In partnership with NAF

Changeable weather during the autumn and winter months combined with limited hours of daylight in which to exercise your horse can make feeding a real challenge. Many horse owners struggle to maintain their horse’s condition while keeping energy levels consistent.

Kate Jones, senior nutritionist at NAF, believes a carefully planned, yet simple diet is vital in order for your horse to thrive throughout the winter months.

“It is easy for horses to look good and maintain condition when there’s plenty of grass on offer,” says Kate. “But problems are often seen when the grass stops growing in late autumn/early winter. Very often, the first sign not all is well is a loss of condition.”

But before you go diving into the feed bin for an extra scoop of nuts or mix, your horse’s forage should be the first thing to consider. As well as keeping the gut working as nature intended, the digestion of forage plays a major role in maintaining your horse’s body temperature, working like internal central heating for the horse.

Kate explains: “When the temperature drops, horses use more calories keeping warm. Digesting fibre creates heat within the horse’s body so the slow digestion of fibre is ideal for maintaining temperature and condition. It’s vital owners ensure their horse is receiving an adequate amount of forage. As a rule, two per cent of bodyweight is ideal.”

If your horse needs their forage rations backed up with concentrates, these should be chosen according to the horse’s type, age and work load. Forage should remain the largest part of the diet, even with horses that are busy hunting or competing during the winter. Feeding oil is another way to help maintaining condition, but should be introduced to the diet gradually over a period of some weeks.

Good-quality hay or haylage is essential to offset the declining quality of the grass, although it can be hard to pinpoint what nutrients it provides, unless you get it analysed. The energy content of forage can be estimated based on the type of grass, its age when cut and the method of preservation. However, micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and amino acids) are a different story, and forage may be deficient without you knowing.

“Don’t ignore micronutrients when planning your winter diet, as they can make the difference between coping and thriving until spring arrives,” says Kate. “While compound feeds in the form of mix or nuts are formulated to contain vitamins and minerals, if you are not feeding the manufacturer’s recommended amounts, your horse may not be getting all they need.

“Also, if proprietary brands are mixed with straights, such as oats or sugar beet, the micronutrients can become unbalanced. For this reason, it may be necessary to supplement the diet. The addition of a feed balancer, such as NAF Five Star Optimum Feed Balancer, should ensure that sufficient micronutrients are being supplied to support health and vitality.

“Feed balancers typically contain yeast, live probiotics, digestive enhancers and/or antacids to help support the gut. Consistent digestive health is important to all horses and particular those who struggle to maintain condition. If you improve the efficiency of the gut, they are able to digest their feed and forage better, getting the most out of what you put in.”