Tips for Feeding Special Needs Horses in the Winter
Preventing winter weight gain in easy keepers.
- Some horses gain weight when given a winter break from trail riding, training, and/or showing.
- Monitor your horse’s weight carefully during breaks and, if necessary, back off on concentrates.
- When you feed less than the recommended amounts of a commercial concentrate, you need to supplement with a complete vitamin and mineral pellet (Micro-Phase ™) to ensure your horse’s nutrient requirements are met.
- Never cut back on hay to reduce calorie intake; instead, change to a more mature grass hay that will provide plenty of fiber but less energy.
Weight loss in hard keepers and how to avoid a winter energy crisis.
- Long hair coats often mask weight loss, so monitor your horse’s weight carefully. Regular body condition scoring is beneficial. Don’t wait to increase calories; do it at the first sign of weight loss.
- Provide free-choice high-quality forage 24/7, when possible.
- When additional calories are needed, add a high-fat supplement (Equi-Jewel®) to the diet. Avoid feeding large amounts of concentrates high in starch and sugar, as they increase the risk of colic and laminitis.
- Provide a digestive tract supplement (Neigh-Lox® Advanced) to ensure digestive health and stimulate the appetite.
Careful winter management reduces the risk of health problems in metabolically challenged horses.
- Winter can be a risky time for metabolically challenged horses. Research has shown that cold weather causes greater variability in a horse’s insulin levels. Additionally, horses tend to exercise less when it is cold, which can cause insulin levels to increase.
- Continue feeding a low starch and sugar diet throughout the winter months.
- If your horse is on medication or supplements to help control metabolic disease, continue to use them as prescribed.
- Keep a close eye on your horse and check in with your vet if you see any foot soreness or other out-of-the-ordinary behavior.
- When additional calories are needed to keep your horse warm in cold weather, increase the amount of grass hay you feed.
- If you need even more calories to maintain body weight or provide energy, add a high-fat supplement (Equi-Jewel®) that is low in starch and sugar to the diet.