How to feed your horse in winter

As the grass starts to lose its nutritional value and many horses spend more time inside, it’s important to adapt your feeding plan to suit the demands of winter.

Plenty of forage

Horses have evolved to have fibre moving through their digestive system almost constantly. This means that if he’s stabled more during winter, it’s important to feed your horse forage, such as hay or haylage. Studies have shown that horses left without forage for more than six hours are significantly more at risk of developing conditions such as gastric ulcers. If he’s turned out, you may need to supplement the grass with hay. To avoid squabbling, put out more piles than there are horses in the field and try to place them in a different area each day to avoid poaching.

Everything in balance

A key consideration is offering a balanced diet, which will provide your horse with all the vitamins and minerals he needs. This can be achieved with the recommended daily quantity of a complete feed. However, if he isn’t fed this or your feed doesn’t have added vitamins and minerals, then a balancer or broad-spectrum supplement can top up what’s missing. There are lots of different types available, including those with tailored benefits for veterans, good-doers or competition horses.

Winter weight loss

If your horse is carrying any extra weight, winter is the perfect time to help him shed it. In the wild, horses naturally put on weight during the spring and summer, then lose it over winter. Try not to over-rug, instead encouraging him to burn the extra fat to keep warm. Most good-doers can survive well with ad lib forage and feeds made up of a low-calorie chopped fibre and a balancer. However, if he needs to watch his calorie intake, find ways to make his forage ration go further. These could include…

  • soaking to remove nutrients
  • double-netting or using a small-holed haynet
  • adding a few handfuls of good-quality oat straw

Feeding for condition

For horses who need help maintaining their weight, opt for conditioning feeds containing oil and highly digestible fibres, such as alfalfa, soya and sugar beet, rather than cereal-rich mixes or cubes. Oil is very energy-dense, containing over twice the calories as the same quantity of cereals, but in a slow-release format that will help to reduce the risk of any fizzy behaviour. As with any dietary changes, introduce it gradually over a period of at least 10 days to allow his digestive system to adjust.

A little extra help

Veterans or those with poor teeth can struggle with hay or haylage. Instead, choose a chopped fibre that’s suitable as a hay replacer, as the shorter fibres are easier to manage. If these still prove a problem, you could try softening grass pellets or high-fibre cubes with water, or a soaked fibre feed. Using warm water can make a meal more tempting if he’s reluctant to eat.

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