Excellent management of the ‘good-doer’ requires year-round commitment, however, with the warmer temperatures and good quality grass lasting into the winter months, the balance of restricting intake whilst providing adequate roughage, vitamins and minerals can be especially challenging.
Horses have different requirements varying with breed, age, and workload. Whilst a thoroughbred may require large volumes of high calorie hard feed, native ponies have evolved to manage well on even the poorest quality pasture and have a lower calorie requirement to maintain weight. Because we must keep most horses on yards where they come in overnight, and are fed on a mixed diet of grass, hay, and hard feed, many will exceed their calorie requirements.
So, how to prevent this?
The term ‘forage’ incorporates grass, hay and haylage. It is essential for gastro-intestinal health and should comprise 1.5% (dry weight) of your ‘good-doer’s’ diet. Soaking hay for 7-16 hours significantly reduces the calorific content, by decreasing amount of ‘soluble carbohydrate’. It is important to remember that vitamins and other nutrients will also be lost through soaking, and therefore an appropriate supplement should be provided
Inevitably, restricting feed means it is more likely that your horse will spend time without feed. This should be avoided as far as possible as empty stomachs can predispose your horse to issues such as gastric ulceration, and even colic. If your horse tends to rush through their hay, consider providing it in small-hole or double-netted haynets, or a low-calorie hay replacer could be fed via a feed ball to keep them occupied
Reducing the time your horse is turned out for would seem to be the logical way to reduce grass intake, but don’t be fooled! Studies have shown that this encourages gorging and that ponies will consume up to 1% of their bodyweight in just 3 hours when their turnout has been restricted! Instead, consider using a grazing muzzle. Most horses will learn to tolerate these well, enabling turnout whilst reducing grass intake by up to 80%
If a hard feed must be given, ensure that it is high fibre and low in sugar and starch. Don’t forget to weigh your hard feed too- scoops do not provide accurate measurement and ‘guesstimating’ how much to feed makes it too easy for portion sizes to creep up!
Use a weigh tape, frequently. Don’t just measure around your horse’s girth area, pick a couple of other areas such as over the neck to assess. Like us, horses will carry weight in different regions, so measuring multiple places will give you a more accurate representation. Record the values weekly to keep track of weight loss, or for ongoing monitoring
Exercise is key to the control of weight. It improves the horse’s metabolism, increasing insulin sensitivity and alongside weight loss, it reduces your horse’s risk of developing equine metabolic syndrome and other diseases
Don’t be tempted to rug your horse unless necessary! When rugged, your horse will use less energy, and the excess will be converted to fat.
See our post for more on over rugging.
Remember, equine nutrition is complicated, and any changes should be made slowly. Professional advice should be sought prior to making any significant changes in your horse’s diet. Call 01323 815120.