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Using a Grazing Muzzle as Part of a Weight Loss Programme

With horses and ponies who maintain their weight “too well”, it can be a constant battle to keep them at a healthy bodyweight.  Using a grazing muzzle is one way to control grass and, therefore, calorie intake, as part of an overall diet and management regime.   

Combined Approach 

Muzzles must be used in combination with other calorie-restricting methods including limiting time at grass, turning out on a “tracking system” or spending time off grass with hay which has been soaked long enough to reduce its calorie content.  Extra consideration should be given to those equines who are more anxious or stressy in their temperament, as a muzzle could exacerbate this behaviour.  

On the one hand, using a muzzle may mean they can be allowed to graze with companions, rather than being confined to a lonely “starvation” paddock.  On the other hand, they won’t be able to mutually groom with their friends and, if they are bottom of the herd hierarchy, they may also be more vulnerable as they’re not able to show as much facial expression.  

Tips for Using a Grazing Muzzle 

  • Fitting - Making sure the muzzle is fitted correctly, according to manufactures’ guidelines, is crucial to ensure the horse or pony is comfortable and to reduce the risk of rubs and dislodging. There are several different designs of muzzles on the market, to cater for different head conformations, but check for signs of rubbing or discomfort, on a daily basis. 
  • Grass Length - Is the grass long enough but not too long?  With the nature of the small holes in the muzzle, it’s important the pasture is generally no shorter than 2cm, so it’s long enough to ‘poke’ up through the muzzle for the pony to bite off. In this same way, the grass should also not be too long and ‘meadow-like’, as long wispy strands of grass simply fold and collapse under the pressure of the muzzle, meaning the horse can’t get any.  
  • Able to Drink and Eat - Always ensure the horse or pony is settled and can comfortably eat and drink as, understandably, it can take them a little while to get used to a grazing muzzle and some never adapt to them!  They should always be introduced gradually and only used under supervision, to start with, so that you can be confident they are happy and are comfortably eating and drinking before being left. 
     
  • Time Limit – It is strongly recommended that a grazing muzzle be used for a maximum of 12 hours at a time, however, it’s also important not to simply take it off and let the horse graze freely in a field full of grass! Studies have shown that ponies will “compensatory eat” meaning that, when a muzzle is taken off, if allowed free access to grass, they will simply eat more to make up for the time they were restricted. This is achieved through them having a significantly higher ‘bite rate’ - taking more mouthfuls of grass per minute - and also not resting so they don’t waste valuable eating time!  
     
  • Dental Care - As always, it is vital to keep an eye on the horse’s dental health and remember that they are reliant on their incisors being healthy enough to grab and bite off the grass.  

These are all crucial aspects to remember when considering and using grazing muzzles, as part of a wider calorie restricted management program. 

For tips and advice on other weight management strategies and appropriate feeding, check out our Equine Weight Loss Programme  and learn how to Body Condition Score!