All About Grazing Muzzles
Research has shown that grazing muzzles can substantially reduce a horse’s intake of forage. Such a reduction could be highly beneficial for horses that are overweight or prone to laminitis. But muzzles may not be the right choice for every horse. Here’s what you need to know if you are considering investing in a grazing muzzle.
If your horse is gaining weight it is important to establish why. Equine obesity can be associated with underlying metabolic conditions and this possibility should be explored before using a muzzle. Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) and Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID), also known as Equine Cushings Disease may be behind your horse’s weight issues. It is crucial that a vet examines your horse and the appropriate weight management plan instituted. This could include the use of a muzzle.
Reducing Forage Intake
There have been several studies which have attempted to establish the effectiveness of grazing muzzles at reducing food intake. The results have varied dramatically and have suggested that muzzles reduce intake by between 30% and 83%.
One study looked at what happens when horses are muzzled for a period of time and then given access to unrestricted grazing. The horses ate more whilst unrestricted to compensate for the time that they were wearing the muzzle. This finding suggests that unless a horse is always muzzled when grazing, there may be no benefits overall.
Compensatory eating is of particular concern for laminitic horses. Removal of a muzzle on lush grazing may rapidly increase their water-soluble carbohydrate intake which puts the horse at risk of a laminitic episode.
There is anecdotal evidence which suggests that horses wearing grazing muzzles spend a greater proportion of their time foraging than non-muzzled horses and yet still manage to lose weight. Further research is certainly required as many of the studies conducted thus far have focussed on ponies rather than horses. It would also be useful to explore the impact of the muzzles on herd dynamics, social behaviour and individual behaviour.
Potential Issues with Muzzles
Some horses may experience problems with wearing a muzzle. Grazing muzzles can result in rubbing on the poll, behind the ears, on top of the horse’s muzzle and to the points of their cheek bones. It is vital to ensure that any grazing muzzle fits correctly.
Debris including sand and mud can collect inside the muzzle and the use of the muzzle could impact a horse’s dental health. Horses shouldn't wear muzzles on short grazing as their incisors would be at risk of abnormal wear. Muzzled horses can also struggle to consume exceptionally long blades of grass. Some animals will become highly frustrated with the muzzle and this could result in them bashing the muzzle on the ground or exhibiting other distressing behaviours.
There is a risk that a horse could catch their muzzle in a tree or bush. So remove for fence off any potential hazards you see. It is important to remember that a muzzle will impede a horse’s ability to groom, defend itself and communicate with others via facial expressions.
Grazing muzzles can be effective tools in helping your horse to lose weight. However, closely monitor their weight to ensure that the horses lose the pounds at an appropriate rate. It is vital to establish the optimum length of time that the muzzle should be worn for, to check that it is fitted correctly and to satisfy yourself that it is causing no distress or discomfort to the horse. Introduce muzzles gradually to your horse and make sure they are not wearing a muzzle 24/7. Also control your horses' food intake when they aren’t wearing the muzzle to prevent compensatory eating.