This isn't just an issue for owners of rehab horses (whom I always send home with reams of nutritional info and who are bored rigid of me banging on about diet and grass!)...
...its not even just an issue for owners of barefoot horses (though problems with grass show up earlier barefoot than shod)... Its something all horse owners should be aware of.
Laminitis is a major danger for horses in the UK, with our mild, warm climate, high rainfall and extensive pasture - often carefully managed to yield the richest possible grass(!). But way before laminitis, there are warning signs when horses become footy or sole sensitive - and this is the time when preventative measures are most useful and take effect most quickly.
Grazing and how to manage it - and your horse - is something which I know is a big issue for many owners, so I've put this quick table together. Of course, its simplistic, but it gives you an idea of some of the risk factors - for your horse and in your fields - and as a quick guide I hope its useful (if you click on it, you can see a larger version).
Even so, I would never turn horses out 24/7in spring and summer. After all, our long hours of daylight mean that today the sun rose at 4.30am and its still light at 9.30pm - that's an awfully long time for the grass to grow. So at the moment I am turning out at about 7-8pm and bringing horses in at about 7am to go onto the tracks. However, as well as limited turnout, I have the benefit of old pasture, organic management and a cool climate, which together makes for fairly "safe" grazing.
In your yard getting to a "safe", "green"state may be a fairly complex picture where you need to factor in the type of grazing, climate, your horse's health and exercise levels. If some of these factors are outside your control you could easily tip into the "red" and have a horse who becomes footy or even (at worst case) laminitic, so its not something you want to take lightly...
...BUT most UK yards are set up for horses to have at least some time at grass, and let's face it - the horses love it! There is also the fact that we all (me included!) enjoy seeing our horses in beautiful fields, happily grazing, with lots of space to move.
So what to do?Of course you may be able to ensure that your horse is never footy or laminitic by completely removing all grass, and in extreme cases this maybe necessary, but that's a fairly drastic solution and one which could be far more draconian than you need.
Most owners who have barefoot horses keep them on "normal" livery yards, where they have more-or-less safe grass, more-or-less rigid rules about turn-out and horses who are more-or-less sensitive to grass. Most owners - often through trial and error - can develop a cost-effective, practical system which keeps their horse safe so don't despair, even if you have a few set-backs along the way.
Management optionsTo get their horses into the "green" and out of the "red" some owners use grazing muzzles, some ask their yards for night-time turnout, some use dry-lots or arenas for turn-out. Most feed a sensible mineral supplement (like Pro Balance, Pro Hoof or Equimins Meta Balance). Some balance minerals to their forage. Some use tracks, some (fortunate people!) don't need to make any changes. Those with horses who have serious metabolic disorders may find that drugs like pergolide or metformin are a big help.
As always, its a case of doing what is practical for you, at your yard, for your horse, seeing what you can achieve - and above all, listening to your horse. There is rarely one solution - most often its putting together several good management options which make the difference and get you out of the "red" and back into the "green".
If you still aren't sure whether grass is the issue, either take your horse off grass for a few days or think back to how he/she was in January. If either made a big improvement to comfort levels then chances are its the grass...
Of course, if there are elements beyond your control and you can't stop your horse from being footy, its not the end of the world if you use boots or shoes for the spring and summer. This is obviously a less practical option for horses who - like our rehab horses - have navicular/DDFT type problems, but if you have horse with good caudal hoof health, it can be a sensible short term solution.