Spring has sprung, finally releasing winter’s cold grip. Birds are chirping, the animals are sunbathing, and even the grass seems exuberant.
The grass seems exuberant?
Yes, exuberant in terms of sugar. And sugar can be bad, very bad, for your horse, especially if he is insulin resistant or on his way to becoming insulin resistant.
Danger in The Strangest Place
It is not just the species of grass or what part of the country it is growing in, either; sugar content can change with the time of day, the weather, and how overgrazed the pasture is (i.e. how “stressed” the grass is). Grass stores sugar when it is under stress to be able to provide for a growth spurt when conditions improve.
Like a kitten, sugar rests in the grass, providing a slow steady stream of nourishment. Or, like a tiger, sugar can ambush and strike down a susceptible horse seemingly overnight.
Most of us think of laminitis and foundered ponies when we hear the words lush pasture. However, laminitis is more than just hooves and sugar in grass, and too much sugar in the grass, hay, and other feeds can lead to more than just laminitis.
Is Sugar A Key To Pandora’s Box?
Just like with humans, too much sugar is a bad thing. Sometimes, it’s a really bad thing. It can lead to, exacerbate, or trigger a Pandora’s box of problems, especially with genetically susceptible horses. These problems include serious horse health issues like laminitis and also Cushings and Equine Metabolic Syndrome.
I recently started noticing the growth spurt of grass where I board my horse, and a red flag went up. I had already been doing some research, but it hit me just how quickly things can change in the pasture when the weather goes from freezing and cloudy to mild and kissed with sun seemingly overnight.
Awareness is Key
I am not the only one who notices that kind of change. Apparently, May is laminitis awareness month, and recently in a nearby feed store the cover of Equus magazine had a headline for a story about just that – laminitis. Additionally, the new issue of Holistic Horse Magazine arrived in my mailbox a few days ago with an article about insulin resistant horses and how to feed them.
There is a lot of information out there right now on laminitis, insulin resistance, and equine metabolic syndrome; the sheer volume of it can be overwhelming. Sometimes it’s a real struggle to stay on top of everything, but if you don’t want to end up managing crises with your veterinarian’s phone number memorized, you need to learn and to have a plan.
Additionally, much of the information is confusing and even contradictory. I read one article that said grain in moderation was acceptable, and I read other articles that say absolutely no grain.
Which Information is the Right Information?
So what is a layperson like me – with just some college chemistry and biology from a couple of decades ago – to do? When I was growing up, all I knew was that only fat ponies foundered, and I didn’t have to worry about it.
Maybe we were just lucky, or maybe there is more sugar in hay and other feeds today. I don’t know, but for the sake of my horse, I must learn how to feed her right with today’s grass and hay.
More To Come
Check back next week for the second part of the article. In the meantime, check out more of Eleanor’s writing on her horse blog.
Resources for more information
- Merck Veterinary Manual overview of laminitis
- Animal Health Foundation – Laminitis
- Great Overview of Causes of Laminitis
- Dr. Judith Mulholland’s article on laminitis
- Pete Ramey and feeding the hooves
- Safergrass.org – Information on sugar content in grass and hay
- For Love of the Horse – Article on the Myth of the Easy Keeper
- Natural Horse Talk – Feeding myths and facts
Eleanor Van Natta is a wife, a mother of two little girls, and a caretaker to one dog, one cat, and one horse. She has a Zoology degree from the University of CA, Davis, and prior to becoming a stay at home mom she had a career in environmental and pharmaceutical sales. You can find more of her writing on her website: Sage By Nature.