4/14/07

Safer Grass

This is Indy's pasture mate, Ami. She is a Quarter Horse/pony mix mare that I have had since 1992 when she was a yearling - see picture below. What a cutie!



Originally, she was DJ's pasture mate after we moved him from Dallas to here in Indiana. They were great buddies, and she grieved for him almost as much as I did when we lost him in 2002 at the age of 25.

Fortunately, she and Indy hit it off from the very beginning - 2002 - and she's doing great at the age of 14.



She's had more than her share of problems though. In the summer of '95 she developed laminitis, appearantly from grass. And that's the point of this post. We almost lost Ami, and even though she recovered, she suffered horrifying pain, and has had intermittent problems with bruised soles and abscesses ever since. We must be extremely careful in the spring, summer and fall to be sure Ami doesn't get much grass. One bite too much, and she will come up sore - again. Laminitis is nothing to fool with. It is still the number two killer of horses - after colic - and the number one crippler.



Ami is hardly the only horse that cannot tolerate unlimited grass. In fact, it seems to be the norm rather than the exception these days. It is especially common among ponies and the easy keeping breeds such as Morgans - which means I have to keep a close eye on Indy too.

But, but... aren't horses supposed to eat grass? Isn't that the food they evolved on and have been eating for millennia? Yes and no.

The natural food of the horse is grass - just not "modern" grass. The grass species that we have available these days were developed specifically to fatten beef cattle and to allow dairy cattle to produce more milk. They are very high in sugar and starch. While cattle can tolerate this forage much better than horses, there is still much doubt about how healthful it would be for them long term. Since most cattle, even dairy, have a productive lifespan of about five or six years, they can't be compared with horses which are expected to perform for thirty years or more.

The specific culprits in the grasses seem to be a class of sugars called "fructans," and the manner in which they ferment in the horse's gut. The research on all this is very new, and there is a great deal yet to be learned about why today's horses can't safely eat their natural food. Even forage specialists and equine nutritionists don't fully understand the problem. Some in fact don't even realize there is a problem.


If you own a chubby, easy keeper like Ami, or any pony, Morgan or other "easy keeper" breed, I urge you to click on the link in this title and visit Katy Watts' site safergrass.org. She is an agronomist who owns horses that founder on grass. Her research is ground breaking and offers critical information for those of us who want to best for our pudgy equine pals.

That link will also be permanently displayed in my Other Links of Interest area. Please check it out. The horse you save might be your own.

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"From my earliest memories, I have loved horses with a longing beyond words." ~ Robert Vavra