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.
For most people it is inevitable that our horses will have to spend a larger proportion of time than we would like, in a stable. This may be due to seasonal, grazing or routine restrictions at the yard or due to injury or illness.
Regardless of the reason, due to the horseï¿½s evolution as a free-roaming animal the stable is an unnatural place for them to find themselves in. Through inhibiting their ability to express natural behaviours such as moving and grazing almost constantly, or having close physical contact with other horses, it can be a source of stress and frustration.
There are ways in which we can reduce the anxiety of being stabled and instead make it a safe, enriching space.
As with any feed or management changes, time spent stabled should be gradually increased. Ideally from an hour or two to start with, increasing to a full day or night over the period of a couple of weeks. This allows them to mentally adjust and for the digestive system to adapt to a more hay-based diet and decreased metabolic expenditure through lack of movement.
With a desire to graze almost constantly, hay-nets and slow feeders can cafrustration. Ideally, all feed and forage should be given from the floor. Splitting the ration between multiple positions around the box - in each corner, and if used, nets at different heights - can allow a more natural grazing pattern as they move between feeding stations and different forage options.
Simple System Brix, made from compressed forage, increase variety in the diet to support digestion but also offer a time-consuming chew that helps with enrichment and extends eating time. They are ideal for horses with a high drive to chew and may help prevent frustration related behaviours.
As a very basic requirement, they should always have sight of another horse and ideally, the ability to touch another horse that they are bonded with. Bars or even open windows between stables that allow physical contact are preferential, though understandably not an option in all set-ups. Stable mirrors can help offer simulated companionship to stressed horses and whilst some enjoy the noise of a radio, for others this can add to their anxiety. Feeding Traditional Brewerï¿½s Yeast, which is rich in the precursors for B-group vitamins, can help settle overly reactive horses as it is thought they these up faster through increased digestive activity - often evidenced by the occurrence of multiple loose droppings during periods of stress.
They also value our company so when the weather is too poor to ride, rather than skip a visit, spend the time grooming them or teaching them some basic handling responses instead. This will help improve and strengthen your own personal bond and will give them some mental stimulation beyond just ridden exercise.
Our Feed Line experts are available to offer free feeding and management advice. Please feel welcome to contact us on 01728 604 008 or by completing our online form.
Written by Ellen Lincoln of Simple System Horse Feeds as part of BETA's Winter of Welfare & Wellbeing Campaign.