Grazing Muzzles: 9 Dos and Don'ts you need to know
Good do-er? Laminitis-prone pony? Why not consider this handy gadget to enable turnout.
In spring and summer, we all want our horses out for longer because we know the movement, natural grazing and interaction with field buddies are all excellent for his physical and mental well-being. For some though, this is often a massive dilemma: good do-ers simply get fatter and fatter, whilst it’s a constant battle to prevent laminitis-prone ponies having too much grass.
What to do? For more and more horse owners in this predicament, the humble grazing muzzle is becoming an indispensable horse-management tool. The hole at the bottom of the muzzle allows a horse to graze but cuts down considerably on the amount of grass he can consume.
With a properly fitted muzzle, your horse can still go out with friends without becoming obese or increasing his risk of becoming poorly.
Here’s a few do’s and dont's:
DO fit the muzzle carefully, then check it often during the first few days to make sure it fits correctly and is not rubbing. There should be one inch from your horse’s lips to the bottom of the muzzle, plus room for you to insert three or four fingers sideways into the muzzle—between it and your horse’s face—to allow room for chewing. Do a test to check the fit by placing a treat or handful of grass in the muzzle to see if your horse can chew it. If the muzzle fits correctly, it won’t interfere with your horse’s drinking, but it will interfere with his grazing, which, of course, is what you want. Worthy of note is that the muzzle also prevents salt consumption but more on that below.
DO experiment with different types of muzzles if the first one you try doesn’t work. It may take more than one type to see which works best for your horse. If he’s got a very sensitive skin or quite a fine coat, consider a fleecy lined one to prevent rubbing.
DO allow time for your horse to adjust to the muzzle before deciding whether it will work for him. Some horses figure it out and take to it almost instantaneously whilst others require a bit longer. Most make the adjustment with time.
DO watch your horse to see how well he can drink water with the muzzle on. When I say, “won’t interfere with his drinking,” I mean it won’t interfere physically, but some horses drink less when they’re wearing muzzles, so you’ll need to take this into consideration throughout his wearing time.
DO encourage your horse to look forward to being muzzled by placing a carrot piece or other treat inside the cup the first few times you put it on him.
DO persevere if he keeps getting it off!
DON’T put the muzzle on and assume that's all that's required. If your horse is turned out 24/7, remove the muzzle for an hour or so, maybe twice a day if you can manage it. This will allow him a bit of time to graze freely and consume water and salt or alternatively, if even this much grass is a problem for him, give him some time in his stable where he can have water, salt and hay.
DON’T leave a seriously at-risk horse in a grassy field for long periods, even if he is muzzled, without checking on him frequently. If your horse has a genuine medical reason for being on restricted grazing, e.g. serious laminitis risk, insulin resistance or Cushing’s disease, then the downside of even one grass-bingeing session if the muzzle comes off, presents too great a risk. Keep an eye on him.
DON’T feel bad if uninformed people “tsk-tsk” over the “cruelty” of a muzzle. You know that a horse that’s able to be turned out and socialize won’t care that he’s getting less grass than he’d like. And, what’s more, he couldn’t care less what it looks like!