Muzzles? Horsie Hannibal Lecters?

Drylot? Or Laminitis & Founder?

Nobody "likes" muzzles and everybody loves seeing horses frolicking in a lush green pasture... everybody except me, the Grinch of the Grasslands...

Why don't I like seeing horses grazing on lush green pastures?

Because I see the part of the horse that spends time buried in that grass up close and personal for a living - the Hooves! I know that when the feet start falling apart, the rest of the horse can collapse fast if we don't get them off grass.

I love my clients horses, they become my friends, and when I start seeing signs of sub-clinical laminitis like flat soles, flare, wall cracks, and white line separation , I know that unsoundness, tender feet and founder are not far behind. I "get real" about the eventual outcome,

Spring Grass; Are Wet Feet Also Weak Feet?? No!!! That's An Old Wives Tale!

Weak feet are a metabolic problem. I have soaked cadaver feet for days in water in the winter, and the connection is still tight. Wall separation, wall flare, poor wall durability, poor sole durability and white line separation are ALL a response to diet, not water.

My three horses (2 Arabs and a Rocky Mountain Horse) are the sole occupants of a 30 acre pasture that was once a dairy pasture and that is still bounded by dairy pastures. Yes, it's in California, but this part of California has a bit of a coastal climate and is home to herons, geese, ducks and egrets for 6 to 8 months out of the year, and 5 of those months, from late October until at least May, my horses are fetlock deep in water and mud

If white lines really could melt (they rot when the horse is dead, but they don't melt because of water saturation) - if hoof walls actually did bend and warp when hooves are immersed in water day in and day out, my horses hooves would warp by January each year.

But they don't warp! When the diet and pasture access is appropriately - tightly - controlled, they stay super sound and their feet stay healthy. As a result, I ride, barefoot, straight from these soft, wet pastures on trails in the local Anadale State Park, home to mountain bikes and unrelenting lava rock cobble and gravel footing... I ride barefoot on Point Reyes National Sea Shores magnificent Coast Trail, which is littered with coarse rock gravel. My 3 horses typically eat 10 to 20 bales of low-carb hay a year because they live on a 30 acre dairy quality pasture. In Muzzles.

My horses feet don't wear down too fast, either, Healthy - CONDITIONED - feet are durable feet. Horses with subclinical laminitis and mineral imbalances have feet that wear, but healthy hooves that are conditioned systematically regenerate at a rate that keeps up with wear.

The more I ride, the more I have to trim, at least within reason. If I was riding endurance, I might get potentially to a point where wear exceeded growth, but we have many barefoot endurance folks who train and compete barefoot and they don't run out of wall. That's another old wives tale.

How to tell when your horses are doing fine on pasture?

My horses spend a lot of time in muzzles, but they spend a lot of more time on pasture without muzzles. These are the signs I look for to determine if they need a break from the grass or if it's time to start muzzling them for the season.

When they are fine on pasture, they do not have a crest, their udders and sheaths are taunt, no fluid. They come running in for buckets when they see us coming, galloping and throwing their heads. They still have a good appetite, digging into their buckets with passion, their eyes are clear and bright and they have an animated attitude.

1st SIGN, EDEMA & SYSTEMIC INFLAMATION - Gabby gets filling under his skin, in his sheath and around his eyes even before he starts putting on weight. His nose will run, he'll cough a bit more, his eyes tear. At this point the boys trot in for buckets and are mildly interested in what they're given, eating it calmly.

2nd SIGN, BLOAT & BELLY DISTENTION - When the guys start looking the least bit gassy or distended, I know that they've tipped the scale on grass consumption over to the unsafe side... this is usually where they come off grass for a week and go back out in muzzles. At this point they stroll in to greet us, burping and belching, standing looking out at the horizon calmly when their buckets get dumped, passing gas and yawning before they start eating.

3rd SIGN - WALL & SOLE CHANGES - These include wall flare, wall separation, white line separation, flatter than normal soles with accelerated wear at the toe (the sole attachment actually releases slightly). The wall at the base of the hoof seems to squish and get flat, the wall attachment and integrity are compromised. When this happens it's a mandatory 1 week off pasture and back on in muzzles. At tis point they may or may not trot in, may or may not be hungry, because this damage is days old. My horses haven't gotten to this point for a few years, because I'm too careful.

I'm starting a page on Mild Laminitis with pictures of the hoof and body changes you should look for here....

Life's Very Hard Lessons

Muzzles protect our pasture horses from laminitis and founder. Know that in your heart. Muzzles aren't torture devices, but poorly controlled pasture can be torture.

The picture to the left is part of my guys 30 acre pasture in the early winter when the grass has just started to come up. Its dairy land, gets very lush in the winter and spring.

I use muzzles and am a relentless advocate of muzzles and drylots because I've had clients loose horses who were my friends. These horses sometimes founder chronically, eventually ending up with significant bone loss that causes chronic pain, ends riding careers and , worse yet, ends lives.

