We are now in the depth of winter, and lush summer paddocks have long disappeared. Instead, many horses are stabled for numerous hours of the day, and turned out on sparse winter paddocks. Your horse’s feeding regime may need to be altered to keep them healthy through these winter conditions, so here are four of the most basic, but also the most important things to consider.
1. Water A lack of water will very quickly have negative impacts upon health. Cold weather can cause buckets, drinkers and troughs to freeze - check water sources at least twice a day to ensure the horse can drink! Lagging pipes will also help to prevent freezing and damage, and floating a ball in water troughs can prevent ice build-up. Even if your horse has access to water, most horses will drink less when the weather and water is cold!
Studies have shown that horses will drink up to 40% more warm water compared to that which is ice-cold water when the weather is cold. To help keep your horse hydrated, provide them with warmed water when the weather is freezing. Giving your horse a soaked feed (for example, a soaked fibre or grass block which provides 5 litres of water!) is another great way to ensure that your horse stays hydrated when the cold weather hits, and providing electrolytes or salt in the feed will also promote drinking.
2. Forage Little and often: Horses’ digestive systems have evolved to be trickle fed. Too little fibre, or not being provided with forage on a regular enough basis can cause serious health and behaviour problems. Ideally, if your horse is not overweight, provide them with ad-lib forage over the winter, both in the stable and the field. If your horse is maintaining too much condition, winter can be more troublesome. Soaking hay reduces WSCs (sugar levels), so feed hay soaked for at least 30 minutes where possible. Feeding little and often is also advised, so late night checks where another haynet is provided are a great idea.
3. Balancing the diet If over the winter, your horse is receiving hay as a main forage source, it is likely that they will not be receiving adequate vitamins and minerals from their diet, especially if being fed older hay. The vitamin E content in grass is usually high, but this deteriorates when hay is cut and stored, and vitamin A also decreases, albeit more slowly. In addition to this, UK forage often lacks sufficient zinc, copper, selenium, and sodium, so if your horse receives a forage-only diet, or a diet where they only get small amounts of a complete feed, you should consider supplementing their diet with vitamins and minerals - Benevit is a great value vitamin and mineral supplement suitable for all horses and ponies, and will help to balance their diet over the winter months.
4. Peak condition You can see whether your horse gets enough energy from their diet by their weight - if they put on weight, they are receiving too much energy that is not being expended, and their ration should be reduced while making sure that your horse is still able to trickle feed. If your horse is on a forage-only diet and is losing condition, they are using more energy than they are consuming. In this case you will need to add more calories to the diet. Ideally choose an energy dense source, such as a high oil or fat supplement, as this is a slow release energy source and suitable for most horses. If this is what your horse needs, take a look at our Condition & Shine, or even our Omega Oil and Soya Oil.