The horse evolved to spend a lot of time foraging for food, slowly grazing the available land. According to Claire Scantlebury, BSc BVSc PhD MRCVS, Department of Epidemiology and Population Health in the School of Veterinary Science at the University of Liverpool, this should be taken into account when preventing digestive problems in horses.
“Horses are naturally ‘trickle feeders’ designed to forage for their food, and providing access to pasture can provide for this physiological need,” she explains.
Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA, agrees with her, regarding the benefits of pasture access. “There are a variety of other benefits in addition to promoting digestive health, such as allowing expression of natural behavior, opportunities for social interactions with other horses, and exercise,” she writes in her article “Recurrent Colic Risk Factors Identified”, which was published by TheHorse.com.
Lesté-Lasserre, however, cautions against the risks asssociated with lush grass pasture, as it can contribute to laminitis. Regretably, Lesté-Lasserre’s article makes it seem as there are only two options: confinement or lush grass pasture. In reality, other options are available, including a system of trickle feeding in the paddock.
What’s the Paddock Paradise system?
The Paddock Paradise system was designed to allow horses to trickle feed in a safe manner. In a padock where this system is employed, horses can engage in a wide range of natural behaviour without the risks assoicated with lush green pasture lands.
The Paddock Paradise system involves the creation of a track within the pasture. The grass is removed from the track, and the rest of the pasture is protected by a fence to keep the horses out.
The horses will move over a great distance during the day – albeit within the track – which somewhat mimics how it would behave in the wild.
So, what will the horse it now that the grass has been removed? The answer is hay. Slow-feeder hay bags will be placed at various locations along the track. Instead of getting all their food in one spot, the horses are encourage to forage for their food – eating a little bit here and a little bit there. This movement throughout the day aids digestion and lowers the risk of colic. Also, during their foraging, the horses will automatically trim their hooves and interact with each other in a more natural way than when they just stay by one single feeding station.
In the UK, the Paddock Paradise system has already become very popular, and is seen as an excellent way to prevent instances of laminitis caused by lush rye grass.
The book Paddock Paradise by Jaime Jackson is available in multiple languages.
Laminitis, also known as founder in serious cases, is an illness that affects the feet of ungulates, including horses. The horse display symptoms of foot tenderness and the illness can progress to walking difficulties. Other symptoms are increased digital pulses and increased temperature in the hooves. If the illness continue to progress, the coffin bone will perforate the sole of the hoof. Many of the horses that develop serious laminitis need to be eutanized, as they can no longer stand up.
Laminitis has multiple causes, some of which commonly occur together.
- Carbohydrate overload
- Nitrogen compound overload
- Fructan overlad (from fresh spring grass)
- Colic, if endotoxins are released into the bloodstream