Muzzle Your Best Friend

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We have a love/hate relationship with grazing muzzles. We hate looking for them when they become lost, and we hate the seemingly endless repairs they need. We also hate the inevitable rubs and hair loss. And, OK, we'll admit it: We hate how they look on our horses.

But we love what they do for our horses ? and that's what counts. We no longer have to condemn horses on restricted diets to mind-numbing boredom in stalls and dry-lots. With grazing muzzles, they can mingle with their friends and get a little exercise while ambling around in search of grass.

Grazing muzzles must be safe, comfortable and allow access to water.

Grazing muzzles must be safe, comfortable and allow access to water.

If you?ve ever had even a flicker of a thought that your horse might need a muzzle, he probably does. If you ever hear a tiny

voice whispering that a grazing muzzle might be a good idea, keep reading. Will we make you love using them' Probably not, but You'll be happy you did.

We know what we want in a grazing muzzle: It should be lightweight, but durable enough to withstand at least one full season of use. It should be airy and comfortable for the horse. It needs to come in many sizes and/or have multiple adjustments to fit every equine head and, once fitted, it should stay on that head. It must be safe. In the rare event of entrapment, its safety mechanism should release long before the muzzle sustains damage. Are we asking a lot' Apparently so.

We gathered six muzzles and assigned them to six horses, based on best apparent fit. All the horses were veteran muzzle-wearers and each had its own arsenal of removal tricks.

Best Friend.The Best Friend muzzle was our No. 1 pick in prior muzzles trials. Its Standard model attaches to the halter. The Deluxe muzzle includes a safety halter.

This basket-type muzzle is made with a soft open-web design with a cushioned, proprietary PVC lining. The bottom is a smooth thick rubber compound with a 3 cm diameter opening. it's believed that a muzzle with an opening this size limits the horse to about 25% of the amount of grass that would be consumed without the muzzle. Whether this figure is exact or not, we can't tell you, but we do know that it effectively stops your horse from gorging.

Pre-2008, Best Friend muzzles had a reinforced opening that eventually showed wear and hole enlargement. The newer models have the entire bottom reinforced. There is a breakable safety buckle on the poll strap, and the manufacturer supplies one set of replacement connections with each muzzle. Repairs are an easy DIY project.

The Greenguard muzzle is a good choice, but we?d like diff erent straps and a smaller price.

The Greenguard muzzle is a good choice, but we?d like diff erent straps and a smaller price.

We started with two horses in Best Friend Deluxe muzzles and ended up with four. Over the trial, two Best Friend muzzles were destroyed when they became caught on objects in the field. The safety snaps did break as designed, but by then the muzzles were ruined.

Best Friend muzzles came off our horses three times, but each time we noticed that the fit was overdue for an adjustment.

Look-A-Likes.Two of our other muzzles looked similar to the Best Friend Deluxe. Both were well-constructed. The Shires model had a reinforced hole opening and a double hook-and-loop (aka Velcro) crown connection, rather than the safety buckle on the Best Friend. Unfortunately, it met its fate with our ?gorilla? test horse (see page 4).

The Centaur muzzle from English Riding Supply also performed well. After about four months of use, we noticed thinning of the base, a bit of hole enlargement and a tiny tear. However, it made it through the entire season and, except for the logo differences, it's tough to distinguish from the older Best Friends.

Tough-1 Easy Breathe.We love when someone tries to build a better mouse trap. The Easy Breathe sports a much more shallow basket, cut-out nostril holes, and a 15 sq. cm rectangular grazing opening. It has a double-Velcro crown strap as a safety feature. The horse-sized basket isn?t huge, but it should fit most horses.

Our first test horse loved it, but that was probably because it took her less than 30 seconds to get it off. Despite repeated attempts and readjustments, she easily hooked the muzzle basket on a fence board and popped it off like a bottle cap.

The second test horse was a recreational cribber who finished the season in it. He was able to enlarge the rectangular opening slightly, and the muzzle sustained a small corner tear. We were pleased.

However, the plastic keepers that adjust the length of the cheek pieces and poll strap both broke, one causing an abrasion before it was noticed. The manufacturer said she was unaware of any similar complaints but said that the 2010 models would have metal keepers.

We also had some problem with the Velcro not releasing as quickly as we thought it should when it was caught, as was the case on most of the muzzles, and we had to repair some torn stitching where the basket connects to the base.

This muzzle is different. it's square and must be attached to the halter. Made of a highly-durable slightly-flexible plastic, it has multiple rectangular openings on all sides with a generous 61.2 sq. cm on the grazing surface. Only two holes actually showed signs of wear by the end of the trial, and we suspect grass was only obtained through those two.

Overall, this muzzle was pretty easy to use, although we?d like to see some changes in the straps. For now, we suggest you pad the connections with sheepskin halter tubes to prevent rubs and scratches.

The front strap connecting the muzzle to our safety halter insisted on turning no matter how we adjusted it, and it poked the horse in the nose with the buckle tongue. We replaced that strap with a leather shoestring, which worked well. However, if the shoestring broke, we would find the muzzle jammed into the horse's mouth. This occurred twice, at which point we eliminated the problem by using a regular shoestring.

We also used a Greenguard on a second horse who continually rubbed the muzzle along the fence, unbuckling the connections between the muzzle and the halter. (The muzzle itself was unscathed, despite the abuse this horse put it through.) We were forced to tape the connections ? repeatedly ? with electrical tape. The muzzle always hung slightly askew from his safety halter despite many attempts to straighten it. After noticing lacerations on the horse's lower lip and chin, we decided the muzzle was too large for him (we would like to see Greenguard offer more sizes).

Bottom Line.There is a place for each of the muzzles in this trial, as horses can devise unique methods of destruction and escape. A horse shouldn?t be able to easily get out of the muzzle, but the muzzle needs a safety release. it's a dilemma.

The Greenguard muzzle was effective and durable. However, we're not thrilled with its attachment straps, limited sizes and price. For that reason, the Best Friend muzzle stays at the head of the class. it's durable and a much better value for the dollar, which gives it our Best Buy award as well.

Article by Beth Benard, Contributing Editor.