Finally, it feels like winter is on its way. After a wonderful, long, warm summer, it’s quite a shock to wake up to 5 degrees centigrade! Being in the Highlands of Scotland at the moment, the change in season is all the more evident. Why not get prepared for the winter months now, so that you can make the changes necessary to keep your horse in tip top condition before problems arise.
Assess your horse’s condition now, and do so again in a couple of weeks so that you can change their feeding regime if required. If your horse starts to lose weight this month, take action quickly to avoid dealing with excessive weight loss during winter. Feed forage to supplement any well-grazed pasture and offer ad lib forage for stabled horses. Try to source an early cut, high energy hay or haylage (see below) so that every mouthful counts. Increase the concentrate feed if necessary, and consider a high-calorie weight-supporting supplement. Keep assessing condition to ensure they don’t put on too much!
If your horse has done well on the summer grass and is too fat, use the winter months to help them drop to a more healthy weight. Do not feed any concentrate, even to working horses who are overweight, but do balance the diet with a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement. Choose late cut, high fibre forage that can be fed in healthy amounts whilst still restricting calorie (energy) intake enough to cause weight loss.
Have you organised your forage for the winter months, if your horse needs it? If you have plenty of access to standing grass – ungrazed from mid-summer – and poach-resistant, well drained land, your horse may be able to obtain enough energy and protein from this (balanced with vitamins and minerals of course). Most of us, however, are limited by having to keep our horses off pasture to avoid excessive poaching, so we’re forced to feed supplementary forage.
Choose your forage carefully, depending on whether you have a good doer or a horse who struggles to maintain weight during winter. This might seem obvious, but many owners end up with forage that is inappropriate for their horse, meaning their poor doer relies on a large amount of concentrate or their good doer has to be fed too little bulk for good health.
Your horse’s coat responds to the shortening day length and dropping temperatures with a new, thicker, winter version. Coat changes are a good time to feed extra vegetable oil to your horse, especially linseed (flaxseed) oil, which supplies the highest levels of skin and hair-supporting omega-3 oils. In doing so, you will help your horse grow in a healthy coat of hair. If you clip out your horse to make him more comfortable during and after work, use just enough rugs to replace the temperature-regulating function of his hair, without making him too hot. Over-rugging is more unhealthy than under-rugging.
Then look forward to fly-free, bright, crisp mornings with ground soft enough for long canters, and heading inside for hot chocolate after a session with our horse.