Can horses cope with sudden cold weather?
Horses can survive and even thrive in what we consider to be very inhospitable conditions, but they do need plenty of feed to fuel them and keep them warm.
The natural diet of horses is grazing. Fresh forage is 70 – 80% water, so horses actually eat a lot of water. Even on very wet grazing, they still need to drink as well, as the food needs to be mixed with plenty of fluid to get through the small intestine’s 20 meters or so and numerous curves. In this part of the gut, the food (now called ingestate) is around 90% fluid. When a horse eats hay for instance, which is only 10 – 13% water, the horse has to chew a lot and this releases saliva which helps to add fluid to the mix. Water for the saliva comes from the blood, which in turn will draw on reserves in the large intestine, which needs to be replaced by drinking. Many horses dunk their hay in the water container, which is actually very sensible of them, albeit annoying for us as it will need cleaning out every day. Dried, pelleted feeds are 10% water. Different feeds absorb different amounts of water – forages will take up 2.5 times their volume of water and beet pulp, 5 times. Straw is not very absorbent, taking up a lot less water and is one reason why it is not a favoured feed and has a reputation for causing impaction colic. We always suggest pelleted feeds are offered soaked. This restores their natural hydration, increases bulk and slows eating rate. It aids digestion and can help reduce the chance of choke. Horses choke because they did not chew the food sufficiently. If a horse chokes, we need to look at what went wrong for the horse. Hungry and greedy horses may bolt their food and fail to chew it sufficiently. Young horses who are teething may fail to chew properly and horses with dental issues just cannot chew well. Even with good dental care, the teeth will start to let the horse down at some point from the late teens on and by the time they are 30 it is inevitable that the molars are worn out and will start to fall out if this hasn’t already happened. We are accustomed to soaking beet pulp and rightly so. It is not difficult to soak feeds and enables very valuable and nutritious forage feeds to be offered safely to all horses, good chewers or not. Soaked feeds are very palatable but need to be fresh. Feed within 12 hours of adding the water. Use an amount of water that suits your horse. Some love a soup, others prefer more of a crumble texture. You can use warm water to speed the process along and offering a warm feed is appreciated by many horses in the winter. Don’t let the requirement for soaking put you off feeding the very best forages to your horses.