“What is that on your horse?” is common question I get when visitors to the sho see one my beautiful but rotund Warm blood mare wearing a grazing muzzle.
While she may look like she is auditioning for a part as Hannibal Lecter, a grazing muzzle is a very helpful device if your horse is overweight or at risk for developing laminitis. Gone are the days when laminitis was associated with small round ponies on lush grass, its now the second-leading medical killer of horses, a grazing muzzle may just your horse’s life or prevent suffering or insulin resistance in later life.
The grazing muzzle is attached to something that looks like a head collar. It has a small hole which allows for drinking and some grazing, but your horse won’t be able to ‘pig out’ while they have it on.
While they may look cruel, In my experience I’ve found that my horses grow used to them very quickly and manage to only loose a little weight or maintain their weight in them. I can only imagine what they would be like without them. It would be far more cruel to let them develop insulin resistant or developed laminitis. The sugars in grass are highest during the day time (remember secondary school science & photosynthesis?), so if you are really serious about weight management, stabling during the day and out at night is best.
I use the Green Guard Grazing Muzzle on my lady which we do to order, but she also uses the shires comfort one,for a change. The Shires Standard one is also pretty good. I’ve found that the muzzles will last a year or two, but then need to be replaced.
So What does the science Say?
Grazing muzzles have been shown to reduce the pasture intake of animals by about 80% by significantly reducing bite size and intake. Horses fitted with grazing muzzles may spend more time engaging in foraging and eating than their non-muzzled counterparts, yet the majority either lose weight or at least don't put any more one..
The new research using four mature ponies was conducted by the Waltham Equine Studies Group in collaboration with Dr Annette Longland of Equine and Livestock Nutrition Services (ELNS) in Wales. Their dry matter (DM) and water-soluble carbohydrate (WSC) intakes were measured in spring, summer, and autumn pastures on four, three-hour occasions per pony per season when fitted with or without a grazing muzzle. In addition ponies, with and without muzzles, were allowed to take 10 bites of swards maintained at different heights.
When wearing grazing muzzles pasture intake was reduced by 77% during spring and summer and by 83% during the autumn.
Water soluble carbohydrate levels in the sward were similar across the seasons although they were slightly higher in autumn. However, once muzzled the ponies’ intake of WSC wasn’t significantly different across the seasons; strengthening the evidence that the use of grazing muzzles is effective.
Equine nutritionist Clare Barfoot, the research and development manager at feed manufacturer Spillers, said: “While Care should be taken to provide an accessible grass length, grazing muzzles remain an effective weight management tool. They allow turnout over large areas, increasing exercise and allow slow “trickle” feeding, to control weight gain and reduce the risk of obesity-related disorders, without significantly compromising the natural behaviour and well being.”
Grazing muzzles must be used with care, should be properly fitted and horses and ponies should be adapted gradually to wearing them. Group and individual behaviour should be monitored closely to observe any potential concerns caused by changes to the herd dynamics. Muzzled horses and ponies should be confident in drinking and eating through their muzzles before turning them out for prolonged periods, and the devices should not be used for more than 10 hours per day. Total exclusion muzzles are not advised. Regular weight monitoring is recommended as some individuals can still gain weight when muzzled.
Top Tips for using a Grazing Muzzle
- Introduce the muzzle gradually and make wearing it a positive experience by gradually introducing the muzzle for short periods in the stable and rewarding your horse with a treat through the hole in the muzzle each time you put it on and take it off. As you progress outside with your horse wearing the muzzle, feed grass through the hole so your horse gets the idea that he can still eat. Initially leave the muzzle on for short periods gradually building up the time your horse grazes with the muzzle on.
- Make sure that your horse is comfortable drinking with the grazing muzzle on. Try this in the stable, first by offering a bucket of water directly to your horse in hand and you will find they are quick to investigate, especially if you have been offering treats through the hole in the muzzle!
- Make sure the muzzle fits correctly as this will help prevent your horse removing it!
- Don't leave the muzzle on 24/7. Most manufacturers recommend up to 12 hours. Although you may be trying to restrict your horse's intake it is vital that enough fibre is supplied to maintain your horse's digestive health, so bring your horse into the stable when not at grass and supply low calorie/low sugar forage and feeds Your horse or pony needs to eat up to 1 - 1.5% of their body weight in fibre each day.
- When your horse is not wearing the grazing muzzle bring them in off the grass as when they are able to graze freely they may try to compensate for the restriction earlier in the day. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING DO NOT "FEEL SORRY " FOR THEM AND LET THEM OUT FOR A FEW HOURS WITH OUT IT The study show they can eat 75% of a days intake in 3 hours !!