Fall is looking like a second springtime this year after the dry heat of summer. Have you noticed how the pastures are suddenly green again? That's good news and bad news for our horses. Combine lovely cool nights and warm, sunny days add a little drink of rain and grasses go into production overdrive. Much like the spring flush of growth, the fall spurt can cause serious consequences for horses turned out on pasture. Current environmental conditions are ideal for grasses to store sugar. Sunny days increase sugar production in the plants and green up the landscape, but cool nights inhibit optimal plant growth, resulting in much of the sugar remaining stored in the grass stems. Sudden introduction of particular sugars, called fructans, in the horse's diet can cause or contribute to development of acute laminitis.
Don't mow that grass! It's a little counter-intuitive, but rebounding, short grass pasture is much higher in fructans than lush appearing tall grass hillsides. This is because fructans in grasses increase in response to growing conditions. Stressful conditions, such as drought or cutting will cause the grasses to produce and store more sugar. Plus, shorter grass forces the horse to graze close to the ground and the highest levels of fructan are stored low in the grass stems... double whammy!
If your horse is insulin resistant, is susceptible to laminitis or has had laminitis in the past, it's wise to be especially vigilant now. Some
that the occurrence of laminitis in the fall is not simply about the grass, but also about hormonal changes that occur in the horse in response to the change of season. Use precautions like a grazing muzzle or dry lot turn out. Time your turnout on grass pasture to when fructan levels are lowest to help protect your horse from developing laminitis. There is substantial variability, but in general, fructan levels peak in the afternoon (4-5 PM). A steady exercise routine is also important now, even as your schedule changes with the start of school and less focus on outdoor activities. If you do notice signs of discomfort as your horse meanders around his pasture, do not ignore it! Early and aggressive intervention is imperative for successful treatment of laminitis.
Here is an article from
Kentucky Equine Research
explaining more about fructans.
Dr. Juliet Getty
is an equine nutritionist with a huge library of relevant topics on feeds, feeding and nutrition in general.