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 forage without compromising their health and performance.
Fibre is essential for hindgut function and it is the process of digestion that helps keep the horse warm. Fibre also supplies slow-release energy and reduces the risk of colic, so what is the best way to ensure we are feeding enough fibre to our horses without any unnecessary expensive wastage?
1. Katie Williams, head of nutrition at Dengie Horse Feeds, says: “Research has shown that offering a variety of fibre types — hay, haylage, chopped fibre — keeps stabled horses happy and stimulated. Offering a bucket of chopped fibre, such as Hi-Fi Original, with carrots and apples is a great way of increasing fibre intake and encouraging them to forage.”
2. Lizzie Drury, senior nutritionist from Saracen Horse Feeds describes this as “cafeteria-style” feeding and goes further: “Try offering a net of hay, another of haylage, a bucket of chaff and sprinkle high-fibre cubes in a pile of hay on the floor.”
3. Used with caution, good-quality oat or barley straw accompanied by plenty of water — and a watchful eye to ensure droppings are regular — can be used to make hay or haylage go further, especially for good doers. But it is not recommended for a horse with a fragile digestive system and can cause impactions.
4. Clare Barfoot of Spillers advises: “If you can’t find a reliable source of hay or haylage, hay replacers may be useful. These are chopped fibre-based products formulated to provide the same level of nutrition as hay or haylage and can be fed at up to 100% of the diet. Some contain vitamins and minerals, such as Spillers Happy Hoof, while others don’t, so it is worth checking with the manufacturer whether or not you need to add in a supplement.”
5. Don’t waste forage, either by overfeeding, not supplying in a varied enough form or by not presenting it to your horse properly. Hannah Briars of Winergy suggests: “Bring horses in from the field to eat or provide a field rack to prevent hay wastage through trampling.”