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Muzzle It: Correct Fit of Grazing Muzzles on HorsesBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · April 11, 2014

Nothing heralds the onset of spring for horse owners more than the retiring of winter blankets, the shedding of a wooly hair coat, and the greening of pastures. While some horses can graze springtime pastures with wild abandon, other horses cannot. Sugar-filled grasses cause problems for many horses, most notably easy keepers that have a predisposition for acute or chronic laminitis or metabolic diseases.

Different management strategies have been employed to restrict the intake of fresh pasture by these horses. One of the most widespread methods is the use of a grazing muzzle, an appliance that hooks to an ordinary halter, covers the entire muzzle of the horse, and allows only limited intake through one or more holes in the floor of the device.

Let’s be candid: few horses enjoy wearing grazing muzzles, and most owners find them exasperating, at least in the beginning of the season. One reason horse owners become frustrated is the difficulty in fitting grazing muzzles comfortably on their horses.

Employees at Kentucky Equine Research (KER) are thoroughly versed in the fitting of grazing muzzles, as many of the studies conducted at the company require horses to be on strict feeding schedules, which sometimes includes the use of muzzles. Catherine Whitehouse, M.S., is one KER employee responsible for the care and comfort of the research horses, and that extends to properly outfitting each horse with a muzzle.

“I like to fit the muzzles snugly but with some room at the bottom,” said Whitehouse. “If muzzles are adjusted with too much play, to the point they’re fitting loosely, then horses find a way to rub them under their chin or even get them stuck in their mouths.” For optimal comfort, Whitehouse suggests a width of about two fingers between the bottom of the chin and the grazing muzzle.

Due to the fit or construction material, some grazing muzzles rub under the chin and on top of the nose when horses graze. “To help keep horses rub-free, we use duct tape and lambskin or synthetic fleece to pad the parts of the muzzle that come into contact with the horse,” said Whitehouse.

In addition to retrofitting grazing muzzles for utmost comfort, caretakers at KER also apply zinc oxide cream if hair loss is noticed.

Although there are several types of grazing muzzles on the market, few of them will remain in place using only the attachments provided by the manufacturer, due largely to the mischief of the horses wearing them. Adding reinforcement straps that attach with buckles rather than Velcro is a usual modification.

Once the muzzle is fitted to the halter and the horse can wear it daily without hair loss or discomfort, it is best to keep the muzzle attached to the halter as a single unit. Dedicating a halter to this use will save time down the road. Keep in mind all usual safety practices in choosing a halter, including the use of a leather halter or a nylon halter with a leather crownpiece for easy breakaway should the muzzle get hung on something.

If a horse must wear a grazing muzzle at all times, a daily once-over is prudent. Not only can you get a jump on rubs should they form, but it is not unusual for horses to get debris lodged in the grazing muzzle, and this should be cleared as soon as possible.