By Katie Williams, MSc (Dist)
With winter just round the corner, it won’t be long before there are big changes to your horse’s routine, workload and diet as longer nights and colder temperatures spell less turnout and longer periods in the stable.
Taking a good look at your horse’s diet will make sure that he remains healthy and in great shape over the coming months.
Horses are designed to function best on a high-fibre diet, so make sure you provide a daily ration in the form that nature intended.
Chewing fibre produces saliva, which helps to neutralise gastric acid and protect the stomach’s sensitive lining. If your horse is spending more time in his stable, why not try a blend of high-temperature-dried grasses and alfalfa, and ideal for those at rest or in light work?
A low-energy feed can be fed in place of hay, particularly when it is in short supply or of poor quality.
If you keep your horse or pony at a livery yard where only good-quality hay and haylage is available, replace some of this with a low-energy feed.
Fibre and oil feeds that are naturally low in starch and sugar are great for delivering condition without fizz.
Some horses and ponies, especially poor doers and fussy eaters, are prone to losing weight
and condition during winter. It’s vitally important that they are given access to ad-lib forage
and fibre feed.
Many owners are unaware that horses tend to drink less in cold weather, which can lead to health issues.
Horses can drink between six and 14 per cent less in the winter, which could lead to a risk of impactions and dehydration-related performance issues. Soaked fibre feeds will help to increase moisture intake, as well as provide highly digestible fibre.
Heavyweight rugs and a snug, draught-free stable can help to keep things warm and toasty, but you can’t beat your horse’s own internal central-heating system.
Bacteria and other micro-organisms generate heat as they digest the horse’s fibre feed in the large intestine, using a fermentation process. With fibre feeds such as those based on alfalfa, this can take up to 60 hours.
Beating the boredom
Fibre can be a great boredom buster to help horses and ponies.
Fibre takes a long time to chew, but it does not have to be eaten all in one serving. If the horse keeps returning to its feed during the course of the day, it doesn’t matter – in fact, it is more beneficial for a feed to be consumed this way.
Use small-holed nets help to make forage last longer and make things much more challenging by slipping several nets inside one another to create an even smaller gauge. This can even help good doers in the battle of the bulge because they can no longer gobble their hay.
A low-sugar lick allows the horse to top up on essential nutrients and provide stimulation in the stable.
Hanging root vegetables or hazel twigs around the stable can help to keep your horse amused for hours.
Katie is a senior nutritionist with the Dengie company. For further information or friendly feeding advice for your horse or pony, contact the Dengie Feedline, telephone 0845 345 5115 or log on to www.dengie.com.