“What is that thing?” is common question I get when friends come over and see one of my horses wearing a grazing muzzle. While it may look Hannibal Lecter-esque, a grazing muzzle is actually a very helpful device if your horse is overweight or at risk for developing laminitis. And since laminitis is the second-leading medical killer of horses, a grazing muzzle may just your horse’s life.
The grazing muzzle attaches to a halter. It has a small hole which allows for drinking and some grazing, but your horse won’t be able to ‘pig out’ in it. Three of my four horses wear a grazing muzzle for good part of the day (or night) from spring until fall.
While they may look cruel, I’ve found that my horses grow accustomed to them in a short amount of time each spring and do just fine in them. I would feel far worse if my two insulin resistant horses over-ate and developed laminitis. The sugars in grass are highest during the day time (remember photosynthesis?), so I usually keep my muzzle-wearers off pasture by day and then turn them out with the muzzle at night.
I use the Best Friend grazing muzzle since I’d heard good reviews about it from other horse owners. Some of them come attached to a break-away halter, or you can buy a separate break-away halter to use with it. I used a knife to enlarge the hole just a bit since it was pretty small. I’ve found that the muzzles will last a year or two, but then need to be replaced.
If you’re using a grazing muzzle on your horse, there are some important things to keep in mind:
- Use a break-away halter. Most horse owners know that halters and pastured horses don’t mix, and for good reason. Horses can be seriously injured or even killed if they catch their halter on something and it won’t break.
- Make sure your grazing muzzle fits correctly and doesn’t rub. (I bought this fleece halter cover set and cut nose-pieces for where it tended to rub my horses.) An average-sized horse will wear the ‘horse’ size, but a smaller horse, like Lee Lee (who is 14 hands), may need a ‘Cob’ size. You should be able to see the horse’s lips when you look through the hole at the bottom of the muzzle.
- Gradually increase your horse’s time spent in the muzzle so they can become acclimated to it.
- Inspect your muzzle regularly to make sure the hole hasn’t gotten too big–the rubber can be worn away after time.
According to this study-based article, a grazing muzzle reduced a pony’s grass intake by up to 85%. This is important because, unmuzzled, a horse can potentially eat his daily requirement of grass in 5-8 hours, leaving plenty of time for over-eating.
For more information on laminitis, see this Q&A with Jenny Edwards, author of the e-book, Equine Laminitis.