It’s early December and here in Suffolk, we’ve woken up to the first sight of snow this winter. It looks picturesque from the window, but if you’re a horse owner, you’re most likely cursing this cold, wet weather and the challenges it brings. As horse owners ourselves, we can sympathize and so we’ve compiled a list of our top tips to help you manage your horses and keep them in tip top condition through the winter…

Forage – Horses and ponies should spend approximately 18 hours of the day grazing and so your horse must have access to good quality forage at all times. This is essential for a healthy digestive system and to reduce the risk of health implications such as colic or gastric ulcers. As horses digest forage by hind gut fermentation, forage through their digestive tract acts as fuel for their internal heating system, so plenty of hay will help to keep your horse or pony warm during the cold snaps.

As a rule, it is recommended that any horse or pony consumes approximately 2% of their bodyweight in forage per day (give or take 0.5% whether weight loss or gain is necessary). In the summer months, grass in the UK is typically readily available and therefore as horse owners, we generally don’t need to think about supplementing their diet with forage if the horse lives out. However, in the winter, the rate of grass growth slows down and with the wet, cold weather, your horse is likely to require more hay or haylage, whether he’s living in or out.

Water – Of course, clean water should be available to your horse at all times. During this cold weather, it is important to check the water supply daily in your fields and remove any ice if troughs have frozen over. Your horse may be reluctant to drink when it’s really cold, so adding salt to the diet, if you don’t already, can stimulate thirst and encourage your horse to drink.

Exercise – The shorter days and weather we typically see through a UK winter mean that many horse owners reduce the frequency and intensity of their horse’s exercise or some may even turn their horses away for some time off. You know your horse best so whether he needs to stay active to keep his brain busy and retain a level of fitness, or whether he would really benefit from a holiday, is totally personal choice.

If you keep your horse in regular work, it is likely he will need to be clipped to reduce sweating. Clipping can be an important aspect of keeping your horse happy while working during the winter – imagine having to exercise with a big winter jacket on?! That being said, be mindful as to the type of clip you do and make sure it suits the level of work your horse is doing.

If you decide to give your horse some time off, formulate a fitness plan when bringing him back into work. There are many factors to consider to do this, such as the length of time the horse has had off, the horse’s age and the horse’s level of fitness prior to his break. Always start with plenty of walk work and build him up slowly, gradually increasing the frequency and intensity of sessions. If you rush him back into work, there’s an increased risk of injury.

Feeding the good doer – if your horse or pony is looking a little rounder than they should be, the winter is a fantastic time to get some weight off of your good doers, before the spring. Whilst it’s important your horse spends the majority of his time grazing, as previously mentioned, there are some ways you can manage this to keep calories down whilst maintaining healthy digestion. These can include soaking hay, feeding forage by a slow feeder or feeding little and often. Look for feeds high in fibre and low in sugar and starch, such as Honeychop Lite & Healthy.

Example diet for 14.2hh 450kg Native pony:

Daily turnout

Approximately 6.75kg of forage per day (ideally soaked) – Consider the volume of grass he can consume and adjust accordingly

2 Stubbs scoops of Honeychop Lite & Healthy (approximately 750g) split between two feeds

Low calorie balancer fed at the manufacturers feeding rate

*Example only. Please seek the advice of a nutritionist or qualified Vet for nutritional advice tailored to your individual horse.

Feeding the poor doer – whether you keep your horse in work and he needs to continue on a high calorie diet, or if you’ve got the type of horse that drops weight easily, then the winter can be a challenging time. Lack of grass and the colder temperatures will mean in most cases, that forage and feed rations can be increased. Good quality forage is essential and consider a feed high in oil and fibre, such as Honeychop Topline & Shine. This will provide a safe source of slow release energy, without causing excitability.

Example diet for a 15.2hh 500kg Thoroughbred type to support condition*:

Daily turnout

Approximately 12.5kg of forage per day (including grass, hay and fibre feed)

3 Stubbs scoops of Honeychop Topline & Shine (approximately 1kg) split between 2 or 3 feeds

1.5 bowl of unmolassed beet pulp

Vitamin and mineral balancer fed at the manufacturers recommended feeding rate

*Example only. Please seek the advice of a nutritionist or qualified Vet for nutritional advice tailored to your individual horse.

Rugging – to rug or not to rug? A question often widely debated amongst horse owners! Every horse is an individual so base your decision on your own horse. If you choose to rug your horse, check under the rug regularly to ensure he’s not too hot or rainwater has seeped through. It’s also important to remove them frequently to check for any signs of rubbing.

Here are some of our factors to consider when deciding whether to rug:

  • – Age
  • – Breed/type
  • – Workload
  • – Stabled or living out?
  • – If living out, has he got suitable shelter?
  • – Is the horse clipped?

Check the forecast – although it’s not always right (!) it is wise to keep an eye on the weather forecast so you can be prepared. For example, if it’s likely to go down to freezing or below one night, fill some water containers and store them between straw bales or under a rug to reduce the risk of freezing. Disconnect the hose and sprinkle salt across any concrete areas to prevent ice forming and a nasty accident occurring the following morning.