Winter took a long time to arrive this year, but listening to the wind and rain lashing the windows this morning, there is no doubt it is here now! Our UK winter weather can mean sudden changes of routine for our horses, and we need to adjust their feed accordingly. Many horse owners like to stick to routines according to the time of year but it is healthier for your horse if you adjust according to actual conditions and routine.
If turnout is limited, enhance your horse’s unnatural stable environment by offering a selection of different forages. Researchers have shown that horses offered a selection of different forages spend more time foraging, therefore are less likely to develop abnormal behaviours due to not being able to behave naturally i.e. move about grazing. Consider grass hay, haylage, straw, alfalfa chaff, fibre nuts in decanting balls, alfalfa hay, soaked grass nuts and/or a hay-replacement chaff.
Stabled horses in hard work should have starchy compound feed reduced significantly on rest days, especially if they have a few unplanned rest days due to weather conditions, injury or rider absence. Doing so will reduce the risk of tying up due to polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM) also called ‘Monday morning disease’ because it often strikes horses on a starchy diet who have had a rest day but no decrease in feed. Increase forage availability as you decrease concentrate feed.
Leisure horses in light to moderate work may need their concentrate feed dropped and forage increased if they have a period without turnout, to help reduce the risk of excess exuberance. Calmative supplements can also be used. Starch in concentrate feed can cause fizziness, so choose a low starch feed, but restriction in stables will have more of an effect, so try to find some turnout option, e.g. an arena or sacrifice paddock.
Horses living outdoors 24/7 should have ad lib access to forage providing they are not overweight. Fibrous forage, rather than concentrate feed, keeps horses warm due to the internal heat increment from fibre fermentation in the hindgut.
In very cold conditions add a kettle of hot water to your horse’s water to encourage drinking. Some horses reduce their water intake when its icy cold, which can increase the risk of impaction colic especially if the horse is on a mostly hay diet. Feeding some Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) as well as offering warmed water will help to keep gut contents moving.
Adjust your horse’s forage and feed immediately there is a change in routine, taking care to make dietary changes gradually. Make sure you adjust your feeding regime according to the actual conditions and routine, rather than what you normally expect for the time of year.