Horse

Spring Checklist: Pasture Management for Horses

Care : Seasonality

Karen E. Davison, Ph.D.

Director, Nutritionist, Equine Technical Solutions

Green grass can be a great addition to a horse’s health, both mentally and physically. Horses love the taste of green grass and it can be very nutritious during the right stages of maturity, not to mention the joys of being out in a pasture relaxing and being a horse. However, spring grass can bring some risks so be aware and follow the Spring Checklist for a safe and healthy spring. 
 
Greener pastures are springing up across the country
 
For most of us, this is good news because green grass relieves some pressure of searching for quality hay at a reasonable price. Horse owners are also starting to spend more time with their horses, and are looking forward to even more enjoyable riding weather. Follow this checklist for  successful pasture management this spring.

Pasture management: Take it slowSpring pasture checklist with horses eating grass

Going from dry hay and grain to lush, green pasture is a drastic change in a horse’s diet and may increase the risk of founder, colic or laminitis. Slow and steady is the key. Allow horses to graze for an hour or two at first, then gradually increase grazing time by an hour every couple days until they are out full time. Continue to provide supplemental hay during this transition period.
 
Horses that are kept in the pasture full time will gradually become accustomed to the emerging green grass as it comes up. In those cases, a transition isn’t usually necessary and horses will voluntarily begin to leave their hay when there is adequate pasture to graze.

Spatial awareness: Ensure adequate pasture space

Another part of pasture management for horses is to determine if there is enough pasture for grass to be a significant source of nutrition. Consider the available acreage, type of forage and the number of horses or stocking rate.
 
The very best horse pastures may support one horse per acre, but average conditions may require closer to 2 to 3 acres to sustain one horse grazing full time. An effective stocking rate will depend on the type of grass, fertilization and rainfall.
  • For shorter varieties of grasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass, pasture must grow 3 to 4 inches tall to provide adequate forage for horses.
  • Taller grasses, including Coastal bermudagrass, should sustain a height of 6 to 8 inches. Stocking rates may be improved if there is an option to rotate pastures.
Grazing tall forage varieties down to 3 to 4 inches and shorter varieties to 2 inches in height, then rotating to another horse pasture for four weeks can help maximize grazing potential of available acreage.

Feeding horses: Provide an adequate diet

Horse pasture in the spring often looks beautiful and nutritious but can be very high in water and low in fiber content. Thus, not meeting a horse’s minimum requirement for dry matter intake. Provide 10 to 15 pounds of dry hay per day as needed until the horse pasture matures. Depending on your horse’s workload, a well-rounded diet can help keep your horse in tip-top shape.
 
Performance horses – As work level increases, horses may need more nutrition, especially calories, than hay or spring pasture can support. In these cases, supplemental feed will be important to maintain body condition and to support performance and health.
 
Feeds such as Purina® Ultium® Competition, Purina® Strategy® Professional Formula GX, Purina® Strategy® Healthy Edge®, Omolene® 200 and Omolene® 500 are formulated to support the nutritional demands of exercise. Choose the performance feed that best fits your needs and feed the amounts needed to maintain your horse in good body condition. The amount of feed may vary depending on workload and quality of available hay or pasture. Keep in mind that pasture quality will vary as the forage matures through spring and into summer. 
 
Easy keepers – For easy keepers who don’t need supplemental feed to maintain good body condition, provide a ration balancer product such as Purina® Enrich Plus® Ration Balancing Horse Feed. This product is fortified to be fed at 1 to 2 pounds per day for most horses, providing nutrition for horses that don’t need the additional calories that would come with a recommended feeding rate of most feeds. Enrich Plus® provides the balance of protein, vitamins and minerals to complement a pasture-based horse diet.

Don’t sweat it: Maintain good horse body condition score

On that first warm, sunny day, it’s very tempting to head out to the barn for a nice, long trail ride. However, if you have not been riding your horse regularly through the winter, your horse is likely not conditioned for physical activity.
 
To prevent muscle soreness, start with slow, easy work and short workouts, and gradually increase the intensity and duration of the workouts until your horse is adequately conditioned. It may take up to 90 days to get a horse properly conditioned for strenuous physical workouts.
 
Also, use body condition scoring to find out what kind of shape your horse is in as you transition out of winter. Scoring focuses on areas of the body where body fat is deposited and gives a number score for how fat or thin the horse is, based on palpable fat and visual appearance.  Most horses are at their best when maintained at a moderate body condition of 5 – 6 on the score chart.
 
With a few tweaks to your pasture management, ensuring your horse is adequately conditioned for the desired workload and choosing the right nutritional support to compliment your forage and support your level of activity, you’ll be ready to head out and take in the warmer weather and sunshine. Enjoy!
 
Set up your horses for success with the proper feed and put them on their own path to greatness.  
 
Looking for the right feed to keep your horse in shape? Sign up for the Feed Greatness® Challenge to try a Purina® horse feed.*
 
*The Feed Greatness® Challenge is a 60-day feeding trial where you will feed Purina® feed, monitor your horse's performance and health, take pictures, and receive emails with helpful information.