Transition Horses to Spring Pasture Gradually

When grasses start greening up in the spring, you might be tempted to turn your horse loose in the pasture to chow down on the new grass.

But be aware that any sudden change in your horse's diet could cause health problems, said Steve Jones, associate professor/extension equine specialist with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.

"Whether it's the grain, hay or pasture grass, any change in the horse's diet should be spread over several days or weeks," Jones said. "Increases in the amount of grain given to a horse should be added at a half-pound a day until the desired amount of grain is reached."

Grain increases may be needed because of an increase in activity level or for a mare during lactation. If the grain amount is increased too quickly, colic or laminitis can occur.

When introducing a new type of hay or grain it should replace the old feed at a rate of 25% every other day, taking a total of six days until the horse is completely on the new feed.

Feed intake or eagerness to consume the diet may decrease during this changeover period. If this occurs, more time might be needed for the horse to adjust to the new feed.

"When a horse is to be turned out on pasture all day, especially if the pasture is lush and green, time on pasture should be gradually increased to avoid overeating, in a manner similar to increasing the grain," Jones said.

Horses should be provided with all the hay they want to eat about a week prior to the start of complete pasture turnout.

The time on pasture should be increased by an hour each day for four to five days. Then, before the horse is going to be turned out completely on pasture, provide a hay meal.

"It's important to remember that each horse is different," Jones noted. Some horses take more time to adjust to dietary changes than others. So monitor the horse's eating habits and health status closely during this time.

For more information on horses, contact your county extension agent or visit and select Agriculture, then Horses.

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