Whilst we may relish an opportunity to stay at home in front of the fire when the weather gets cold, the prospect of having a horse confined to his stable for weeks or possibly months on end is one that many horse owners dread. Whether it’s a lack of grazing, water logged fields or snow that confines your horse to his box this winter, we hope the following tips help you to survive the lack of turnout – even if we can’t help with the extra mucking out!
Forage, forage & more forage!
Ideally hay, haylage or if necessary hay replacers should be fed ad lib. This provides an essential source of fibre for gut health, fulfills the horse’s physiological and psychological need to chew and provides a valuable source of calories to maintain condition. However if you need to restrict your horse’s intake in order to keep his waistline in check, the following tips may help:
- On average, total forage should not be restricted to less than 9kg of hay (1.8% bodyweight) 10-12kg of haylage (2-2.4% bodyweight) per day for a 500kg horse without veterinary advice.
- If you plan on soaking your hay for long periods, you may need to increase the amount you soak to account for the loss in dry matter during the soaking process – speak to a nutritionist for more advice.
- Replacing up to 30% of your horse’s forage ration with straw can be a useful way reducing calorie intake without restricting intake, particularly for ponies or natives in light work. Any straw fed should be of good hygienic quality and introduced gradually. It is also best avoided as a forage source for those prone to impaction colic.
- Divide rations into as many smaller servings as possible to help avoid long periods without forage. Whilst this is difficult to manage overnight, making the last ‘meal’ as late as possible and the first as early as possible can help.
- Introducing alternative fibre sources can also help to keep fibre intake up; consider high fibre cubes in a boredom ball, chopped fibres placed various locations around the stable or use a fibre based soaked feed all of which will increase fibre intake ideal in shy forage feeders.
Reducing the risk of excitability
Whilst some horses are only too happy to stay tucked up in their stable when it’s cold and wet outside, others can become stressed or over excitable when stabled for long periods. Although diet can’t change your horse’s temperament, it can certainly help to manage it. Start by basing as much of the diet on forage as possible. Hay/ haylage can easily meet calorie requirements for many good doers. When this is the case, balancers are the ideal way to provide additional vitamins, minerals and quality protein, without excess calories, starch and sugar which may lead to weight gain and/ or unwanted excitability. If additional calories are required, avoid mixes (and other cereal based feed) look for fibre based feeds that are low in starch.
- Stabling for long periods, particularly on dry hay can increase the risk of impaction colic so keep an eye on how much your horse is drinking. Reluctant drinkers can sometimes be tempted by adding a small amount of apple juice or hot water (to take the chill off – particularly older horses with sensitive teeth). Research has also suggested that using soaked feeds can increase drinking.
- Simply changing your horse’s routine may also increase the risk of colic. In one study, moving from pasture turnout to stabling and feeding hay resulted in drier faeces and reduced gut motility (intestinal contractions), despite increased water intake. If you have the luxury of knowing you will lose your turnout in advance, try to introduce changes in management and supplementary forage gradually.
- Add chopped fibre to meals to help extend eating time, particularly for horses on restricted rations of forage.
- Choose fibre based feed that are low in starch and if necessary to maintain condition, high in oil.
- If you do use cereal based feeds, reduce your horse’s ration on days off. As a guide, we recommend reducing feed by half from them evening before to evening after a rest day.
All forage contains a certain amount of ‘respirable particles’ – tiny dust, mould and yeast spores that are small enough for the horse to inhale. Research has shown that soaking hay for just 10 minutes causes the majority of these spore to swell and stick to the forage so that they swallowed rather than inhaled. However hay should be fed immediately after soaking as once it’s dried, the spores may become airborne again. Alternatively consider feeding haylage or steamed hay; particularly in very cold weather when soaked hay may be prone to freezing. In addition to reducing the number of respirable particles, steaming hay reduces mould and yeast counts, making it most effect the method for improving hygienic quality.
Alternative turnout sources
If possible, turning your horse out in an arena can provide a much needed opportunity to let of a little steam and even socialise with other horses. Alternatively if safe to do so why not graze your horse in hand to allow him to stretch is legs and have a nibble at the grass.
For more advice on feeding your horse this winter contact the SPILLERS Care-Line