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Keeping Condition through the Winter

Sophie Edwards MSc, BSc (Hons), BHSSM-Allen & Page Nutritionist

During the winter your horse will probably have to spend a large proportion of the day indoors. Turning him out for a few hours each day is very important - he will be able to get some exercise, relax, socialise with other horses, and pick at any grass that is available. Even if there is a good covering of grass it will be of low nutritive value and additional forage will be essential to help to satisfy his appetite, avoid boredom, and maintain a healthy digestive system. Some horses will start to put on weight on unrestricted forage and it may be necessary to mix the hay ration with oat straw to maintain the bulk of the fibre, but reduce the calorie intake.

Hay is the most commonly used forage in this country although it contains a high degree of dust and spores. Soaking it for 30 minutes will suppress the spores and it should not be allowed to dry out before it is fed, or the spores will still be breathed in and can damage the airways. If soaked for longer than 30 minutes, valuable nutrients can leach out and be washed away.

Haylage is a good dust-free alternative form of forage. This is made from grass that is sealed in airtight bags and then undergoes a mild fermentation process that prevents fungal spores from growing. You should feed more haylage than you would hay, which will maintain his fibre intake, and cut down a little on the concentrate feed, as haylage is usually more nutritious than hay. Changing to a lower energy, high fibre concentrate feed, such as Fibre Pencils, may also be a good idea.

A horse will expend up to 80% of his feed energy in winter just to keep warm. Fibre is the most 'warming' food for your horse as more heat is produced during the digestion of fibre than any other nutrient. Eating one kilogram of hay will produce twice the heat from one kilogram of barley, and this heat has an internal warming effect on the horse. (You should also ensure that your horse is adequately rugged during winter.)

Unless your horse is an incredibly 'good doer' then forage alone will seldom be enough to maintain his condition and give him enough energy for the work he is doing in winter. He will need a concentrate feed as a supplement. If he is generally good at maintaining his condition and does not need a concentrate during the summer, then good quality forage and a low energy concentrate, like Quiet Mix will give him sufficient energy to ensure that he does not lose weight over the winter. This regime is ideal for horses and ponies that are only in light work, or are resting, or if you are only able to ride at weekends. If, however, you feed concentrates all year round, then you will need to increase the quantity during the winter - unless he is doing less work. Or switch to either a higher energy feed, or to a conditioning feed such as Weight Gain Mix or Calm & Condition. This will allow you to give him more energy or put on weight, without increasing the total quantity of feed he receives.

For more information or advice, contact Allen and Page at: Norfolk Mill, Shipdham, Thetford, Norfolk, IP25 7SD. Tel: 01362 822900 or fax: 01362 822910. Email:


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