One of my happy chores in spring is cutting grass. Finally it greens up, making our yard look alive and cutting it brings memories of summer rushing to my mind. It’s a happy, alive kind of feeling. Our horses feel it too, judging by the audience they give me when I’m cutting grass next to the pasture fence.
A sad lesson
I let the grass grow a little too long this time so I ended up with lots of grass clippings everywhere and I could tell the horses coveted the lush piles of freshly mowed fescue. It would have been so easy for me to scoop armfuls and throw it over the fence but I remembered an article Mikki found years ago that talked about the dangers of feeding horses cut grass. It mentioned the story of a woman who came home one day to find her horse had colicked and died as a result of eating grass a well-intentioned neighbor threw into her pasture. How sad for the neighbor and how devastating for the horse owner.
Why grass clippings are bad
But why is cut grass bad for horses? It doesn’t seem to make sense, since they eat mostly the same grass on the other side of the fence and the hay we feed is just cut and dried grasses. But even though the grass may technically be the same variety, it’s not the same as a fresh mouthful in your pasture or hay that’s been properly cured. The issues:
Grass from your lawn may contain fertilizers or anti-weed (herbicide) or anti-insect (pesticide) chemicals that should not be consumed by horses.
Recently cut grass doesn’t dry uniformly, leaving wet clumps that can ferment and grow mold and mildew. Microbes introduced this way can cause colic in horses. Unlike lawn clippings, hay grass is tetted and sometimes re-tetted (spread out evenly in a thin layer) and dried/cured in the field before baling.
A mouthful of small cuttings may be quickly consumed by a horse. The small, wet clumps can compact and stick in a horse throat. Hay or fresh grass is chewed in manageable amounts.
The horse digestive system works best with consistent feeding. It adapts well but not quickly (as in day-to-day). Sudden shifts can lead to digestive problems and laminitis.
There may be more reasons but that list is enough for me. I’ve read several comments from horse owners online who say they feed grass clippings to their horses all the time without negative results but I’ve also read several who experienced colic, laminitis and death. With all of the potential negatives, why risk it?
It wouldn’t hurt to kindly mention to neighbors that feeding anything outside of a horses regular diet could kill them. Some horse owners even put up signs on their fences, which seems like a good idea. Most of us can’t monitor our pastures all of the time.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Have you had a bad experience with grass clippings and horses?
Our neighbor down the hill, Buddy, rode his lawn mower over yesterday for a visit. We talked about a lot of things, including gardening. His garden is directly downhill from, and shares a fence with, our pasture. Apparently, our horses like to stick their heads over the fence when he’s gardening. He thought they were just being friendly, but we know better. They’re wondering what he’s growing for THEM. “Hey, Buddy, got any carrots? Apples? Blackberries?” (They do like blackberries – we discovered this while picking wild blackberries in our pasture yesterday. We’re lucky we escaped with any blackberries at all.)
Buddy is a nice guy, and we know he wouldn’t bother our horses. He probably wouldn’t feed them anything, either, and if he did I’m sure it would be something safe, like a carrot. But on the other side of the pasture are the neighbors my dad affectionately calls “The Bumpuses” (yep, another “A Christmas Story” reference). They do not have a bunch of hounds – just the two – but they do have three, ahem, rowdy children. They also share a fence with us, and apparently said children routinely played in our pasture when the previous owner lived here – whether they had permission or not is kinda unclear. In any event, they’ve caused us worry ever since we brought our horses into the pasture. Some concerns are horse-related, some are not. Since this is a horse site, let’s talk about the horse-related concerns that neighbors can bring.
Fences. Fences are notorious for needing mending. If you share a fence with someone, who’s in charge of that fence? Sometimes there’s no question; last summer, our bush-hogger knocked a fence post down while bush-hogging our pasture. Obviously, we fixed that one. But sometimes it’s not quite so clear. Also, the fences we share are barbed-wire and we want to replace them. Do we have to get permission? Maybe they like the barbed wire, because they’re sure it’ll keep the horses out. Which brings us to:
Horses damaging neighbors’ property. What if our horses decide Buddy’s garden is just too irresistible? I think you have to ensure your horses are contained as well as you possibly can, to keep the neighbors happy. And the horses safe, of course.
Neighbors feeding your horses. For the most part, I think people have common sense about what you can and can’t feed horses. But there are some things you can feed a horse that seem pretty safe that really aren’t. Some plants, for instance. It’s entirely too easy for your horse to be fed something bad without you even knowing.
Landscaping. This is even touchier. We want to block our view of the Bumpuses’ mobile home. This in turn will block their view (of our pasture). I think we have every right to plant some privacy-ensuring trees or hedges, but I’m sure they won’t be happy.
Children in your pasture. We’ve gone back and forth on this one. As I said, the children were accustomed to playing in our pasture, and now we’ve asked them not to. I know this also doesn’t make them happy, and I also know that our requests have been repeatedly ignored. How far should you go to let them know you don’t want them over there? Is a verbal notice okay, or should you send a certified letter or something? Because sometimes you need a legal trail. Which brings us to…
Liability issues. I remember being a kid. I remember being around boy children. I knew a great many kids, particularly boys, who would not have been able to resist the urge to ride a horse that lived practically in his backyard, as my horses do. I can tell you that neither of our horses would take kindly to that. Or a child could get stepped on, or kicked, or bitten. Most of all, I don’t want anything like that to happen to anyone, but also I really, really don’t want to be sued by a neighbor for something I tried to prevent.
So the point here is that, in addition to the many other responsibilities horse ownership brings, there is the added burden of trying to be a good neighbor. We do what we can…but I’m pretty sure the Bumpuses don’t like us.