Your horse’s diet plays an important role in supporting his health year-round. Although winter brings with it challenges – low temperatures, reduced grazing quality and quantity, adverse weather, less turnout and changing workloads being just some – feeding to suit his digestive system with a diet based on forage and small, low-starch bucket feeds will help keep him feeling his best.
The benefits of forage
Providing a constant supply of fibre is essential for your horse’s digestive health. Fibre ferments in the hindgut, which supplies calories and generates heat that will help keep him warm.
Insufficient fibre or excess starch in the diet will disrupt the healthy microbial balance in your horse’s hindgut, which can lead to…
- inefficient digestion
- weight loss
- loose droppings
- ‘fizzy’ and stereotypical behaviours
- gastric ulcers
- Developmental Orthopaedic Disease (DOD)
- tying up
During the winter, when grazing is poor quality and in limited supply, your horse will need his fibre intake supplemented with hay or haylage. Whether he’s at rest or working hard, this should be offered on an ad-lib basis. You might consider restricting your horse’s hay if he needs to lose weight before spring, but this should be to no less than 1.5% of his bodyweight per day in dry matter.
How else can I help?
Over winter, it’s important to balance your horse’s diet with essential micronutrients that will be lacking in his winter forage, including amino acids, vitamins, minerals and trace elements.
With increased challenges to your horse’s immune system, from stabling to reduced ventilation, supplementation with antioxidants such as vitamins A, C and E, selenium and mannan oligosaccharides (MOS), can be beneficial, too.
Unavoidable changes in routine and intermittent turnout will affect the delicate microbial balance in your horse’s hindgut, and feeding high levels of pre- and probiotics can help maintain good gut health.
Feeding an appropriate, high-quality feed balancer is an ideal approach and can supply everything he needs in a hard feed. If your horse is prone to joint stiffness, he might need an additional glucosamine joint supplement, which can also be provided by certain balancers.
What about water?
As the temperature drops, so will your horse’s desire to drink. This can result in dehydration and reduced gut motility, potentially leading to colic. As well as ensuring your horse always has access to fresh, thawed water, you might like to consider feeding a mash to aid hydration, too.
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