I helped a vet put down a very wonderful mare who lived on these pastures with my boys. The mares owner simply couldn't wrap her mind around not indulging her horses appetite for green grass and pelletted feed. This horse, Nancy, recovered her soundness only to re-foundered severely several times annually, on the same pasture that my horses have thrived on for 4 years. I was helpless because the owner seemed to "get it", only to slip back into her old ways. There was an adequate paddock that we could contain her in, I bought all her foot and supplements, bought muzzles, would do anything I could, but... none of it worked.

This is like watching small children be allowed to run into a busy street. When the parents won't take responsibility for ensuring the child is safe; you know a child's life is at risk, but you can't stop the life threatening activity.

Nancy was owned by a woman named Nancy, who was an old time horse person who said things like "horses have lived off these fields for years and not had a problem" and "horses are meant to live on pasture, they are happiest on pasture" and "She won't eat that low carb feed, she doesn't like it" and "I took that muzzle off, she hates that muzzle! She mopes and looks so sad, and it makes her look like Hannibel Lecters. I won't use it!" and "Muzzles are cruel, I can't stand them."

Meet Nancy....

This is where not using muzzles on lush pasture, those hours of tasty grass and a sweet mare named Nancy ended their history together. See the pattern in the grass in front of her legs? That's the pattern left by a horse trying desperately to outrun death, a mare who who sadly wasn't ready to die... it took 6 syringes, and many long minutes, for poor Nancy to pass over. I was ill. 

Please, please spare your horse this outcome.

I got Nancy riding sound 3 times, and pasture sound 6 other times, and each time she was sound, her owner would turn her out on pasture, because "Nancy loved it." Yes, this sounds extreme, but it happens repeatedly. Horses with chronic laminitis will eventually endure enough damage that this is their future. I have 2 clients today struggling with their own personal "feeding problems" and the impact it has on their horses. I'm not nice about letting people evade responsibility because I love their horses. Founder is fatal if allowed to persist, the process is cruel and avoidable for most horses. Chronic low grade founder is just as cruel as Nancy's sudden plummets into founder and severe rotation.

Finally, Nancy's owner got upset at seeing her hobbling, and wanted her gone. After 7 years of avoidable founder, she realized she hated seeing her be unable to walk without pain. I tried to find a rescue home, but at that point the mare couldn't walk, so nobody would take her.

Still Not Convinced? Meet Fancy

Fancy's owner truly loved her, but Fancy would pout and get angry when she didn't get to go out on pasture, her owner would feel guilty and relent, and Fancy would founder. This happened annually. Fancy died. Please read Fancy's story if you or a friend have trouble accepting that some horses shouldn't have access to lush or stressed pasture... some horses can't tolerate any pasture at all.

Horses Do Not Need To Founder,
Founder Is Often A Choice Owners Have Made.
Choose Muzzles or Drylots Instead.

Choose Muzzles or drylots instead of allowing your horse to founder.

Gabby, King, M&M and the Donkey in these pictures are all unhappy models for Muzzles. I make putting muzzles on a choice for them; to go into the pasture, they need to allow me to easily put their muzzles on. They each get a half of a carrot in the muzzle as a reward for their cooperation.

Gabby (the gray Arab) & M&M (the dark gray Rocky Mt Horse) live 24x7 on pasture in muzzles from about December to early July, and the only other thing they eat  is 1 pound of Mountain Sunrise Bermuda Grass Hay Pellets and their herbs and minerals in their paddocks while they are locked up long enough to finish. They wear muzzles 24x7 during the rich-grass months otherwise.

They still get chunky, even in muzzles, and when that happens, they are pulled off pasture for a day to a week and are fed low-carb hay a day in their slow feeders.

These aren't pictures of happy horses, but they are pictures of healthy, alive horses.

The Right Way To Put A Muzzle On, The Right Muzzle For The Job

I have clients tell me that their horses won't wear muzzles or get them off, and I help them adjust the muzzles to avoid removal. The trick is to extend the cheek pieces to that they are as long as possible, and to shorten the crown piece until the horses lips are 1/3 inch from the inside of the basket. The throat piece needs to fit the jaw as shown on Gabby, below. Mules and Donkeys have a little more trouble pulling the muzzle over their ears so may not need their muzzles put on quite as tight.

M&M, the dark gray horse in the pictures far below, will strategically and intentionally snag his muzzle so that he snaps the plastic break away buckle, so I attached his muzzle to a halter with a break-away latigo crown piece. Well, clever M&M unbuckled the leather strap in less that 10 minutes, and after demonstrating that he could repeat the trick even faster, we duck taped the straps shut. He tried snagging it and breaking the crown, and when it didn't break easily? He gave up.







Wrong; Muzzle Cheek Piece Too Long, Easy To Get Out Of...

Gabby figured this out fast... get the "O" ring as close to the ears for the best fit!

No, they aren't thrilled with their muzzles, but they are healthy and alive...