Feeding your horse during the winter can be a challenge, so we asked the experts how to get the most out of your horse’s feed without compromising their health and performance.

Most feed companies agree that if you feed good-quality forage, whether bagged or straight off the field, you will need to feed less hard feed, thus saving money.

“Grass, whether fresh or conserved, represents the best value for money when feeding horses and if they receive it ad-lib you may need to spend less on hard food,” says Nicola Tyler, nutrition director at TopSpec Equine. “For horses in light to medium work the addition of a feed balancer is often all they will need.”

Chris Tar of Mark Westaway & Son, which manufactures HorseHage and Mollichaff, agrees: “When a high-quality bagged forage is used as the main forage source many owners find they can reduce their horse’s hard feed by up to a third.”

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Choosing the right hard feed

If your horse also needs a hard feed to maintain condition or provide energy for work (and not all horses do!) it may be more economical to choose a complete feed then having a “shopping list” of different feeds and supplements, which are likely to double up on additives.

“But make sure that it really is complete,” advises Chris. “It must contain a broad-spectrum vitamin and mineral supplement and be specific to your horse’s type.”

Emma Short, equine nutritionist from Baileys Horse Feeds, agrees: “Where weight gain is required or for maintaining poor doers in good condition, a specially formulated conditioning feed is by far the most effective choice. It is a concentrated source of non-heating calories and supporting nutrients that doesn’t need to be fed by the bucketful to get results.”

And if you are feeding a yard full of horses, you may not need to buy loads of different feeds, which may allow you to enjoy savings by buying in bulk.

“Each horse doesn’t necessarily need a different feed,” Clare continues. “Choose a quality base feed, such as a horse and pony cube, and a higher energy mix or cube and use this in a flexible way to increase the energy of the ration where appropriate.”

But cutting back by purchasing a ‘basic’ feed may prove a false economy. Dodson & Horrell’s Dr Teresa Hollands says: “Proper ingredients cost money, so avoid making false economies by buying the equine equivalent of ‘white bread and cakes’. This kind of diet may lead to muscle loss, coat and hoof problems and poor performance. Ensure your feed contains quality protein.”

And avoid overfeeding alfalfa. Dengie’s Katie Williams says: “While alfalfa provides the protein that a competitive horse requires (also recovering horses and breeding stock), the body can only absorb a certain amount. The remainder is passed in the urine.”

As retailers look for ways to attract our custom, two for one offers, loyalty cards and money-off promotions are available if you look out for them. “As long as you store your feeds in an appropriate cool dry space and use them within their shelf life, you can buy in bulk,” says Clare Barfoot, research and development manager at Spillers.

H&H‘s veterinary consultant, Karen Coumbe, MRCVS, reminds us that routine care for your horse’s teeth, as well as following a test-and-treat worming programe, is vital to getting the best nutritional value from anything that a horse is fed.