We’ve all heard the advice ‘eat less and move more’ but could the way in which we restrict grass intake affect our horse’s activity levels? Last year we, in collaboration with Dr Annette Longland of Equine Livestock and Nutrition Services in Wales, published research¹ that showed strip grazed ponies (with and without a back fence) gained significantly less weight than ponies with free access to restricted grazing over a 28-day period (see our previous blog). However, one question that remained unanswered was whether eating less as a result of strip grazing also meant moving less…

New research

To evaluate the effect of strip grazing on ‘activity levels’ we recently published2 behavioral data from our previous study, in addition to information from a second study, this time in collaboration with the Royal Veterinary College, looking at the effect of strip grazing on the behaviour of ponies turned out in groups.

In the second study 10 ponies were randomly assigned to one of two adjacent paddocks. Both paddocks were the same size, had been managed in the same way and subjectively had the same amount of very limited grazing available. Paddock B was divided into 7 strips (using electric fencing) with ponies given access to one additional strip of fresh grazing every day; ponies in paddock A had access to the entire paddock for the duration of the study.

In both studies, behaviour and activity levels were assessed multiple times using a combination of direct observation and activity monitors attached to the ponies’ headcollar (positioned at the poll).

The results

There was no significant difference in the over-all time strip grazed ponies spent grazing, standing, or ‘locomoting’ (which included walking, trotting and cantering), regardless of whether a back fence was used or if they were turned out individually or as a group.

Other findings

Strip grazed ponies preferred to graze the grass made available by moving the fence and spent most time grazing in the 4 hours after the fence(s) had been moved. Whilst this may come as no surprise, it may be of significance to some horses and ponies prone to laminitis.

Encouragingly, performance of behaviours related to stress and frustration were low in both studies too.

What next?

In our mission to offer owners the most informed advice possible, we are currently looking into the effects of strip grazing on the water-soluble carbohydrate (WSC) or ‘sugar’ content of the grass as well as pasture recovery – watch this space!

Did you know?

In collaboration with colleagues around the world, we have researching obesity and laminitis for over 20 years. To read some of our key highlights check our recent obesity and laminitis research blogs.

For invidual feed and management advice for your good doer contact the SPILLERS Care-Line

References

¹Longland, AC, Barfoot, C, Harris, PA. Strip-grazing: Reduces pony dry matter intakes and changes in bodyweight and morphometrics. Equine Vet J. 2021; 00: 1– 8. https://doi.org/10.1111/evj.13416

2Cameron, A., Longland, A., Pfau, T., Pinnegar, S., Brackston, I., Hockenhull, J., Harris, P.A. and Menzies-Gow, N.J., 2022. The effect of strip grazing on physical activity and behaviour in ponies. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, p.103745