Careful management of your horses can go a long way to reducing vet bills, particularly during the winter months.
Water is the horse owner’s friend because, among other things, it helps prevent gut impaction. However, this can be a difficult time of the year to persuade some horses to drink. Recent studies have shown that if you can offer warm water compared to cold your horse is 40% more likely to drink a healthy amount.
Hannah Briars from Winergy explains: “Horses often have a tendency to drink less water in the winter, especially if the only water available is cold. Try insulating your buckets [old car tyres are a simple and cheap method] or using insulated bucket holders.”
One way of getting additional water into your horse is to add it to his feed. Jenny Lightfoot from Blue Chip suggests the following: “Add some lukewarm water to the small pellets of Blue Chip Original to make a tempting mash which will help hydrate a horse.”
If your horse is prone to conditions, such as recurrent airway disease (stable coughs), feed haylage. This contains more water than hay, but remember to do your sums – to maintain nutrition and fibre levels, you will probably have to feed more than you would hay.
Start thinking about your winter feed programme way before the first frosty mornings. Sudden changes in diet can disrupt the horse’s delicate digestive system, which could lead to colic and hefty vet bills. Your horse will also begin to use his energy intake to keep himself warm. During the winter up to 80% of a horse’s total feed ration can be used in this way.
Concentrates are the most popular way of adding energy as well as nutrients. Declan Cullen, senior feed advisor from Bluegrass Horse Feeds, says: “Feeds containing beet pulp or soy hulls, so-called super fibres, include highly digestible fibre along with more traditional sources of energy.”
Katie William from Dengie asks: “Did you know that an alfalfa-based fibre feed, such as Alfa-A Original, contains as much energy as a cool mix? The alfalfa can therefore be used to provide energy AND fibre, meaning that you can feed less hay – this should save you money, too.”
If you need to keep weight on your horse, Anna Pyrah from the Pure Feed Company suggests you ” try to provide a diet that is high in oil. This is the perfect way to avoid high starch and sugar levels, while increasing energy intake in a calm, slow-release way.”
Catherine Hale, product and nutrition manager of Allen & Page, agrees: “The addition of slow-release energy is important for the horse competing through the winter and spending increased time in the stable. Feed ingredients such as fibre and oil. These are good sources of slow-release energy, which is ideal for those horses that require extra stamina.”
Whatever level of work a horse does, remember that he needs to lay down sufficient reserves of protein, vitamins and minerals, not just to maintain general body and hoof health, but also to store up reserves that will help repair and rebuild any injured tissue.
“Feed balancers are particularly useful for this purpose,” says Emma Short, from Baileys. “These products supply all the nutrients without additional calories and can be fed in small quantities, alongside forage, either as the sole concentrate, or with reduced amounts of mixes and cubes.”
Jenny Lightfoot, from Blue Chip, points out that “high-quality feed balancers also contain hoof and respiratory supplements that can reduce the need for any additional supplements.”