Grazing on Lawn Grass

Q: We are new horse owners and are currently keeping our horse at a friend's barn down the road. We intend to bring her home soon, where most of the pasture we have fenced off is our lawn. While we have never used chemicals I am not sure what the grass may do to her. The horse is a 4-year-old Quarter Horse, and she still has a little growing left to do. What should I do to help prevent founder and colic on the grass? Is it safe to put her on the grass? We will have hay for her but I intended on free stalling her. Would a muzzle help?

Rob Lamarche, via e-mail

A: First of all, lawn grasses were not developed for their nutritional value and tend to have mineral imbalances. I would strongly urge you to get in touch with your local extension agent to find out the best pasture seed mixes to overseed the lawn in your area. However, this renovation should be done in September/October to allow the new seeds to establish during the winter.

If you want to bring your horse home before the pasture is re-established, I would suggest giving her limited access with a grazing muzzle for a couple hours a day (preferably in the morning). Provide free access to a good-quality grass/legume mix hay (legumes such as alfalfa or clover will provide the extra calcium that lawn grasses usually lack) in a drylot area the rest of the day with free access to water and a salt block. This should keep her healthy and happy for the summer. Next spring, after the grasses are growing well, limit her grazing initially, then gradually increase the access, and eventually she should be fine on free access. You should not need to feed supplements or concentrates unless she is put into hard work.

Hopefully you have some sort of shelter for her and the ability to cross-fence the pasture so you can rotate your horse's grazing areas and maximize pasture quality.

Also, you might consider some sort of companion for her, as horses are herd animals. A pony or Miniature Horse would be sufficient, as would a goat (although they can be mischievous) or sheep (which need more upkeep and are very sensitive to excess copper in feeds; most common horse feed mixes would kill them). I knew one horse that even had a chicken as his herdmate! Best of luck.

About the Author

Sarah Ralston, VMD, PhD, Dipl. ACVN

Sarah L. Ralston, VMD, PhD, Dipl. ACVN, Associate Director-Teaching of the Rutgers Equine Science Center and an Associate Professor in the Department of Animal Sciences at Rutgers' School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, specializing in equine nutrition. She also leads the Young Horse Teaching and Research Program at Rutgers, in which students are actively engaged in training and nutrition/behavior research with yearling to 2-year-old horses. Her current research is focused on the effects of diet on metabolism, behavior, and the development of orthopedic disease in young horses, and she has additional interests in nutritional modulation of stress, metabonomics (the study of metabolic responses to drugs, environmental changes, and diseases), and pasture management. Previous research highlights were the pioneering work she did in nutrition for geriatric horses and post-surgical colics while at Colorado State University in the 1980s, and the discovery of the correlation of hyperinsulinemia with development of osteochondrosis in young Standardbreds.

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