, 2021)
Does your horse wear a grazing muzzle during Winter? Sometimes mine do. Sometimes mine don’t. Depends on the individual horse, their condition and the condition of the grass for that particular Winter.
My twenty-six year old horse, Bear, has Equine pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID) and equine metabolic syndrome (EMS) with a history of laminitis. My eighteen-year-old, Shiloh, does not. But Shiloh is a very easy keeper so I consider him at risk for those same conditions.
Both of them typically wear grazing muzzles when turned out onto the grass that is outside of their semi-dry lot paddock, but they usually get a couple of muzzle-free months during Winter. Depending upon my horse(s) condition in a particular year and the grass conditions of my pastures, I usually do not put their muzzles on during January and February during the couple of hours each day that I typically turn them out on full pasture.
The entire issue of whether to let a horse with PPID or EMS out on grass can be difficult to navigate. Without a way to test a horse’s glucose/insulin levels daily and without a way to test the fructose in the grass at different times throughout the day (because it is something that constantly changes), it is in fact impossible to know for sure “when your horse is safe to eat what grass and for how long.” It is a constant judgment call as to what circumstances/conditions will prove safe.
It is one reason that you will see some vets recommend that horses at risk for laminitis (such as horses with PPID and EMS) never be turned out on grass. If your horse is in the initial stages of these diseases, or especially when experiencing a laminitic episode, keeping them completely off the grass seems to be essential to getting those glucose/insulin levels down enough to stop the acute disease process and prevent even further damage.
Once past that acute phase, some owners consider it worth the risk to turn a horse out on limited grass due to the physical, mental and social aspects of allowing the horse to graze. That’s something every owner needs to discuss with their own veterinarian for each of their horse’s individual situation, circumstances and history. A grazing muzzle can be one way to potentially allow your horse some grass access, although it is not a guarantee of good health.
For some additional ideas on the subject, here are two articles from the well-respected website Pro Equine Grooms. They discuss the reasons that some owners might choose to muzzle their horses year-round when on grass. You can read them here:
I imagine that someday a non-invasive device will be invented that gives an immediate reading on a horse’s glucose and insulin. If I could pass a wand over my horse and get instant results, I would have a better chance at keeping him sound and healthy by adjusting my management practices based on that information.
Same thing with the grass. If I could wave a wand over the grass and track its changing fructose levels in real time, I could chose the optimal turnout time with more accuracy than just going by general rules of thumb about when fructan levels are thought to be at their lowest.
What about your horse? If he or she wears a grazing muzzle during Spring through Fall, does he or she also wear one during Winter?