Winter feeding tips

Not sure about where to start with feeding your horse this winter? Our top tips will make organising his menu a breeze

Winter has arrived – shorter days, diminished grazing and, for many horses, more time in the stable means a complete change in routine as the cold weather rolls in. As your horse’s lifestyle adapts, so too do his dietary requirements and you’ll probably find yourself tweaking his daily ration to suit his altered hours of turnout and level of activity. Sound complicated? It needn’t be. All that’s required is a little consideration of his requirements and how winter changes the way you address them.

Fibre first

Fibre should make up the bulk of your horse’s diet, and his primary source of this particular nutrient forage – preferably ad-lib grass, hay or haylage. With reduced winter grazing and more time indoors, you need to ensure your horse is eating enough forage to keep his digestive system running smoothly, as insufficient quantities can lead to issues such as gastric ulcers.

To maintain his weight, your horse needs to consume 1.5 to 2% (dry matter) of his bodyweight in dry matter forage daily. With many paddocks containing little to no grass over winter, this needs to be replaced with good-quality hay or haylage. It’s a good idea to weigh out your horse’s winter forage ration to take the guesswork out of making up his haynets and put you more in control of maintaining a healthy weight for him.

Top tip

Horses have evolved to naturally lose a little condition – or ‘drop off’ –  over winter in preparation for the sugary grass in the spring. If your horse is going into winter a touch overweight, use the season to your advantage. Try turning him out in fewer or no rugs to encourage him to burn more calories keeping warm.

Nutrition mission

Reduced grazing means your horse will consume lower levels of vitamins and minerals from the grass – and what he does manage to nibble on will have a much lower nutritional value than in the summer months. Adding a comprehensive, general purpose vitamin and mineral supplement or balancer in his bucket feed at the recommended rate will cover all bases and ensure he gets the essential nutrients he needs at the right levels.

Top tip

Is you horse facing stable boredom? Why not inject a little fun into the way he eats his forage? Try giving him a forage block to nibble at, hide some carrots in his haynet, or give him several small piles or nets of forage to keep him moving.

Back to the grind?

If you’re planning to reduce your horse’s workload – maybe you’ve scheduled in a few weeks off for him ­– his daily calorie requirement will also be reduced. This could mean that his current amount of bucket feed will give him a calorie surplus, which will ultimately lead to weight gain. It might be that your horse can thrive on forage, chaff and a vitamin and mineral supplement or balancer alone for a time, but make sure you don’t cut his concentrated feed ration overnight – reduce the amount he eats gradually over at least a week.

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