Spring horse feeding tips
The days are getting longer, the mud is starting to recede, and you are ready to put away the winter blankets and get out the shedding blade. Spring is a great time to evaluate how your horse came through the winter. The first step to take is to determine your horse’s condition score: is she too fat, too skinny or just right? Your horse’s condition will help you determine what kind of tweaks you will need to make to your feeding program to get your horse ready for the upcoming riding season. If you have a sugar-sensitive horse, it is time to start protecting them from springtime sugar overload.
For underweight horses, try this three-step system for increasing calories.
Did your horse lose a little weight over the winter? Sometimes you don’t really notice minor weight loss until your horse sheds out his winter coat. Use the following strategy to increase the calories in his diet. Remember to keep checking your horse’s condition frequently so they don’t gain too much weight!
Step 1: Increase the amount of hay your horse is getting. A horse should eat 1.5% to 2% of their bodyweight in hay each day. That is 15 to 20 lbs for a 1,000 lb horse. Add an extra flake or two to each meal. Alfalfa hay typically provides more calories than grass hay. If your horse is consuming all the hay he can eat and still needs more calories, move on to the next step.
Step 2: Review the amount of concentrate (sweet feed or pellets) your horse is eating. Are you feeding according to the manufacturer’s recommendations? Can you safely increase the grain by a pound or two per feeding? If so, make the change slowly over several days. Never feed more than 4 to 5 pounds total per feeding. Add an extra feeding at lunch or later in the evening if you have to. If your horse is already maxed out on grain, move on to step 3.
Step 3: If your horse is already maxed out on hay and grain, then it is time to add a high-fat supplement to his feeding program. The percent of fat provided by the supplement will determine how much you need to feed. Equi-Jewel® rice bran, for example, is 18% fat and fed at a rate of 1 to 2 pounds per day. EndurExtra® high-fat supplement is 50% fat and fed at a rate of 4 to 8 ounces per day. Start with a small amount and increase the amount fed daily over 5 to 7 days. This allows your horse to get used to the new form of energy. Feed the supplement until your horse reaches the desired condition, then cut back on the amount fed as needed to maintain the weight you desire. If your horse is working harder during the season he may need to stay on the supplement year-round.
How pasture figures in.
If your horse is consuming significant pasture, then monitor his condition carefully. Fresh green spring grass is chock-full of calories. The rule of thumb is that one hour of grazing on lush pasture is equivalent to about 1 pound of good quality hay. You may not need to supplement additional feed for long once the grass comes in.
For overweight horses, you need to provide nutrients without extra calories
Some horses gain weight when they don’t work over the winter. Spring is a great time to put them on a diet to shed those extra pounds. Exercise is the best way to help your horse lose weight. Monitor your horse’s condition monthly to make sure they don’t lose too much weight when they start back to work.
Step 1: Evaluate how much hay your horse is eating. Now that the days are warmer, your horse will use fewer calories to keep warm. As long as your horse is getting at least 1.5% of their body weight (15 lbs for a 1,000 lb horse) in hay per day, you can cut back on any extra. Also consider changing the type of hay you feed. A more mature grass hay has fewer calories than straight alfalfa or a mixed hay. No matter how much hay your horse is getting, try to feed it several times per day to limit the amount of time they go without hay between meals. Got your hay under control and still need to shed some calories? Move on to the next step.
Step 2: Cut back on the amount of concentrate you are feeding, or stop feeding it altogether. Concentrate is meant to be fed at a minimum level, usually 3 to 5 pounds per day at the most. If your horse isn’t getting the recommended minimum level (you can find that information on the feed tag) then you need to add a daily vitamin and mineral supplement to his diet. Micro-Phase™ was developed to provide your horse with the nutrients needed without the extra calories. Micro-Phase can completely replace the concentrate portion of the meal for horses that need to lose weight.
How pasture figures in.
Spring pasture can be dangerous for overweight horses. The additional sugar and calories put stress on the digestive and metabolic systems and can cause colic or laminitis. It might be best to limit pasture entirely in the spring if your horse is overweight. Turn out in a dry lot or use a muzzle to reduce the amount of grass that is consumed. Reintroduce pasture very slowly and in small amounts once your horse loses the desired weight. Remember that an hour of grazing on good pasture is equivalent to eating about 1 pound of good grass hay. Some easy keepers can never have free access to pasture grass. Supplement with Elevate® natural vitamin E and Contribute™ omega-3 fatty acids if grazing on green grass is limited.
Metabolic horses have special needs, especially in the spring. Check out these articles to learn more.
Feeding Starch/Sugar Sensitive Horses
Feeding Strategies to Prevent Laminitis in Easy Keepers
Spring and Fall Pastures Can Be Unsafe for At-risk Horses
Picking Hay for Sugar/Starch Sensitive Horses
Grazing Management for Horses with Metabolic Syndrome