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.
Winter can be a challenging time for our poor doers; grass quality declines offering much less nutritional value than in the warmer seasons and the cold weather makes use of energy stores for generating heat and staying warm, on top of daily maintenance requirements and fuelling any work.
Over winter, the majority of the diet may be made up of hay or haylage which can be of varying quality and some horses may struggle to consume enough calories through hay alone. Some owners turn to high calorie cereal mixes, but with a high cereal inclusion comes a high starch level and when undigested starch passes into the hindgut, it causes a rapid drop in pH. This can lead to a disruption in the sensitive microbiome and digestive discomfort. Starchy feeds can also cause “hot” or reactive behaviour. This is why feeding large, starchy feeds, can be counterproductive for weight gain or cause secondary problems. If we make use of higher nutrition, forage-based feeds we can feed generously but keep starch levels at a minimum to support good gut health.
Some horses may also lose weight through the winter due to stress caused by common changes to their management routine. They are often stabled more, which can upset some horses and they may see us less as we are keen to get home and warm up! Make sure that when stabled your horse has at the very least, sight of another horse, even better if they can touch and consider creating windows/grills between stables or using stable mirrors. If turnout is limited, try to graze them in-hand, even once or twice a week, just to get them out of the stable for a leg stretch and some enrichment. Allowing them to graze hedgerows (where free from poisonous plants) may offer beneficial support to the hindgut and residing microbiome which thrives on a varied diet that is so often restricted in winter.
If you know your horse is prone to seasonal weight loss, start increasing the size or calorie density of their feeds early. It will always be easier to put weight on before the really cold spell hits so if you can pre-empt this and get more condition on your horse whilst it is still warm, it will take much less feeding to do so.
Thoroughbreds, who seem to do so well over the summer when grass is abundant are typically prone to seasonal weight loss and at Simple System we can offer an easy solution: Blue Bag Grass Pellets. These are 100% timothy grass offering summer-like grazing in a bag, providing slow-release energy and quality protein.
For the very poor doer or harder working horse, we can offer spring-like grazing in a bag with our Red Bag Grass Pellets which are a premium, high calorie fescue grass pellet for a real condition boost. Feed soaked in 2.5 times their volume of water as a feed or alongside their hay / haylage when stabled. You can feed these feeds very generously; there is no limit to meal size as they are cereal free, low starch and digested in the hindgut exactly like grass.
Feeding pelleted feeds is also more economical per kilo than feeding chops so you can omit chops entirely if economics is important. By volume, this will also be more calorie dense as one level Stubbs scoop of 6mm pellets is roughly 1.5kg dry weight whilst a scoopful of chop provides only a few hundred grams.
For horses with small appetites or fussy feeders, try Sainfoin Pellets / Sainfoin Brix or calorie dense TopGain . You can easily increase the calorie density of any meal by including Instant Linseed – a high oil feedstuff that in the cooked meal form also offers a valuable source of protein and fibre.
If you require personalised feeding advice for your poor doer this winter please contact our nutritional experts on 01728 604 008 or complete our online form for a free Feed Plan.