If there is one thing we can be 100% sure of this year, it is the fact that this has certainly been one VERY long and hard winter! When out and about on yards, almost every horse owner we see tells us how they haven’t been able to do as much riding as they would have liked these past few months, so we thought we would put a few tips together to help you get back in the saddle.
- Don’t panic if you think your horse has lost weight and you feel now scores a 4–4.5 (using a body condition score scale of 1-9). In fact this is what we want them to do, as naturally they would lose some weight over winter, ready to gain again in the Spring/Summer
- If your horse if carrying excess weight, try to use the last of the colder evenings to let them shiver it off by avoiding rugging up and allowing them to keep themselves warm instead. They won’t have much breathing space for the spring grass otherwise!
- As the grass finally starts to come through you may need to consider reducing the hay/haylage you offer for those prone to excess weight gain in particular. Total forage (which includes grass) should not be restricted to less than 15g per kilogram of bodyweight dry matter per day. In practice, this equates to approximately 18g per kilogram bodyweight if feeding hay and 20-23g per kilogram bodyweight if feeding haylage. For example, 9kg of hay or 10-11.5kg of haylage for a 500kg horse with no grazing. If stabled for 12 hours and out to grass for 12 hours we suggest a minimum of half this ration, as we assume they get at least half as grass.
- Hard feed may also now need to be reduced which could mean your horse will require a balancer instead. Balancers will ensure that they still get all the vitamins and minerals they need to support their workload, including quality protein for muscle and topline, but without the extra calories. Unfortunately even as the grass improves we can’t guarantee our horses are getting everything they need in the correct levels. A handful of low calorie fibre such as SPILLERS HAPPY HOOF is always good to add to their bucket too to help increase chewing time and make it last a little longer. Call the SPILLERS Care-Line for more help with choosing a balancer.
- Body condition score your horse regularly during the change in seasons to help you assess your horses body fat covering and determine if they are able to maintain their weight on forage alone, or whether they need the extra help of hard feed, especially if their workload is increasing. Help with scoring can be found on our website.
If you are altogether stuck and not sure what to do….why not organise a SPILLERS weigh clinic at your yard and we can do all the thinking for you!
• Consider use of a grazing muzzle. Care must be taken introducing a grazing muzzle, ensuring it fits properly and your horse can eat and drink through the muzzle. A muzzle shouldn’t be kept on for 24hrs a day.
• Consider turning out at night when fructan (storage form of sugar in grass) levels are likely to be at their lowest.
• If stabling during the day consider feeding soaked hay to avoid your horse going without forage for long periods.
• Soaking hay for 12 – 16hrs (no more than 3 – 6hrs in warm weather) can help to reduce WSC (sugar plus fructan) by up to 50% in some cases.
• Although it can be tempting to restrict turnout to short periods this can be counterproductive as it may encourage gorging.
• If possible you could consider turning out in bald paddocks or an all-weather arena with access to hay.
• A feed balancer is ideal for horses that maintain weight easily on forage alone to ensure they get a nutritionally balanced diet.
We hope this helps, please do get back in touch if you would like any further information or advice.