The Scotts are passionate about Equine Welfare and as a result have been researching the phenomenon of grass staggers and its effect on the Equine Athlete. They have been involved in Massey University research projects and have tapped into the knowledge of industry leaders from New Zealand and around the world.
Below is an over view of their research.
There are two sorts of Grass Stagger affecting horse in New Zealand:
- Spring Staggers. In spring and autumn the grass in New Zealand grows so fast there is a shortage of Magnesium in the pasture. This is easily remedied by the addition of a magnesium supplement. Also there can be sodium deficiencies which is balanced with common table salt
The Staggers Symptoms
1.Shaking of the retina: In clinical trials we were involved in, the first signs of sub-clinical grass staggers appeared to show up as shaking of the retina. This is a major problem for the jumping horse as it has to judge distances approximately 3 strides ahead of itself.
This has the effect for the horse similar to a strobe light in a disco
- To some people it is no problem
- Some people struggle to judge distances e.g. reaching for a glass.
- Others will suffer head aches
- While some will suffer Epileptic episodes.
2. Gradual loss of control of the hindquarters: Sub-clinical effects that under pressure during jumping the horse will feel he has lost control of his hindquarter particularly if the distance is awkward.
3. Clinical stagger symptoms: Similar to other livestock the horse will stagger drunkenly particularly if frighten or nervous
4.Swelling of joints and loss of hair: In an effort to get rid of toxins the horse’s legs may swell and eventually burst like an abscess. In rare extreme cases can causes ulcers in the eyes.
How do I know if my horse has Grass Staggers?
Look for the following subjective sub-clinical symptoms:
1. Abnormal spooking and nervous behavior: Due to the shaking of the eye and the fact the horse has both monocular and binocular vision and can see nearly 360 degrees around him objects will jump out a lot more at him. Horses habituate to abnormal stimulus that is non-threatening very quickly, however a horse that is suffering from Grass Staggers will not. Therefore continued reaction to hand clapping or a firm slap on the rump can indicate Grass Staggers
2. Peering late at Fences: As horses judge distances from the bottom of their eyes and need approximately three strides in front of them to focus, so the shaking of the eye makes this very difficult. The horse will appear to drop his head in the last stride and peer at the fence.
3. Taking more rails: Early symptoms are extra rails particularly at doubles and trebles caused by eye sight and hindquarter issues.
4. Refusing to Jump: Usually will start occurring at doubles and trebles but then progress to awkward distances until they refuse to jump at all.
5. Loss of Hair: Some horses suffering from Grass Staggers may lose hair around the eyes and/ or girth area.
6 .Become Girth Proud: A horse that is suffering from Grass Staggers can become ticklish in the girth area. The running of fingers down the girth line exacting a continuous ticklish response is often a symptom.
7. Swelling in lower legs: Although usually only occurring when clinical signs of Grass Staggers are present, some horses in the early stages will also show this symptom.
8. Gradual Loss of Performance: A Horse jumping well early spring drops off performance late spring, and continuing a downward slide throughout the summer. However if you are feeding hay or silage made from endophyte infected pasture or live in warmer climates endophyte staggers is a year round problem.
Obviously all of these symptoms could relate to other causes and are very subjective but if you know your horse you are probably the best person to asses them. Personally Symptom 2: Peering at Fences is the best and most consistent diagnosis for Grass Staggers and most likely to be not caused by other issues.
Other Interesting Facts:
1. Toxins Effects are not just grassed based. They can be caused by molds, fungi and insects in other feeds. There is anecdotal evidence that some rice based products and insect infested lucerne are causing similar and/or other issues. Also rice has been associated with higher starch levels in the hind gut and a possible cause of laminitis.
2. Grass Staggers is an allergy and the symptoms severity increases with each exposure to the toxins. So a young horse could show little symptoms but in later life show chronic symptoms.
3. All horses suffer from Grass Staggers, just some horses are better able to cope with the consequences. During a trial with Massey University a Mare showed no signs visible signs of Grass Staggers but on clinical evaluation her retina was shaking and fluid taken from her spinal cord showed she had grass staggers. If one horse is showing signs of staggers then all horses should be treated as having staggers.
4. The Traditional Cure of locking a horse up and removing the grass does not work unless you can be sure that the hay or silage you are feeding the horse is toxin free. This is becoming increasingly unlikely to be the case.
5. Some horses can tolerate the staggers in their paddock but a sudden change of paddocks or location can lead to a break out of staggers symptoms.
- Endophyte Free Pasture:
- There are a number of endophyte free grasses solutions available.
- Do not consider Endo-safe pasture as endophyte free as while they might not cause clinical staggers in sheep and cattle there is no trial work done on sub-clinical staggers
- Hard to get persistence so should consider a maximum 3 year fix. Each progressive year after planting increase the risk of contamination from cross grazing or natural seeding
- Great to make hay or silage from.
- You can get your pasture, hay or silage tested.
- Unfortunately they only test for the most common endophyte occurring in New Zealand which is Lolitrem B.
- We no longer test due to the test only testing for Lolitrem B and there are 6 native endophytes
3. Toxin Binders:
- There are a number of Toxin Binders on the market
- We have found inconsistent responses to the products. Sometimes they work well and then not. Firstly we thought it was due to different endophytes varieties in different paddocks but the further we have researched the variations in responses the more we believe, that as most products are derived from Brewer’s Yeast, it is the product which is inconsistent.
- To solve the inconsistency we experimented with doubling the doses and/or combining different brands with some success
4. Nutrimix Mycomix:
- We have developed an association with Nutrimix and their product Mycomix.
- We have found their product to work on over 90% of horses suffering from Grass Staggers
- Our investigations have shown their product to be very consistent which is derived from a different base product which is not a by-product.
- We would not jump a horse fed any grass, hay or silage in New Zealand without feeding this product
To arrange a order of Nutrimix Mycomix and delivered to your door use either of the following methods:
- Online: equine.nutrimix.co.nz/products/mycomix
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Text to Louise on 0275517505
- Private Message Andrew’Louise Scott on facebook.
Nutrimix products are not available in store to ensure the freshness of the product.
Feeding Recommendations for Mycomix Toxin Binder ;
Through our many years of experience we suggest the following method of feeding for best results.
- 50gm per day is the recommended dose and is enough for most horses. Some highly sensitive horses may require more at peak periods of stress but most don’t.
- 25gm per day for ponies
- The Mycomix works best if fed closer to the time of riding. Therefore getting value for money! So work backwards from riding time. If you ride in the afternoon or after work at night, give the full dose for breakfast. If you ride first thing in the morning you can put in the night feed. If you ride mid-morning to early afternoon then I would still put it in the breakfast feed.
- This is only a toxin binder so you must add magnesium and salt when feeding Mycomix. Our preference of magnesium is Nutrimix Equimol. It is organic based therefore a more consistent release , Also according to a former Massey University Nutritionist it is the combination of the minerals which encourages the uptake of Magnesium. Also it is slow release and organic. We believe the use of the combination of Mycomix, Equimol and salt as a combination is the most effective method of preventing grass staggers in horses.
- Salt can be just ordinary iodised table salt from the supermarket. I feed 1 rounded teaspoon per day but if the grass is actively growing you can feed up to 1 tablespoon per day. This helps to neutralise the high nitrate levels.
To Purchase Nutrimix products go to equine.nutrimix.co.nz/products/mycomix