The Winter Months – feeding

The Winter Months – feeding

Put simply, if a horse receives more energy in its diet than it needs for day to day living, it will put on weight but if it receives less energy than it needs it will lose weight. The energy requirements of a horse increase during the winter months and for many horses this extra energy requirement can be provided by feeding hay. However in horses who cannot maintain their condition on just hay, extra hard feed is required to increase the energy in the diet. Conversely, avoid feeding additional hard feed to an overweight horse, so the horse uses its own reserves to keep warm, and you will have a slimmer, healthier horse by the spring. Feeding horses successfully is both an art and a science but for all horses and ponies the aim should be to easily feel but not see the ribs.

If hay is in short supply you can feed an alternative fibre source such as chaff or fibre nuts to make up some of the diet.

Forage in the diet is a main source of warmth for the horse because the process of fibre digestion in the large intestine releases a large amount of heat. So as grass quality and quantity decrease, it is important to provide hay or haylage in the field as well as when the horse is stabled. This also serves another purpose in minimising the risk of gastric ulcers. A horse turned out on very little grass all day will have insufficient food going through the stomach; this drastically increases the risk of gastric ulcers because the acid present in the stomach starts to attack the stomach lining in the absence of food. Over 60% of leisure horses have been shown to have gastric ulcers.

Stabling and Health

Many horses spend more time stabled in the winter, which is alien to their physiology; horses are naturally designed to move almost continually, eating little and often in the open air. Stabling prevents this and so stabled horses are more likely to suffer from musculoskeletal problems, respiratory disease and digestive disorders. To help keep your horse healthy if he must be stabled:

  1. Feed hay off the floor to mimic the natural posture of a grazing horse. Hay nets can be detrimental to the horses back and respiratory system.
  2. Feed ad-lib hay or haylage, making sure your horse has sufficient to last the night. Long periods without forage can cause ulcers and colic, not forgetting it is mentally unhealthy too.
  3. Use dust free bedding and muck out when the horse is outside. Dust and ammonia are severely detrimental to a horse’s respiratory system. By the time a horse coughs and/or has nasal discharge, damage has been done.
  4. Soak hay for 30 minutes before feeding to reduce spores.
  5. Turn out as much as possible to allow your horse to move and roll. Just think how stiff you would be if you stayed in bed 23 hours a day

Natalie’s Mud Fever tips:

Mud Fever is caused by a bacteria that gets into the skin through a small graze or when the skin is softened because of the wet and mud.

  1. Avoid excess wetting of the legs. It is better to allow mud to dry and be brushed off rather than washed off.
  2. If legs must be washed, dry thoroughly with a towel.
  3. If scabs are present they must be softened and removed to help kill off the anaerobic bacteria, which cant survive if exposed to air. Liquid paraffin is very effective at softening scabs.
  4. Barrier creams or boots can be used as a preventative measure to help protect the skin in muddy conditions.
  5. Don’t underestimate mud fever, it is important to check legs every day and treat promptly. Delayed treatment can lead to infection and lameness.

Natalie Bucklar
BSc (Hons), MSc (Equine Science)

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