On grass

Though Tristan’s Cushing’s diagnosis changed many things about the way we managed him, we have so far been generally quite lucky.

He responds well to Prascend, he sheds happily, he maintains his weight just fine. His immune system is shot, and he struggles to keep good muscle on.

One way I’m glad it’s been fairly straightforward is grass. Though Tristan has Cushing’s, he does not have IR, or insulin resistance. They are often paired together, so he might someday develop that, but for right now, though we are careful about what he eats, we are not neurotic about it. He’s never been a horse to get much grain, even at his absolute peak of fitness and work, so keeping him on small amounts of low starch grain is not a hardship.

last summer, delighted with his lot in life

We are a bit extra careful about him going on grass, still, for two reasons. One is the Cushing’s; he doesn’t get the absolute richest stuff for that reason. The other is his ongoing seasonal allergies, which are probably rooted in his low immunity. Simply put, the horse eats everything. Some of it does not agree with him and causes hives.

At my current barn, there is a slow and careful process to put horses out on grass. I think any responsible horse owner introduces grass in stages, but there is a lot of wiggle room in that. For some people, that’s an hour at a time.

For us, it’s a much more complicated process. I like that about my barn. It appeals to my anxious nature; everything is done carefully, with planning and intention, and with the horse’s welfare as the absolute end goal.

Once we get to 15 minutes I bring a book.

All that is a long way of saying that this week I’ve been hand grazing Tristan in slowly increasing five minute increments. Last Saturday, starting him on five minutes of hand grazing was pretty much the only thing I did the day after my second COVID vaccine shot. Sunday was 8 minutes; Monday was 11 minutes; last night was 11 minutes; tonight will be 15 minutes, and so on. At 30 minutes, he’ll go up to a grass pasture and the add-ons will jump 15 minutes a day, managed by the barn staff.

Some of you are probably reading this aghast. That’s fine. I’m happy with the way the barn takes this slowly, and not every horse gets quite as picky a hand grazing intro as Tristan – we’re extra careful with him (and other horses with a similar profile at the barn).

What about you? Do you go extra-slow or a bit faster or is it something you let your barn manage entirely?

4 thoughts on “On grass

  1. My horse lives out 24/7 and goes through a pretty cold winter. She seems to do all right transitioning to spring grass…then again, she’s 21 years old, and grass comes on slowly in the high mountain valleys.


  2. Last year when I was working at home I could also be neurotic and micromanage their introduction to grass – and luckily this year I had already SLOWWWLY worked them up to about 5 hours out when I was abruptly sent back to the office (still bitter 🤬). With two easy keepers in muzzles, I am probably micromanage them a bit more than people around me, but different spokes for different folks and all that 🙂 I don’t think you can ever take it too slowly!


  3. Phoenix also has cushings but not IR. I think it’s always best to be more conservative! Thankfully, the last two springs I have been home for the transition to grass so instead of having to wear a muzzle I just open the pasture gate at a certain time and slowly make it earlier and earlier in the day. Once we get up to 5 hours I increase those times pretty quickly. They’ve been out on grass full time for a few weeks now. Happy ponies. 🙂

    Pastures don’t change at the boarding barn (insufficient turnout space) so the horses pretty much eat them down as they come up. Makes it so there is no transition issue but sucks at the same time.


  4. We do the increase by an hour a day until we get to 8+ hours and then they go outside full time. The mule wears a muzzle all the time or is in a grass less paddock with hay half the time (depends on if the muzzle is running her or not) and Levi wears a muzzle just during the day bc he’s fat. If my back weren’t injured and we getting ridden more, he probably wouldn’t need that.


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