During the winter months, owning a horse can come with it’s struggles, particularly when you may not be able to exercise your horse as much as you would like. Winter is typically when they have to spend longer periods of time in the stable because they can’t be turned out, either. But why do we keep them stabled? There are many reasons, but the main problem in winter is poor ground quality. When we experience severe weather conditions and your horse’s winter grazing is restricted, paddocks can quickly become very muddy. Older horses and poor doers may also lose condition in the colder weather as they use more energy to keep warm and so bringing them in makes it easier for us to keep them in good condition.
When a horse is stabled, changes to their diet and feeding behaviour can increase the risk of digestive upsets, and therefore it is important to choose a horse feed that keeps your horse healthy.
Provide Them With Fibre
Horses have evolved to function on a high fibre diet, with wild horses spending 16 -18 hours a day grazing. Many horse owners are guilty of feeding their horse small meals of concentrates or coarse mixes as they feel this is more appealing to the horse. However low fibre diets and long periods without access to forage has been linked to behavioural issues such as wood chewing and crib biting.
Fibre takes much longer to chew than concentrates keeping your horse occupied for much longer. In addition to this, more saliva is produced. This is beneficial for the digestive system as it helps to regulate the acid in the stomach and break down the foods that they are eating, therefore aiding in a healthier digestive system in the long term.
Give Horses A Variety Of Different Feeds
Providing multiple types of forage in the stable is recommended by researchers. By offering your horse a variety of different feeds such as haylage, fibre feed in a bucket and root vegetables it will not only increase their fibre intake, but it will allow them to perform more of their natural browsing and foraging behaviour; keeping them occupied for longer.
How much should I feed?At a minimum all horses should have 1.5% of their bodyweight on a dry matter basis of fibre based feeds daily. For example a 500kg horse should receive 7.5kg with this being adjusted accordingly should they need to lose or gain weight.
To make your horse’s forage last longer, place it in small-holed nets or put several haynets inside one another. Another trick is to place it in a large trug with a large football or some very large smooth pebbles on top of the feed to help slow the rate of consumption. It’s important to keep the period of time your horse’s gut is empty as short as possible. For good doers, this means using small amounts of forage at frequent intervals.
Can Fibre Provide a Horse in Work Enough Energy?A number of horses and ponies can extract enough energy from fibre to maintain a healthy weight, as well supporting their workload. Good doers may require a vitamin and mineral supplement alongside their forage. As oil is a slow release energy source, like fibre, when the two are combined it provides a higher energy source for work or weight gain.
Though most horses require a change to their diet in the winter, it is important to recognise some of the risks that come along with changing their food. One of these being an increased risk of colic. This can be bought on by either a change in concentrate ratio or the type of forage fed, both of which put them at risk. In order to reduce the risk of this shappening, it is important that you introduce the change slowly over at least two weeks to allow your horse to adjust.
Although winter usually means more hard work for us, at least we know our horses are happy if we feed them plenty of fibre and the more different types we can offer the happier they will be.