WINTER FEEDING (OR NOT) - MYTHS BUSTED
I have had some interesting discussions in the last couple of days with horse-trainer friends that are having to deal with completely loopy horses that in the past have not been that way. These horses have been very spooky, over-reactive, herd bound and some have runny cow pat like manure. These issues have made training these horses very difficult and the trainers have been very keen to find out what the heck is going on!
Discussions with the owners revealed an all too common idea – "Oh its winter time and I don’t feed my horse supplements in the winter” or "I only feed when I ride” or "I can’t afford hay”.
I am always staggered by this attitude particularly as there is so much good information everywhere relating to the benefits of good year round nutrition and the availability of quality supplements at reason prices. I can only pray that their horse survive this ill-conceived regime.
Being winter time many people have their horses turned out and given the horrible weather at times, that is a great option but the notion that they do not require supplements as they are not in work is not a great one! Sure they may not require the same amount of calories or the same rate of supplementation, BUT the soils is the same deficient soil and the grass is in fact more problematic in the cold frosty weather. So supplements are essential!
Budget is a big part of this decision but I hope in this article to give some food for thought as to why this is very much a false economy. Providing a minimum winter feeding program does not have to be expensive and will pay dividends with healthy, happy and calm horses.
We ask a lot of our horses and owe it to them to provide them with what they need to stay healthy and happy.
Things to consider:
Horses are not sports equipment that can be filed away in the garage when not in use and in terms of their health you get out what you put in.
Skimping on magnesium can lead to deficiencies
- Horses will not think clearly.
- Be more likely to have paddock accidents
- Be easily upset when travelling
- More reactive when ridden and far less safe for that occasional winter ride
- Immune systems are directly compromised from low magnesium
- They will be easily upset by loud noises such as fireworks or storms. More accidents. More vet visits
- Much greater risk of laminitis
- Loss of value due to serious injuries
- Feral horses are more difficult to bring back into work.
- Grass is very problematic in the winter due to cold weather and grass not growing. The grass becomes high in potassium and higher levels of magnesium, sodium and calcium are required to counter act this. Grass tetany in cattle is often fatal and comes from this same set of grass conditions.
Skimping on quality minerals and vitamins
- Winter time is often more stressful for horses being wet and cold. This increases their requirement for minerals and vitamins
- New Zealanders are among the most mineral deficient in the world and our deficient soils are a large factor in that.
- Systems lacking vital nutrients lead to a compromised immune system and a greater likelihood of ill health such as coughs, colds, viruses. More expensive vet visits.
- Skin and coat health can suffer. Winter feeding of quality omega 3 rich flax oil and supplements containing organic selenium will ensure year round health.
- Horses can be harder to bring back into work due to lack of condition or good health.
Skimping on salt
- Salt powers the thirst reflex and colic is a real possibility when horses do not drink enough. I my experience this happens often
- Salt is vital for health and soils can very often lack year round. Premixed feeds do not provide necessary amounts.
- Grass high in potassium leads to the horse losing sodium as it excretes this excess.
- Dangerous health issues such as colic and laminitis can come from lack of sodium.
Skimping on hay
I frequently come across people strip-grazing their horses. This idea works better for dairy cows than it does horses. This is a roller-coaster way to feed horses.
The main problems being:
- Often feast or famine regime
- Horses eat back over short problematic grass which is the most affected by the weather conditions.
- Grass can be lush, containing way too much energy and protein resulting in spooky, nervous, hyper, unhealthy horses
- Horses constantly consuming low fibre high sugar, minerally out of balance grasses are at much greater risk of metabolic issues like Equine metabolic Syndrome, laminitis, PPID.
My learning so far has shown that these health issues can be completely avoided with a horse friendly mineral and hay-rich regime.
As always you can contact us with your specific questions or requirements. We are happy to provide obligation free feeding advice which will give you the peace of mind that you four legged companion will stay happy and healthy over the winter.