The temperature dips very low at this time of year and you may arrive at the yard to find a layer of frost on the ground. Is it safe to turn your horse out on frosty grass? Your Horse gets the lowdown from veterinary surgeon Dr Mike Barton.
There are many rumours swirling that eating frosty grass can pose a health risk to your horse, particularly from colic.
“There is no real evidence of frosty grass causing colic,” explains Mike. “It is more likely that the cold weather has chilled or even frozen the water supply, and your horse becomes dehydrated. Horses don’t often love drinking cold or icy water.”
It’s important to check your horse’s water buckets twice a day, and remove any ice that has formed. If he’s still reluctant to drink, you can add some warm water to take the edge off the icy chill.
However, frosty grass can pose a health concern to horses who are at risk of illnesses such as laminitis or equine metabolic syndrome (EMS).
“Sunny days and frosty nights cause sugars to accumulate in the grass,” says Mike. “Sugars lead to high levels of glucose and insulin the horse’s bloodstream, which increases the risk of a laminitic episode in pre-disposed horses, such as those suffering from insulin dysregulation.”
Owners concerned that their horse may be at risk should consider limiting turnout when it’s frosty and provide forage in another source, such as hay, to better control their horse’s sugar levels.
Of course, the other consideration is whether the grass is so frozen that your horse or pony is at risk of injury if he gallops around and slips over.
Weigh up the risk according to your individual horse — they’re all different. For those who aren’t turned out everyday and so are likely to be excited the moment they hit the grass, the risk is probably higher. If they’re living out, or going out daily and typically behave calmly, the risk is probably lower. Remember that being stabled for long periods also comes with its own risks.
Apply common sense and do what’s best for your individual horse.
Meet the expert: Dr Mike Barton BVSc Cert AVP (ED) MRCVS is a veterinary surgeon at Fellowes Farm Equine Clinic in Cambridgeshire. He is an advanced practitioner and certificate holder in Equine Dentistry and has additional interest in poor performance cases. He is also a member of the GB men’s Horseball team.