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Using grazing muzzles to reduce forage intakes in horses

Grazing muzzles can reduce a horse’s pasture intake by about 30 percent, regardless of grass species. They also appear to be a simple, effective tool to restrict forage intakes of grazing horses and may help reduce obesity in horses.

Obesity continues to increase in the horse population. About 40 percent of the horse population is considered obese with a body condition score (BSC) greater than or equal to 7. Obese and overweight horses are at risk for the following:

  • Laminitis
  • Insulin Resistance (IR)
  • Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS)
  • Poor thermoregulation: unable to maintain body temperature
  • Poor performance

Horse owners have tried to manage weight by restricting forage intake such as decreasing pasture time. Researchers found that horses with restricted pasture time can increase their intake rates. As a result, owners need a simple, affordable way to restrict pasture intake while maintaining their horse’s natural environment.

What are grazing muzzles?

Horse with grazing muzzle

Grazing muzzles are muzzles that restrict a horse’s intake but still allows them to graze and exhibit natural behavior.

In turn, grazing muzzles may be a useful tool when considering weight management options for your horse. However, horses are selective grazers and prefer some forages over others.

Researchers have found that plant growth type can affect livestock preference. As a result, we studied whether or not preference and plant growth type impact the effectiveness of grazing muzzles.

Are grazing muzzles effective?

Grazing muzzle
Grazing muzzle
  • Grazing muzzles were effective in decreasing forage intake by an average of 30 percent, regardless of the forage species grazed.
  • During the second year of the study, species did affect the horses’ forage intakes.
    • The horses ate more Kentucky bluegrass compared to reed canarygrass both with and without grazing muzzles.
    • This result provides further support to previous research showing horses prefer Kentucky bluegrass over reed canarygrass.    

Overall, these results suggest that grazing muzzles could play a key role in bodyweight loss for overweight or obese horses.

Krishona Martinson, Extension equine specialist; Emily Glunk, former graduate student, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences; Craig Sheaffer, professor of agronomy and plant genetics, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences; and Marcia Hathaway, professor of animal science, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences

Reviewed in 2019

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