Many of us have loved and lamented an overweight horse. He’s the one who is always first in line at dinnertime begging us - deep brown eyes shining - to dump in just a little more grain. And sometimes we give in.
But throwing in more feed is not the way to show our love. Excessive weight is dangerous for our horse’s health, just as it is for ours. We know it contributes to joint ills, breathing problems and sometimes founder.
Spring is such fun for winter-weary horses. Thoughts of dry hay dissipate with the first whiff of sprouting grass. While we want our friend to enjoy the fine, warm days out in the fields, spring grass can put him on the fast track to founder. Even when that grass is no longer a threat, the gluttonous horse can still do a lot of harm to himself, and to his performance, simply by overeating.
But when your pal pitifully begs to be let out to munch on the budding blades, what can you do' Do you confine him to a stall while his trimmer buddies get to enjoy the great outdoors' That’s hard to do. But there is an alternative: Fit him with a grazing muzzle.
Physically restricting your overeater from gobbling down too much grass can be a compromise you both can live with. While your mega-knosher might be unhappy over having his grazing rights restricted, at least he can be out with his friends.
Grazing muzzles aren’t happy-looking contraptions, but they serve a purpose. And if one can save your horse from grass founder - or just from being grossly overweight - it has served its purpose well. We looked at several styles of grazing muzzles to see what works well . . . and what doesn’t. We can tell you up front that the horses didn't like any of them. But you’ve got to balance that with the alternative.
We tried three styles: plastic buckets, metal cages and rubber-bottoms for restricting the amount of grass our horses could consume. However, a muzzle can also be useful to prevent a horse from chewing or biting wood, tearing at his blanket or ripping off his leg bandages.
The plastic bucket muzzle is a classic style that has been around for a long time. The bucket attaches to the halter with nylon straps. There are holes in the front and/or sides for breathing and small holes in the bottom to allow a minimal amount of grazing. The holes also make it fairly easy for the horse to drink.
Plastic-bucket muzzles do the job and are durable and lightweight. It’s amazing how much grass a horse can pull through the small holes in the bottom of the bucket - not enough to get fat, but enough to keep a horse fairly busy. This utilitarian muzzle comes with nylon straps that buckle onto a horse’s halter. Ours was from Dover Saddlery, $12.60.
We looked at two metal-cage muzzles as well. The one from Fabri-Tech resembled a colander ($51.95). It had a mesh design that provided a more open feeling when on the horse. However, we found the tapered bottom caused it to press a little against our gelding’s nostrils when it was adjusted high enough for him not to be able to get out of it. The holes in the mesh were small, but they still allowed the horse to grab the odd blade of grass here and there. Although it didn’t happen on our watch, we’re concerned the wide-top opening could be an invitation for a tree branch or other protrusion to get stuck in it.
This muzzle had a durable, thick, doubled nylon headpiece that was not likely to break if that happened. We would like to see some sort of breakaway feature built into this sturdy muzzle.
We also had a metal-bar muzzle in our trial. It was sold mainly as a cribbing muzzle, but the manufacturer said it also could be used as a less-restrictive grazing muzzle. Although the exact model we had may not be available at this time, we’re including our comments here in case you come across this type of muzzle.
Its smooth, round metal bars fit vertically across the bottom and prevent a horse from sinking his teeth into a fence rail. However, the bars were only mildy effective in keeping a grass-guzzler from sinking his teeth into the turf.
The headstall on the model we had was constructed of narrow, single strips of lightweight leather attached by single rivets. There’s not much danger here of a horse not being able to break free if it got hung up, but if you have a determined eater you could end up spending a lot of time out in the pasture looking for it.
The muzzle from Best Friend Equine performed beautifully. This circular muzzle is constructed of thick nylon webbing sewn in a basket-weave pattern. It’s soft and flexible and has a thick rubber bottom with a single small hole in the center that permits only a few blades of grass to poke through. This muzzle comes in two styles: the standard style ($49.95) that attaches to a halter and the deluxe style ($59.95) that comes with its own nylon halter, complete with lead ring.
The standard muzzle attaches to the noseband of the halter with hook-and-loop fasteners so it will come off if a horse gets hung up. The deluxe model previously had a hook-and-loop fastener closure on the crown piece, but that has been replaced with a plastic breakaway snap. If the snap is broken it can easily be replaced without any sewing. One replacement snap is enclosed with each deluxe halter/muzzle and additional ones are available for purchase from Best Friend Equine.
If you decide to try a muzzle for weight control, don’t leave it on day and night. Give the horse time in a stall or in a lot where there is access to salt but little grass.
And it’s amazing how grass, dirt and saliva can build up inside a grazing muzzle, so keep the interior of the muzzle clean.
Remember when you choose a muzzle that horses can do strange things out in the pasture and end up getting a halter caught on something. A leather halter will break, but the strong nylon halters of today can hang tough. If you put a muzzle on a horse it could try to rub it off and get it hung up. Be sure there is some way the horse can break free if it gets it caught on something that won’t give.
Our overall favorite muzzles were from Best Friend Equine. They seem comfortable for the horse - OK, they seem as comfortable as you can reasonably expect a muzzle to be - and we felt secure about their safety.
The Best Friend Equine muzzles can be soaked in warm water to get them clean. We found it was best to dry the muzzles stretched over something that helped retain the original round shape.
Contact Your Local Tack Store Or: Best Friend Equine Supply 800-681-2495 www.bestfriendequine.com; Fabri-Tech 800-332-4797; Dover Saddlery 800-989-1500, www.doversaddlery.com.
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