Cold weather, rain, snow and grazing low in nutrients — the winter months can prove to be a feeding challenge, but these tips can help keep your horse in top conditions.
Older horses, particularly those with poor teeth, can struggle in the winter and lose condition dramatically. Soaked high-fibre cubes, beet pulp or soy hulls are a good addition or alternative to forage when chewing becomes difficult.
From an evolutionary perspective, winter is the season when horses in the wild would slim down by drawing on their fat reserves as the cold weather bites. So don’t be too quick to change the diet of your ponies if they go into winter a bit on the plump side.
Maintaining weight is a challenge that worries many owners during the winter months. A feed supplement high in oil — for example, micronised linseed or rice bran — can help boost the calorie intake.
Some horses and ponies do increased amounts of work in the winter or continue to compete indoors. As such, feed intake needs to increase to compensate for both the cold weather and a higher workload. For those with a tendency get hot, the best approach is to look for higher energy feeds that are low in starch, but high in digestible fibre and oil.
Horses have a strong inbuilt desire to chew and it is difficult to satisfy this in horses stabled 24/7 during the winter months. If ignored, behavioural issues such as wood chewing, windsucking and weaving may arise. Serious health issues such as colic or gastric ulcers can also pose a risk, so access to forage must be plentiful, ideally in a constant supply.
Winter brings with it a heightened risk of problems such as laminitis and tying-up. For laminitis-prone horses and ponies, the strict monitoring of grass intake needs to be maintained during the winter. For horses that are prone to tying-up, the winter’s disjointed and irregular work patterns can pose a big problem, especially when associated with an increase in quantity of feed. The regularity of work is important and any increase in feed should follow an increase in exercise. A well-balanced diet is essential, but a concentrate that is low in both starch and sugar can be beneficial.