Modern-day genetically-selected grasses serve the bovine business well, with the high levels of carbohydrates greatly increasing weight gain and milk production. However, those same grasses also feed the average horse, which does not need the extra carbohydrates and body weight. 

A horse’s body weight and condition is one of the most important factors in monitoring a horse’s health. With the advent of additional health care resources, such as an obesity-monitoring app, can help in monitoring the horse’s health, the best way to keep a horse in good health is diligence in feeding and exercise, Alberta veterinarian Carol Shwetz writes in the Manitoba Co-Operator

According to Shwetz, issues arise when horses rapidly switch from their winter feeding and exercise regimens to springtime ones, particularly when horses begin feeding on new, rich grasses while out to pasture. Horses have not evolved to accommodate the richness of most foragable substances, and when they consume large amounts of grasses and other high carbohydrate foods, horses, like humans, tend to exhibit health problems. 

High carbohydrate consumption can often lead to issues such as laminitis and other diabetic-like illnesses, including equine Cushing’s disease, insulin dysregulation, and others. Shwetz says the best way to prevent issues from springtime grasses is to hold off on grazing until the grass reaches 6 to 8 inches in height, then to gradually increase the amount of grazing a horse can have. 

Certain horse breeds tend to have a worse time with these richer foods, including Morgans, Andalusians, Canadians, Quarter Horses, Icelandics, Fjords and ponies. 

Shwetz’s warning of rich foods causing horse health problems confirms research conducted by Dr. Andrew Van Epps, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. Van Epps has been researching solutions to preventing and treating laminitis, where he has developed numerous treatment options for laminitis, including physical therapy for the horse and cryotherapy. 

Learn more