Summer bodies are made in winter! If your horse is carrying a few extra pounds, try to ensure he loses weight over the winter as nature intended (before the arrival of better grazing in the spring!). As we know this is often easier said than done, we wanted to share some of our best weight loss tips with you.
Cut calories not nutrients
Balancers are the ideal way to provide vitamins, minerals and protein without excess calories and those high in lysine may be of particular benefit for horses and ponies on calorie restricted diets. Lysine is an essential amino acid (building block of protein) and plays a key role in supporting muscle and topline. If protein and in particular lysine requirements are not met, the body will need to break down lean tissue (muscle) to meet requirements. In addition to compromising your horse’s topline, burning muscle instead of fat slows metabolism.
How much forage?
Unfortunately ad lib forage isn’t always practical for good doers and in order to achieve weight loss, some level of restriction may be necessary. Total daily forage intake to should not be restricted to less than 1.5% of current bodyweight (dry matter) which on average, equates to approximately 9kg of hay (11kg if you intend to soak it – read more on this below!) or 10-12kg of 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.
Extending eating time
Adding low calorie chaff/ short fibre to meals helps to bulk out the bucket and extend time without compromising your horse’s waistline. Thanks to the increase in volume after soaking, a token ration of low calorie mash or even unmolassed sugar beet can also be a useful way of filling up the bucket whilst limiting calorie intake. Dividing hay/ haylage/ straw into as many smaller servings as possible helps to prevent long periods without forage for those on restricted rations. If stabling 24/ 7, try to make the last serving as late in the evening as possible and the first serving as early in the morning as possible. Splitting forage between multiple, double-layered, small-holed haylage nets can also help to make restricted rations last longer.
Grass can continue to grow for most of the year which means for some horses and ponies, a grazing muzzle might be an effective strategy in winter months too provided the grass is long enough to be accessed through the base of the muzzle (speak to a nutritionist for more advice on how to use a grazing muzzle safely). If possible, try to avoid turning good doers out with those fed ad lib hay/ haylage. In fact, some horses and ponies may not need additional hay/ haylage if living out 24/7.
Although not always practical in very cold weather, soaking hay helps to reduce the sugar content and of course, less sugar means less calories! Just remember that sugar losses are highly variable which means soaking doesn’t guarantee suitability for laminitics. It’s also important to be aware that 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 20% to compensate.
For some horses and ponies, replacing up to 30% of the forage ration with straw can be a useful way of reducing calorie calorie intake without restricting total forage intake. Straw should always be introduced gradually and be of good hygiene. Did you know straw can also be steamed before feeding?
To rug or not to rug?
Although we may soon need our winter woolies, 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.
The health benefits of exercise
Dark nights and cold wet weather can certainly make riding/ exercising your horse in winter a challenge and let’s face it, sometimes less appealing! However a recent study found that even small amounts of exercise can help to support a healthy metabolism, even if doesn’t result in additional weight loss.
Monitor your progress
Try to monitor your horse’s weight, body condition score (BCS) and belly girth regularly to help you keep track of gradual changes and assess whether any further changes in diet or management may be necessary. It can take several weeks (or longer) for BCS to reduce in response to weight loss but try to not get disheartened. Belly girth may be the most sensitive indicator fat loss in overweight horses, particularly in the early stages. Weigh tapes can also be useful for monitoring gradual changes.
For more advice on feeding your good doer this winter, contact the SPILLERS Care-Line on 01908 226626 or firstname.lastname@example.org