Winter Feeding

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During the winter months some horse owners face the challenge of keeping enough condition on their horses and ponies as the weather becomes colder and there is often a lack of grass in the paddocks and fields. Here we take a look at winter feeding.

There will most be likely limited turnout time due to adverse weather conditions with many fields turning wet and muddy. Also the grass during this period doesn’t grow as well and is not as nutritious as the spring/summer seasons.

Horses and ponies will need to be supplemented with adlib forage to replace their natural behaviour of grazing in the field.

By eating a high forage/fibre diet this enables the fermentation process in the hind gut to process the food and maintain a healthy digestive system.

This fermentation process also creates a bit of heat to aid in keeping them warm.

What about energy?

Depending on your horses job from leisure to performance, each horse will require different energy levels.

The competition horses will still require the calories as their workload is unlikely to alter compared to the leisure horse that may not be competing or schooled as often. Remember to adapt their calorie intake to make sure they aren’t gaining excess weight.

For some horses the wind, cold and rain can lead to a change in behaviour and they may become a little bit “fizzy.”

Feeding fibre based feeds or oil are great ways to provide slow release energy instead of starchy, cereal feeds that give a quick burst.

With the cereal based feeds, horses struggle to process this feedstuff in the hindgut without any fibre. This is why fibre/forage are key in the equines diet generally.


Horses and ponies can become dehydrated in the winter months as well. Grass in the warmer season can provide up to 75 to 80% moisture. Because turnout time is limited our equines will not get as much moisture from their new forage alternative during the day, hay (dry – up to 14% moisture).

The most obvious area where they will hydrate themselves is from water buckets or automatic drinkers. During sub-zero temperatures, pipes, taps and the buckets can ice over so make sure these are thawed and working correctly and fresh, clean water is supplied 24 hours a day.

Some horses are not tempted to drink when the water is ice cold – try offering it at a tepid temperature.

There is also an increased risk in colic if horses do not stay hydrated. A high fibre soaked feed or mash can help reduce the risk by providing fluids and fibre to help keep the gut process moving.

Did you know Speedi-Beet and Fibre-Beet can be soaked with warm water? This not only quickens the soaking process of these feeds but also aids in raising the core body temperature.

What else to consider

• For equines prone to laminitis this condition can still affect them in the winter. Fructan levels will be at their highest during this time in the early mornings when grass is frosted over, so early turnout should be avoided.

• Take note of any changes in losing or gaining condition by using a weigh tape and body condition scoring. This way, owners will be able to alter feed rations accordingly.

• Don’t over rug your horse if they are a good doer, take full advantage of when it starts to get cooler. By not overfeeding concentrates and not rugging straight away this can aid in losing those extra pounds. The body will go to those fat stores to burn energy and keep warm.

An important thing to remember is, if you are changing your horse or ponies diet, do this gradually with no sudden changes. Research has shown that it can cause horses digestive stress or lead to colic when their diet deviates from their normal quickly. Making changes ideally should be over seven to ten days ideally.

If you need any feeding advice consult an equine nutritionist or a member of the British Horse Feeds team.

Read more about Speedi-Beet, Fibre-Beet and Cooked Linseed.

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