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Some horses are prone to overgraze on lush pasture grass and become dangerously overweight. To combat equine obesity and reduce the associated adverse health conditions, horses are often fitted with grazing muzzle halters. But do they work, and are they hard to fit on a horse?
Grazing muzzle halters, when used correctly, work to reduce weight in obese horses. It accomplishes this by limiting the amount of grass a horse can eat and thus reduces calorie intake. Some grazing muzzles are easily removed by horses, especially when not fitted properly.
Most horse owners buy the first grazing muzzle they find on the shelf. But there is a lot to know about grazing muzzle halters before choosing one for your horse.
Why use a grazing muzzle halter?
You may be familiar with the feeling. Pudgy belly, nothing fits right, and joints ache—the pain in your legs and feet. Being overweight isn’t just bad for health; it can cause a lot of problems. And it isn’t just for humans.
Horses can get overweight also, and it does similar things. To prevent these issues, grazing muzzles are often employed. It can help a horse lose weight, and it can help the horse keep the weight off.
One of the biggest problems with it can be keeping it on the horse. But first, what is a grazing muzzle, and why do you need one?
The partial answer is that not all horses do need one. However, some breeds and some individual horses do need it. The problem is usually rich forage. In areas where the grass is green and lush, a horse can over-eat.
The grass has a lot of sugar, and if the horse has the equine version of the thrifty gene, it quickly gets stored as fat. A grazing muzzle doesn’t stop the horse from eating; it merely slows the process down. The horse can still eat but is less likely to overeat.
Do grazing muzzles work?
Research says they do work to help horses lose weight. Depending on the grazing hole size, grazing muzzles can limit as little as thirty percent to as much as eighty-three percent of the amount the horse consumes in a day. That is if the horse keeps it on.
The alternative is to keep a horse off the grass, either in a stall or a dirt paddock. Horses are herd animals and like their freedom. Studies have shown that horses are typically much healthier when they are allowed to roam in pastures versus locked in a stall.
Grazing muzzles limit the intake of grass while allowing the horse the freedom to socialize with other animals, and move around in a pasture.
Horses don’t always like a grazing muzzle. Some are quite clever at getting out of it so they can go on eating unstinted. The next section will help because it may take some experimentation to find the right muzzle.
Fitting tips that help you choose the correct grazing muzzle halter for your horse.
There are a lot of things to consider here. Some of them are easier than others. As an example, it’s essential to know the conformation of your horse’s head.
A clear vision of your animal’s head conformation will help you choose the correct size and shape. Grazing muzzles can be several different shapes.
Once size and shape are considered, it’s time to look at the muzzles themselves. How much does it weigh? What material is it made of? Is it likely to cause irritation to the muzzle and thus make it intolerable for the horse?
You may need to try several of them before you find the right one. An experienced person at the tack shop may also be able to help. They can suggest those that seem to be the most popular… especially for the breed of horse you have.
Greenguard grazing muzzles are lightweight and have adequate breathing holes. They are stand-alone muzzles that work with different types of halters.
Grazing muzzles also need to have decent sized nostril holes. If the horse’s breathing is impaired, it will cause anxiety. It will also hasten the task of figuring out how to get out of it. That is part of making sure the muzzle fits the horse.
The last two things to consider are very similar. How many things does the muzzle have on it that could catch on something? Will the straps, buckles, and other items cause problems and/or hasten its removal?
Lastly, consider where the horse is going to be. What is in, over, and around the pasture? Could the halter catch on something even if you’ve taken care not to have the other problem?
A horse can catch a grazing muzzle on numerous things, including fences, gates, trees, and anything else in the pasture.
What happens if I get the wrong muzzle?
Several things could go wrong if the muzzle doesn’t fit the horse. One is that the horse may actually not be able to graze enough. If the muzzle hole is too small, no matter how lush the pasture, it won’t be able to get enough in one bite.
Anything that catches on a horse can be a serious injury threat. The horse will try to get away, and if the muzzle doesn’t give, it could injure the neck or head. Depending on what angle the head is at, it could cause other injuries.
Just about anything can cause discomfort. You may have the cushiest sheepskin grazing muzzle on the market, but if it’s too tight or rubs the wrong way, it will still cause discomfort. Irritation from a grazing muzzle not only leads to a grumpy horse it can cause other more severe problems.
There are reasons other than comfort that may make a horse need a different grazing muzzle. If the horse is in the pasture with other horses, they may want to groom each other mutually. That can be hard with a grazing muzzle.
Horses also need to be able to defend themselves. They are prey animals, and while running is the preferred method, the horse can’t go far in a pasture. A quick nip or bite usually quells small aggressions. However, it can’t be done with some grazing muzzles.
A stiff plastic grazing muzzle can damage the horse’s teeth. The harm isn’t just because the plastic is hard; if a horse pushes its muzzle into the ground hard, the plastic will rub on the teeth. A flexible plastic is better, but may not work as well.
The TGW grazing muzzle is an example of a stiff muzzle, it’s made of durable poly/nylon, and outlasts many of the higher-priced muzzles.
You may get lucky on your first try, but it would be just that. You and your horse will have to figure out what works best for your situation. Some grazing muzzles are meant to be on for only a few hours. Others can stay on much longer.
Some go through as many as four or five different types before finding one that works. Some may take more, others less, but the key is to be willing to try again if the horse has difficulty with it. If there isn’t one that fits, there are other things that can be done.
Those can be more work and/or cause other problems. For example, leaving the horse in a stall for long periods can cause wood chewing or other stable vises. Putting them in a dirt paddock could as well unless hay is available.
Horses, like humans, will have problems with any “diet.” With their instinctive need to chew, this can make matters even worse. However, perseverance can help you and your horse gets around these issues.
What are the best grazing muzzles?
The best grazing muzzles limit the amount of grass your horse eats, are durable and don’t rub your horse face raw. A good grazing muzzle should also be easy to put on and take off your horse.
If you want to learn more about grazing muzzles and read my review of some, check out this article: The Very Best Grazing Muzzles and Why Your Horse Needs One
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