Is Your Horse Pasture Safe?

Spring is a season of rejuvenation for horses, but it can also be a season of ruination. Spring pastures are especially rich in nonstructural carbohydrates, and for horses with metabolic issues, over consuming can lead to serious issues like laminitis. As an equine podiatrist, Dr. Vern Dryden knows a thing or two about metabolic health. We caught up with Dr. Dryden to discuss how horse owners can successfully manage horses with metabolic issues during this season in bloom.

horse with muzzle

Q: What are some of your spring turn-out recommendations for a horse that may be metabolic or prone to metabolic issues?

Dr. Dryden: I would say getting your horse tested is by far the most important thing, to identify those horses that are at risk. If testing confirms Equine Metabolic Syndrome, insulin dysregulation, and/or Cushing's, then we can make a plan as to what needs to be done. This will include diet, exercise, and medical management. Those are things we have to consider. Even if the horse does not have a history of high insulin, I would recommend getting an annual blood test just to see where you are. Not every horse is going to present obvious symptoms. Once we have identified these horses, lowering their sugar content--nonstructural carbohydrates--is key. We want to be sure we don’t put them on pasture that is in bloom. So a lush green pasture in spring is definitely not ok for these horses. They need to be in a muzzle or completely off pasture when it is blooming.

As grasses change with the seasons, the sugar content goes up. We also recommend that these horses do not receive a large amount of grains, or any amount, depending on the severity of the case. Grains are high in nonstructural carbohydrates. We want to be very careful there. We actually recommend giving these horses a ration balancer along with their hay. A ration balancer is going to give the horse the nutrition they need without the calories and sugar that you’d get from a grain.

We also have to consider the hay. It needs to be tested for sugar content. If you don’t test it, a simple thing to do is just soak the hay. I recommend soaking it for at least 30 minutes prior to giving the hay to the horse. A simple way to do this is to put the hay in a hay net and put the hay net in a muck tub. Fill it up with water and let it sit for 30 minutes or longer. The sugars will leach out of the hay and into the water. Then, you raise the hay net out of the water and let the rest of the water drain out. After that it is ready to give to your horse. It is a very simple, easy, and effective way of reducing sugar in your hay.


Vern Dryden, DVM, CJF, is the Founder and President of Bur Oak Sports Medicine and Lameness, and Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of Wellness Ready.


The Wellness Ready™ Insulin Test is a new stall-side blood test that allows you to instantly determine a horse’s risk for laminitis. Tell your vet about Wellness Ready today!