Weight management is important at any time of year, but with autumn well and truly underway, many owners will be starting to think about their horse’s winter diet. Regardless of whether or not your horse is prone to losing or gaining weight, a proactive approach to diet and weight management is undoubtedly the best strategy.
Weight is just a number and when it comes to health and diet, body condition/fat covering is equally, if not more important, than knowing the horse’s exact weight. Monitoring your horse’s body condition score regularly will help you to assess his level of fat covering and consequently whether or not any dietary adjustment may be necessary. Alternatively you could try the new Body Condition Index (BCI), which objectively assesses body fat in a similar way to the human BMI.
Learn more on how to monitor your horse’s weight with this video series from SPILLERS on the body condition scoring method:
The Good Doer
If your horse is prone to piling on the pounds, don’t be tempted to start increasing his feed, even if everyone else on the yard is starting to introduce winter rations. Winter provides a natural opportunity for horses to lose weight, so allow your horse to slim down over the coming months as nature intended to help prevent excess weight gain in the spring.
- Balancers are the ideal option for horses and ponies that maintain weight easily on forage alone. When fed at the recommended ration, these small, nutrient dense pellets will top up the vitamins, minerals and quality protein lacking in forage, whilst providing negligible levels of calories, starch and sugar. Adding a low calorie chaff/ chopped fibre will help to extend eating time and make the bucket look fuller without affecting your horse’s waistline
- Many good doers in light work will be able to winter out on grass alone except for in the coldest of weather or when there is snow on the ground. If this case for your horse, try to avoid turning him out with those that need ad-lib hay
- Although ad-lib forage is ideal, this unfortunately isn’t always practical for good doers so some level of restriction may be necessary, even in the depths of winter. Individual forage requirements vary, but total intake should not be restricted to less than 1.5% bodyweight per day. As a guide, ensure you feed at least half of your horse’s minimum daily forage ration as hay, haylage or a hay replacer if stabled for 12 hours.
- Feed approximately 25-50% more haylage than hay – this is necessary for any horse but particularly important for horse on restricted rations
- Try dividing hay/ haylage between several, double netted, small holed haylage nets to help make reduced rations last longer
- Provided you have sufficient grass coverage, grazing muzzles can be used in autumn and winter months too. In fact, research has shown that muzzles restrict in take by 80% on average, regardless of the season!
- Soaking hay helps to reduce the water soluble carbohydrate (sugar) content and of course, less sugar means less calories! Soaking for 12-16 hours in tepid water has been shown to reduce WSC by up to 50%, so adding a few kettles of hot water to the tank in cold weather may be helpful. However, remember that results are variable and soaking does not guarantee suitability for laminitics. Alternatively consider a low calorie hay replacer approved by The Laminitis Trust.
The Poor Doer
For poor doers, the aim should be to prevent excess weight loss before it starts. If your horse has maintained condition well on forage alone throughout the summer, start by introducing half of his winter ration (alongside half a ration of balancer) and increase as necessary.
- Ad-lib forage is essential for poor-doers so where possible, provide hay or haylage in the field as well as the stable, particularly as the grass quality and in many cases quantity deteriorates.
- Contrary to popular belief, haylage is not automatically higher in calories or nutritional value than hay. However if you have the option of more than one forage source, you may want to consider having some samples analysed to help choose which would be more suitable
- Don’t be tempted to keep increasing the size of your horse’s meal to maximise calorie intake. Feed no more than 2kg per meal to horses and less for ponies
- Although sugar beet is commonly fed for weight gain, the increase in volume after soaking makes it easy to over estimate how much you are actually feeding. In fact, sugar beet contains approximately 80% water once soaked which means a scoop of Horse and Pony Cubes could provide 3-4 times more calories than a scoop of soaked sugar beet!
- If you are concerned that increasing your horse’s feed may affect his behaviour, avoid mixes and start by choosing fibre and oil based feeds containing less than 15%
- Make sure your horse is suitably rugged as the temperature starts to drop to help ensure he doesn’t burn excess energy (calories) keeping warm
Visit www.spillers-feeds.com for more information