How to feed your horse in winter

feeding horse at stable

Discover the golden rules of feeding your horse in this simple guide from Dodson & Horrell Nutritionist Anna Pyrah.

Although the shortest day is behind us there's still much of the winter to go before the weather truly starts to improve, as a result it is important that we keep on top of our winter feeding routine; here are some tips to help:

1. Compensate for lost calories

Compensate for the calories lost in the colder weather:

The obvious choice is to increase the volume of hard feed to provide more digestible energy. A horse’s stomach is about the size of a rugby ball, so ideally the concentrate feed shouldn’t exceed this in any one sitting. It is best to offer several feeds throughout the day to break the larger volume up into smaller portions.

Forage, including grass and hay, help to create your horse's central heating

Forage, including grass and hay, help to create your horse's central heating

Alternatively, you could move from your current feed to one that has a higher digestible energy value. Most ‘conditioning’ feeds should predominantly contain slow release energy sources in order to help promote body weight without causing excitability.

Additionally, you can add your own slow releasing energy on top of the existing diet e.g. adding oil or using a manufactured pelleted calorie supplement.

2. Feed for warmth

Incorporate ingredients into the diet which help to provide warmth from the inside:

Forage is the best form of internal ‘central heating’ for horses because when the bacteria in the hind gut start breaking it down, heat is generated as a by-product. Increasing the amount of forage offered throughout the winter ensures that you can keep intake high (horses should eat 2% of their bodyweight in forage per day) as well as helping to warm them gently from the inside, reducing the amount of calories burnt to maintain core body temperature.

3. Support his immune system

Boost the antioxidants in your horse's diet to help support his immune system.

It is a good idea to provide nutritional support over winter to help reduce the risk of health issues. Most high quality, complete feeds contain a range of different vitamins in order to help meet daily nutritional requirements, however, if you are feeding less than the recommended daily amounts then adding a high specification balancer is a good way to boost antioxidants which can help to support the immune system.

Look after his hooves

Ensure all the dietary components for hoof quality are supplied:

Good hooves start on the inside

Good hooves start on the inside

To give your horse the best chance of coping with different ground conditions, from wet and muddy to hard and frozen, make sure you supply all the key nutritional building blocks needed to help maintain strong and healthy hooves. A high quality, complete feed should have effective levels of biotin, zinc and methionine incorporated but if you are not feeding up to the recommended rates, it is advised that you top up with a high specification balancer to increase the nutritional value.

Increase moisture intake

In very cold weather, finding ways to prevent buckets of water getting frozen over can be a challenge so try and maximise water intake through the concentrate portion of the diet by incorporating soaked sugarbeet pulp which is beneficial for both fibre and water intake. Try and encourage your horse to drink by offering room temperature water at some point each day if you can.

It is important to keep vigilant throughout the winter making sure that your horse does not lose condition and stays healthy while the weather is still cold and grass quality is poor.

For further information please visit our website or call our free helpline on +44 (0) 845 345 2627 to speak to one of our friendly, expert nutritionists.