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Winter Feeding – Tips for Warmth and Conditioning

Shorter days and colder temperatures mean now is the perfect time to think about your horse’s daily nutritional requirements over winter. Colder weather puts extra demands on metabolism, meaning more energy is required for daily activities and most horses will need additional calories to maintain optimum condition. Making dietary adjustments now and altering the diet according to condition over winter will ensure they’re in tip-top condition when they return to increased work.

Some horses, particularly ponies, do just fine in winter and need no real change in management. For these ‘good doers’, a diet of adequate forage and NRM Equine Balancer to provide all the required trace minerals and vitamins without the calories is ideal. Thoroughbreds or older horses however, may be ‘poor doers’ and require extra calories to maintain condition.

Forage should be the basis of all horse’s diets, consuming at least 1.5% of their body weight in pasture and/or hay daily. If pastures are low then supplementary hay, chaff or other fibre sources will be required. Legume forages such as clover or lucerne generally contain more energy than grass hays and well-made blends can be terrific for horses in winter. Additional fibre sources such as beet pulp and soy hulls are fabulous for winter feeding as the highly digestible fibre helps to keep the hindgut healthy and the horse warm.

The feed selected for maintaining condition over winter will depend on the individual horse and their metabolism. While textured grain blends can be ideal for some horses, feeds containing starch are not necessary as the fast release energy it provides is not required while they aren’t in work. Therefore lower starch feed options that supply calories through fibre and fat are generally preferred, especially if the horse is sensitive to starch. NRM LGI Sport and NRM Evolve are great low starch options available in convenient nut forms for paddock feeding.

For textured options, NRM Coolade is a long-standing spelling feed that contains some amount of digestible steam flaked grains for calories, it is not a high starch feed and provides a considerable amount of energy through slow release when the horse isn’t working. For a concentrated, moderate starch nut, Ultimate Sport is another fabulous option. Ultimate Sport has been formulated as a semi-concentrate, making it great for horses not requiring significant feed as around 1.5-2kgs daily can meet nutrient requirements effectively.

High fat feeds can also be a real advantage in the cold weather for preventing weight loss. Fat contains two and a half to three times the energy of grain and is therefore a great way of increasing calories in the diet without feeding large amounts. KER Equi-Jewel® is a high-fat low-starch stabilised rice bran conditioning supplement that’s one of the most effective and safest ways at achieving weight gain. Equi-Jewel is a fabulous addition to any diet for winter to increase the energy density.

When bringing a horse back into work after their well-deserved time in the paddock, keep their body condition above moderate as they will often lose weight rapidly once work is introduced. Feeds containing slow release energy are best if the horse is feeling particularly fresh after their break!

It is important to monitor your horses’ body condition carefully and make dietary changes at the first sign of bad weather or weight loss. For more information on feeding horses over the colder months, or for a custom-made diet designed specifically for your horse, contact NRM.

Luisa Wood, Equine Nutritionist, NRM