Last Updated on September 9, 2022
It is common knowledge that horses like to eat grass, but did you know that there are many health benefits of horse grazing? Grass not only provides horses with nutrition but also has many benefits to their mental and physical well-being. Let’s find out everything you need to know about why horses need grass!
What Are The Health Benefits Of Horse Grazing?
In the natural world, horses evolved to survive on a diet of grasses, herbs, trees, and other plants. However, since horses have been domesticated by humans, we have adapted their diet over the centuries to include many other foodstuffs. It is now commonplace to find horses that are fed on alfalfa, sugar beet pulp, corn oil, and many other plant-based foods.
But despite all these new modern feeds for horses, nutritionists and veterinarians still maintain that the healthiest and most balanced diet for horses is grass.
Here are the main reasons why the grass is the most beneficial feed for horses:
Balanced Nutrition – Health Benefits Of Horse Grazing
Horses evolved to survive and thrive on a diet that consisted mainly of grass, and this is still the best way to provide a horse with a balanced level of nutrition. Grass contains the right balance of nutrients to provide everything a horse needs in the vast majority of situations. A horse that lives out on pasture all year round will normally consume nine-tenths of his diet as grass, with the remainder made up of herbs, woody plant material, and tree bark.
Good quality grass is still the most effective way to provide your horse with a balanced diet, and veterinarians often refer to this as ‘Doctor Green’. However, the type of grazing land and the grasses contained within it will have a big impact on whether it is able to provide your horse with all the nutrition it needs.
The right type of grazing land for horses will contain a mix of grasses as well as different herbs and plants for the horse to browse. Grazing land seeded with just one or two types of grass is insufficient to provide a horse with all the nutrition it needs. Grass also varies in nutritional content throughout the year, so supplementation with other types of feed may be required.
Reduced Health Problems
In their natural state, horses graze for up to 16 hours a day. Their digestive system is adapted to process a slow and steady intake of food, and the fiber content of grass helps to keep the gastrointestinal tract healthy and functioning properly.
When compared to horses that spend a large amount of time confined in a stable, horses that have continual access to grass have far fewer health problems. Continuous browsing and grazing ensure the digestive system receives a continuous trickle of food, which reduces the incidence of colic and other digestive upsets.
This grazing action is also vital for maintaining the dental health of horses. Chewing grass results in a much more natural chewing action than eating hay or manufactured feeds. This enables the teeth to be worn down evenly, reducing the incidence of hooks and sharp points on the teeth.
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You will notice that horses on grass often appear much happier and more relaxed than those kept in stables. This is because they have the opportunity to exhibit normal behaviors throughout the day. Horses out on grass will forage for their favorite foods and can walk around freely and play with their equine friends.
When a horse is kept stabled, it can be difficult to provide him with enough mental stimulation. Food is readily available and often consumed far faster than a horse would normally graze. This then leaves the horse standing around with nothing to do and nowhere to go for most of the day.
It is important to point out that unlimited access to grass is not appropriate for all horses. Horses can overeat if allowed access to too much good quality grazing, leading to obesity-related health problems such as laminitis. It is important to monitor your horse’s weight carefully and limit his access to grass if he starts to gain weight.
Summary – Health Benefits Of Horse Grazing
So, as we have learned, the health benefits of horse grazing are multifold – horses not only gain nourishment from eating grass, but it also provides them with mental stimulation and enjoyment. Horses that graze for long periods every day have a reduced incidence of colic and dental problems. When kept out at grass, horses are also less likely to suffer from boredom and stress-related vices such as crib-biting, weaving, and wind-sucking.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on the health benefits of horse grazing! Do you enjoy watching your horse grazing with his equine friends in the lush grass? Or maybe you struggle to find good quality grazing land for your horse and have some questions about how to provide him with sufficient nutrition. Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you!
Is grass nutritious for horses?
Grass is one of the most balanced and nutritious feeds you could give to your horse. Horses evolved to survive on a diet that consisted of 90% grass, and this is still the best food to help keep your horse in peak mental and physical health.
Is long grass better for horses?
Horses generally prefer to eat shorter grass, and will tend to eat this before they start on the longer grass. Short grass is sweeter and not as tough as long grass. However, if there is no other option, most horses will eat long grass.
Can horses gain weight by eating a lot of grass?
If a horse has unlimited access to good quality grass, he will overeat and gain weight. This can be a problem in horses that are prone to obesity, particularly small ponies and cold-blooded horse breeds.
Do horses prefer grass or hay?
Horses will normally prefer to eat grass rather than hay, but this depends on the quality of the grass. Lush green grass will beat dry dusty hay every time. However, dry poor quality grass will be shunned in favour of sweet meadow hay.
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their four-legged friends.
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN EVN VN A1 PGCE