The arrival of fall is a good time for horse owners with pastures to not only begin planning and implementing proven techniques that will provide grazing throughout most of the year, but it's also a good time to suppress weeds, rake up excess leaves and clippings, and make sure pastures are safe for their horses.
Fall weather means changing conditions in pastures and horse owners are urged to make sure their pastures are clear of excess leaves and toxic plants that may endanger horse health.
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As Dr. Ann Swinker, Extension Horse Specialist with Penn State points out, horses like the taste and smell of recently fallen leaves. However, the leaves are dense and can compact in the horse’s digestive system and cause compaction colic. For that reason excess leaves from trees and shrubs in pastures should be removed and, if possible composted, to be used as mulch.
Feeding dense leaves and grass clippings can also result in “choke.” Choke in the horse occurs in the esophagus and is not only painful and uncomfortable to the horse, but the compacted leaves in the esophagus can only move in one direction – toward the stomach. A choking horse often presents itself with its head hung low with saliva and masticated feed coming out of the horse’s nostrils.
A choking horse requires immediate veterinary attention and is usually treated with minimal complications.
Another important focus of horse owners during fall weather is the types of plants growing in pastures and along riding trails. As frost and colder weather affect plant growth in pastures and along trails, horse owners are urged to make sure browsing horses do not ingest plants that are toxic.
Poisonous plants can cause serious injury to horses, particularly if animals graze when plants are at an especially dangerous growth stage, when little other forage is available, and when animals are very thirsty.
Poisonings can be avoided by proper management of animals, pastures, and hay. Suggestions for preventing poisoning are as follows:
- Know which plants are poisonous in your area and when they are potentially dangerous.
- Inspect pastures to identify and destroy poisonous plants before initiating grazing.
- Provide supplemental feed and water to animals during periods of low pasture availability.
By taking preventative measures, horses can be protected from plants that might cause colic, health problems or death.