As winter brings cold weather, poached fields and reduced turnout, changes in feed and forage are often inevitable. So what does this mean for your horse’s digestive health? Several studies have investigated the nutritional risk factors for colic and with winter feed & management regimes at the front of many owners’ minds, we thought it timely to share some of their findings.

Changes in concentrate feed

Horse owners have long been advised to avoid rapid or frequent changes in diet, so it may come as no surprise that cases of colic were seen to be 2.6 times more likely following a recent (previous 2 weeks) change in feed (Hudson et al 2001) and 2.2 times more likely as a result of multiple feed changes in the last year (Tinker et al 2007).

horse feed for colic

Don’t forget about forage!

  • Horses with no grazing or subject to a recent decrease in grazing were found to be 3 times more likely to suffer from colic in general (Hudson et al 2001).
    Cases of enterolithiasis (intestinal stones) were found to be 4.5 times more likely in horses with <50% pasture turnout (Cohen et al 2000) and 6.7 times more likely in horses without access to any pasture (Hassel et al 2004).
  • Colon (part of the large intestine) impactions and displacements were found to me 30.2 times more likely in horses without access to pasture (Hillyer et al 2002).
  • A change of hay within the previous 2-week period were found to make horses almost 5 mores more like to suffer from colic in one study (Hudson et al 2001) and almost 10 times in another (Cohen et al 1999).
  • Stabling and feeding hay resulted in drier faeces and reduced gut motility (intestinal contractions) despite increased water intake (Williams et al 2014).

horse colic feed advice


  • All horses are individuals and dietary change is just one risk factor for colic. Try to manage as many risk factors as possible and discuss a worming programme with your vet.
  • If your horse/ pony is prone to colic seek advice from a nutritionist before changing his feed.
  • As a guide, replace 500g of current/ old feed for 500g of new feed every other day (for horses, less for ponies).
  • Always try to introduce new hay, haylage and pasture gradually too – as a guide, aim to make changes of a minimum of two weeks. In some cases changes in forage may present more of a risk than changes in hard/ compound feed.

For more advice on feeding horses and ponies prone to colic contact the SPILLERS Care-Line on 01908 226626

Cohen, N.D., Gibbs, P.G., Woods, A.M., 1999. Dietary and other management factors associated with colic in horses. Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association 125 (1) 53-60.

Cohen, N.D., Vontour, C.A., Rakestraw, P.C. 2000. Risk factors for enterolithiasis among horses in Texas. Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association 216 (11), 1787-1794.

Hassel, D.M., Rakestraw, P.C., Gardner, I.A., et al., 2004. Dietary risk factors and colonic pH and mineral concentrations in horses with enterolithiasis. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine 18 (3), 346-349.

Hudson, J.M., Cohen, N.D., Gibbs, P.G., et al., 2001. Feeding practices associated with colic in horses. Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association 219 (10), 1419-1425.

Tinker, M.K., White, N.A., Lessard, P., et al., 1997 A prospective study of equine colic risk factors. Equine Veterinary Journal 29 (6), 454-458.

Williams, S., Horner, J., Orton, E., Green, M., McMullen, S., Mobasheri, A., Freeman, S.L. 2014. Water intake, faecal output and intestinal motility in horses moved from pasture to a stabled management regime with controlled exercise. Equine Veterinary Journal 47 (1), 96-100.