In theory at least, the secret to loss weight loss is simple – burn more calories than you consume. In reality, weight loss in good doers can be difficult to achieve at the best of times but trying to cut calories whilst also trying to extend eating time certainly adds to the challenge! If your horse is prone to gastric ulcers and needs to slim down over the winter the following tips might help…
- Feed at least 1.5% of current bodyweight (dry matter) as forage per day. On average, this equates to approximately 9kg of hay (11kg if you intend to soak it - see tip 2) or 10-12kg haylage (fresh weight) for a 500kg horse without grazing. If you don’t know how much your horse weighs or he has access to grazing, counting droppings may be a more practical way of monitoring intake. Initially we recommend aiming to reduce the number of droppings by a third if trying to encourage weight loss but never by more than half.
- Consider feeding soaked hay. Although not always practical in very cold weather, soaking hay helps to reduce the sugar content and of course, less sugar means less calories! Due to the loss of nutrients (and therefore dry matter) into the water, each haynet will also contain less ‘hay’ and more water post soaking. As a guide, increase the amount of hay you soak by approximately 20% to compensate. Although haylage is not automatically higher in calories, it shouldn’t be soaked.
- Divide restricted rations of hay/ haylage into as many smaller servings as possible to help avoid long periods without forage. If stabling 24/ 7, make the last serving as late as possible and the first serving as early possible. In one study, periods of more than 6 hours without forage significantly increased the risk of non-glandular ulcers.
- Try dividing hay/haylage between several, double netted, small-holed haylage nets to help extend eating time.
- If possible, consider turning out at night – dividing hay/ haylage into multiple small servings may be easier during the day!
- Avoid turning out with horses that need ad lib hay/ haylage. In fact, some horses living out 24/7 may not need any additional hay or haylage!
- Grass may continue to grow for most the year so for some horses and ponies, a grazing muzzle might be an effective way of restricting intake in winter months too provided the grass is long enough to be accessed through the base of muzzle. Speak to a nutritionist for more advice on how to use a grazing muzzle safely.
- Add low calorie, short chopped fibre/ chaff to meals to help extend eating time and increase saliva production. Ideally choose a fibre containing alfalfa as the high protein and calcium content is thought to help buffer stomach acid.
- Feeding short chopped fibre (ideally containing alfalfa) prior to exercise helps to prevent gastric splashing. This may be particularly beneficial in horses without access to ad lib forage.
- Horses adapt to regulating their own body temperature relatively quickly. Avoid over-rugging and encourage your horse to use some of his excess body fat for keeping warm as nature intended.
- Don’t forget to provide a balanced diet! Balancers are the ideal way provide vitamins, minerals and additional protein without excess calories.
For more advice on feeding horses prone to gastric ulcers contact the SPILLERS Care-Line on 01908 226626 or firstname.lastname@example.org