When your horse grazes in a pasture, he “cuts” fresh grass by ripping it with his teeth and then chewing it. It may appear that his eating freshly cut grass is not much different. However, before you add grass clippings to his diet, what type of grass he eats and how he eats it are important matters to weigh.
If your horse can’t keep your pasture grass to the ideal 3- to 4-inch height through grazing, you need to augment with mowing once the grass reaches 6 to 8 inches tall. If your mower scatters the grass, if the air is dry and if your horse eats the clippings slowly and has no tendencies toward colic or laminitis, it’s likely safe for your horse to eat this cut grass. If the grass is longer when you mow, and particularly if your mower throws it in rows, rake it so no clumps exist.
When your horse grazes naturally, he tears it with his teeth and chews as he slowly walks. This process prevents him from eating the grass so quickly that it clumps together and lodges in his throat. With cut grass, particularly if it’s clumped in rows or piles, your horse eliminates these natural grazing steps. If he is prone to eating quickly since he doesn't have to pluck it and consumes a lot of cut grass, it can lodge in his throat and cause a condition called choke. You should never try to dislodge something from your horse’s throat -- always call a veterinarian if this occurs.
Mold and Botulism
Hay is grass that has been cut and dried properly before it is baled or rolled. Hay growers carefully time when they cut and bale to ensure the hay stays dry; otherwise, the grass can ferment and mold, and prove fatal for horses. This same process can easily occur in clumped or piled grass clippings. Also, if the grass was mowed improperly -- for example, too short so that soil is mixed with the clippings -- it could expose your horse to the bacteria that cause botulism, particularly if left clumped.
Colic and Laminitis
If your horse is prone to colic, laminitis or both, make it a rule not to allow grass clippings in his diet under any circumstances. Without the grazing process to naturally slow his intake, he will consume more grass and potentially upset the normal fermentation process of his digestive system, leading to any of these potentially fatal conditions.
Resist the temptation to toss lawn clippings to your horse, even if you spread them out. First, lawns are not planted with the nutritional needs of horses in mind, nor are they properly maintained for horses. Lawn weed control and fertilization practices could be toxic. Further, any change in your horse’s nutritional balance can upset his digestion and cause colic or laminitis. Finally, clippings from common ornamental plants, flowers and shrubs -- some potentially toxic to horses -- planted in close proximity to lawns could inadvertently mix with lawn clippings.
Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images
Based in Central Texas, Karen S. Johnson is a marketing professional with more than 30 years' experience and specializes in business and equestrian topics. Her articles have appeared in several trade and business publications such as the Houston Chronicle. Johnson also co-authored a series of communications publications for the U.S. Agency for International Development. She holds a Bachelor of Science in speech from UT-Austin.