Friday, March 30, 2012

Blessi--Grass, Grass Everywhere and Nary a Bite to Eat

Blessi in a grass muzzle--this one is too small for
his muzzle but it was bought so I could take a picture
for an article on laminitis
Blessi and I used to live in Chester County, which was home to a lot of thoroughbred breeders. Smarty Jones, the winner of the 2004 Kentucky Derby, was born in Chester County. The typically large pastures consisted of rich grass and clover—which was like a candy store for an Icelandic horse. By midsummer, Blessi was overweight and well on his way to obese.
I asked advice from the local horse owners about how to deal with this potential problem and they recommended a grass muzzle. “Just snap a grass muzzle onto Blessi’s halter. He’ll be able to get some grass through the muzzle openings but he won’t be able to vacuum up grass like he normally does.” Riding around the country side, Blessi and I had seen a lot of thoroughbreds come trotting up to the fence to greet us—many of them contentedly wearing grass muzzles.
So to avoid the risk of founder, I started to use a grass muzzle. Well putting something on Blessi that restricted his eating was like giving him a Rubrik’s cube to play with. He was getting the grass muzzle off in shorter and shorter time periods. I tried many models--muzzles attached to halters and one-piece grass muzzles, cage muzzles and sieve-type muzzles, muzzles with big holes and muzzles with little holes. I even tried adding additional metal clips—all to no avail.
Blessi had many different ways to defeat the grass muzzle puzzle. He would scrape the bottom of the plastic muzzle against the ground to wear a bigger hole in the bottom of the muzzle. He would position the muzzle against a handy post or stump and rub the muzzle off. Somehow, I never figured out how, he undid the clips on the muzzle and removed the muzzle but left his halter on. Once I walked into the pasture to find another horse tugging on Blessi’s grass muzzle as he was wearing it—probably because there were wisps of grass stuck in the muzzle.
It got to the point that I was spending more time walking the large pasture looking for the muzzle than Blessi wore the muzzle. I would find the muzzle in a different place each day—hanging off a fence, sitting on tree stump, buried in a clump of grass. As I was searching the fields, I would find a detached grass muzzle, sometimes the muzzle-halter combination, and, occasionally, muzzle and halter in different parts of the field. Just a note of advice to those of you who also own clever Icelandics: Never get a muzzle/halter combination in any shade of green. And all those thoroughbreds watched me search the field while they contentedly grazed through their grass muzzles.
And the pounds kept piling on. In desperation, I went to a local Amish harness maker for a customized grass muzzle. The harness maker confessed he had never been asked to do custom work on a grass muzzle so I explained the situation. After he stopped chuckling, he went to work on the design. The muzzle had two extra levels of straps around the muzzle and an extra chin strap; it was attached to a cribbing collar.
Blessi in the pudgey pony pasture.
I wanted to make sure that Blessi did not feel trapped or uncomfortable with the new muzzle. I slowly introduced him to the muzzle and made sure he had no problem with it. However, he did look like Hannibal Lecter wearing the mask in “Silence of the Lambs.” We spent a half hour hand grazing to see if Blessi had any issues; he immediately put his head down and started vacuuming up much smaller amounts of grass—the difference between a portable hand vacuum and the industrial shop size vacuum.
Since he was comfortable with the contraption, I led him back to his pasture. When I turned him loose, Blessi took a dozen paces into the pasture, stopped, dropped, rolled to his back, and used his front leg to brush the muzzle off the end of his nose. When I was done laughing, I gave up on grass muzzles and put him in the pudgy pony pasture, i.e. an almost dry lot, for the rest of the summer. He even managed to lose some weight. Now if I can just find a pudgy pony pasture for myself.

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