Is your horse spending more time standing in his stable than he is being outside? As the winter settles in on us, this is a common situation, in some cases some horses get no access to grazing at all over the winter months – and even if they do, the grass will have little or no nutritional value to most horses.
All this makes it really difficult for owners to get the balance right during winter and maintaining condition and ensuring health and wellbeing can be a real challenge. Here are some top tips for making sure that you are giving your horse the best you can when it comes to winter feeding:
- Forage is key to success: Make sure your horse has access to plenty of top quality forage. This should be the foundation point for your horse’s diet (any time of the year, actually!) making up at least 60% of the horse’s total rations. Giving plenty of forage not only satisfies a horse’s natural desire to chew, therefore helping to prevent boredom during long periods when stabled, but also provides fibre critical to the functioning of the gut.
- Feed according to your horse’s workload and condition. If he is a good doer – feeding hard feed will only lead to weight gain, whereas a skinny pony who struggles to maintain weight will benefit from the extra rations. Try to assess the amount of work he is doing on a weekly basis to work out what level of food intake he needs to sustain him.
- Age is an important factor to consider. Older horses will find it harder to chew long forage which will have an effect on their condition, so consider an alternative such as sugar-beet pulp or high fibre cubes that can be soaked to a mash.
- Warm is good: Horses lose condition when their system is being pulled on to create heat. A horse’s internal central heating system is fired by fermentation of fibre in the hind gut, so feeding forage is critical to keeping him warm.
- Vitamins and minerals keep things balanced. Most hard feeds will offer a mix of vitamins and minerals but if your horse is one of those that can survive a winter on forage alone, it’s important to ensure he has enough of these vital supplements to keep his system balanced.
If in doubt, contact your feed merchant, or one of the horse food manufacturers who will be able to offer more advice on how to feed your horse this winter.