Q&A: Maintaining weight over winter

  • Q: I own a 16.2hh Irish X Thoroughbred gelding who is seven years old. I have been competing at Novice level and have worked hard to keep him competition fit.

    I stopped competing a few weeks ago and rather than cut out his work straight away, I am still hacking daily. I have changed his feed from competition mix to cool mix but have found he has dropped weight off his neck and quarters and I can clearly see the outline of his ribs.

    Should I change back to feeding a competition mix?He is quite a fiery horse and I feel if I do this, he could become over-exuberant.

    As I have only owned my horse since spring, I don’t know if he is prone to losing weight over the winter months.

    A: Horses which have had a heavy summer of competition work often lose weight and condition in the autumn and winter. When the work is reduced, your horse’s muscle content will decrease and if you cut down on the concentrates his neck and quarters may become hollow.

    Once the temperature drops below 50øC, grass will offer little nutritional value and will cease to grow, so bear this in mind if you turn your horse out regularly. Make sure your horse is eating plenty of hay or haylage and if necessary feed hay in the field.

    As for concentrate feeds, it would not be a good idea to reintroduce the competition mix as the horse is only in light work. A low energy mix or cube would be more appropriate, although remember these products are not designed to put weight on a horse –they simply provide adequate energy and nutrition for a horse in light work.

    As you need to provide condition, try adding conditioning cubes to the cool mix you are currently feeding. Start off by feeding 50 per cent of each, then change the ratioof the feeds depending on how much weight is required. You may even find you need to feed the total ration as conditioning cubes. I would suggest around 9lb (4kg) a day.

    The addition of oil, in the form of soya, corn or sunflower oil will help add condition. Oil is energy dense – think how much weight oily food puts on us. Start feeding the oil at a rate of a tablespoon twice a day, slowly building up to a teacup twice a day.

    The addition of soaked sugar beet pulp will also help with weight gain. Weigh 1lb (0.5kg) of dry pulp and soak with around three times as much water. Think about rugging your horse soon to preserve body heat and make sure his teeth have been checked and he has been wormed correctly.

    If you are sure you are feeding properly and he is still losing weight, consult your vet in case there is something else causing his lack of condition.

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