During the cold winter months there are number of extra factors to consider when it comes to the well being of your horse. Feeding is one major factor. With a change in temperatures comes a change in routine. This is a good time to look at the care and stable management side of your routines and make sure you are doing everything you can to adapt your horse to the seasonal weather changes.
Re-consider the basic rules of feeding. As a reminder some of the keys ones are:
- Feed according to age of horse
- Consider type/breed/temperament of horse – a thoroughbred will not eat the same as a welsh pony!
- Feed according to workload
- Consider whether the horse is living in or out
- Provide access to fresh water all of the time – buckets or automatic drinkers.
- Feed plenty of fibrous roughage
- Feed little and often
Feeding good quality feed and hay/haylage is vital. Keep to a routine where your horse is fed at around the same times each day. Keep all feed utensils and buckets clean and store feed in rodent proof containers. Offer some succulents as well – carrots, apples, parsnips for example.
The majority of the energy gained from feed through the winter is used to keep the horse warm. Therefore a low calorie yet high fibre diet is favoured. This will allow your horse to maintain his weight and still have enough energy to expend and perform. During winter it is common to add oils, sugar beet and ad lib hay to provide the horse with energy requirements. Salt or mineral based licks are also a great addition.
Water is the most important element in the diet. Remember to check that the water hasn’t frozen. Your horse is more likely to drink water that has been slightly warmed to a tepid temperature. It is important that you monitor your horse’s water intake to prevent impaction colic which is common in colder months. Especially for horses that live in. Change the water regularly to encourage drinking. For outside troughs you could place a ball in to the stop the water freezing.
Feeding – living in or out?
In or out – either is acceptable, as long as the field or stable is safe and secure. It isn’t always feasible for a horse to live in during these harsh months. Nevertheless, horses can and will cope perfectly fine living out as this is their natural habitat! However some do come in during the day or overnight and this may help to save your grazing.
Those out may be rugged or have grown a full coat. If clipped, keeping your horse rugged sufficiently will prevent weight loss and utilise the energy from his diet more efficiently. Some shelter in the field from the elements is advisable – natural or man made. Make sure fencing is safe and secure and gates can close fully. Clean water must be available.
You can feed hay from the ground in the field – make sure if more than one horse is out that you space the piles well apart and allow enough for all to eat. Those that live out will have access to graze all the time. Therefore you may want to strip graze the field though to maintain grass levels as best as you can during winter. Watch out for poached fields.
If you bring your horse in to a stable, make sure a clean deep bed is put down. Check your stable is safe and secure and that all doors close fully. Fresh water must be available. Hay/Haylage can be fed from the floor, a net or a hay bar manger. Consider safety at all times with nets and bar mangers. When changing rugs have somewhere to hang the wet rugs to dry out. Ventilation is important to keep air circulating. Hard feed may be offered depending on work load. Buckets or mangers can be used. Hard feed may be watered down or sugar beet added to provide fluid intake as well as fibre and energy.
Follow a regular and effective worming programme. This will keep your horse healthy and avoid dramatic weight loss alongside loss of condition. Keep to routine; visit your horse regularly. Carry out health and safety checks all round. Groom and pick feet out daily. Exercise your horse if possible. Winter time is never easy for horse owners so good luck to everyone battling the weather out there!