Green Grass Syndrome

Posted in: Featured, Horse Training, Ranch Life

You’ve heard of Tying Up Syndrome and Cushing’s Syndrome, but have you ever heard of Green Grass Syndrome? It’s rarely researched and scantily documented by equine researchers and veterinarians, but it regularly occurs each spring and affects thousands 0f domesticated horses and horse owners worldwide.

Green Grass Syndrome (GGS) is caused by an increased consumption of green grass. This commonly occurs when horses are turned out to pasture and the annual phenomenon known as “springtime” commences. As herbivores, horses typically ingest as much of the new growth of grass as possible, because it is tender and delicious. This last statement is based on anecdotal evidence, not personal experience.

The extra nutrients and richness of the fresh, new spring grass can cause certain predictable short-term effects in horses, though. GGS has been known to make usually docile, compliant horses throw their heads and kick up their heels, even while under saddle and rider. The disease isn’t long-lasting and is totally curable, though, usually with wet saddle blankets. Here are a few tips for getting through the worst of the initial stage of GGS:

1)Lunging your fresh horse before stepping on can help him exercise off some of his extra energy. No round pen? No problem. Just stand in a flat spot with decent ground (no arena necessary, but pick a place that isn’t full of sharp rocks) and ask your horse to walk and trot around you both directions on the end of the lead rope. If he seems extra spunky, you can either lunge him a little more, or at least be prepared when you swing aboard.

2) When you first get on a fresh horse suspected of being affected by GGS, it can help to flex his neck to both sides before you ask for movement. Using direct rein pressure, ask him to tip his nose around and rub his face as a reward. This will help get him soft and remember that you’re up there and he needs to listen to what you ask him to do.

3) Walking small circles and figure eights right away can help work the kinks out of a potential bronco’s back. If your horse feels good after this and wants to move out fairly quickly, you’re usually better off if you give him his head, stay loose, and go with him. This way, you can work out some of his excess energy while you’re on his back, and he’s less likely to buck if he’s not bound up.

4) If your horse does buck, don’t be too proud to grab your rope. Some of the handier cowboys scoff at this, but I’m not one of them. If you don’t have a rope tied on your saddle, you can make like a Texan and help yourself stay in the saddle by bracing your hand against the back of your saddle horn. There are no style points outside of the rodeo arena, so pull leather if that’s what it takes to stay mounted.

5) The standard clinician logic dictates that a person use direct rein pressure to pull the horse’s head around into a one-rein stop when a horse starts bucking or running off. This will sometimes work and is a good tool to have, but it isn’t always possible or the best course of action. If you have a steep ditch on one side and a thickly wooded forest on the other side, a one-rein stop might produce more harm than help. In a situation like this, you might need to just stay loose and go with your horse.

This is only intimidating until you’re actually in that situation; then, your survival instincts kick in and you are suddenly riding as fast as your horse is running. A bucking horse is also more intimidating to think about than to ride (I’m talking about a garden-variety backyard horse with an average case of GGS here, not a practiced-up, real-deal, he-means-business bronco). If your horse does break in two and you manage to ride him through several jumps, you will feel like you’re on top of the world.

Do you have any other tips for dealing with an annual case of Green Grass Syndrome? If so, leave them in the comments, we’d love to hear them!

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Posted in: Featured, Horse Training, Ranch Life

About Jolyn Young

Jolyn Young lives near Montello, NV with her cowboy husband and 3 small kids. For more, visit

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