Winter Weight Control

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New Year Diets can be as much a problem for our equine friends at this time of year as they are for us!

Q) My daughter's pony lives out all year round he is a 9 year old fell pony. Should I be giving him any hard feed? He is quite overweight and only ridden at weekends in the winter. My friend says I should be feeding him twice a day now.

A) Our native pony breeds such as the fell and welsh have a metabolism that is designed to cope with a feast and famine diet. Hill ponies living out on the fell and moor would gain weight over the summer when grazing was plentiful laying down fat stores which they would then use to get them through the winter when food is scarce. If your pony has gained weight over the summer it is really important to allow them to loose a few pounds overwinter otherwise year on year he will become more obese and be at risk of developing metabolic syndrome. This condition is like type II diabetes in people where the fat becomes becomes „metabolically active“, the pony becomes insulin resistant and much more likely to get lamimitis.

In my opinion it is not normally necessary to give native ponies doing little work any concentrate feed, it only makes them silly. Remember though that grass loses its‘ goodness when it stops growing so forage in the form of hay or haylage should be made available once the grass has gone.

Be sure that you can put hay out if there is snow or frost on the ground and check that water is not frozen.
Vitamin and mineral supplements can be put out as feed blocks or fed as balancers with a little chopped straw or chaff.

Q) I have owned my 20 year old thoroughbred cross mare for 10 years, she is stabled with no turnout overwinter but lives out during the summer. For the last few years she seems to have dropped a lot of weight after Christmas. I can’t give her a lot of concentrate feed as she becomes unrideable. Do you have any tips as to how I can avoid ending up with a hat rack in April?

A) Make sure you have done the basics, AT LEAST 50% of a horses diet should come from forage and when you consider that horses need to eat roughly 2% of their bodyweight a day for a 500kg TB for maintenance, that means at least 5 kg or 11 lbs DRY weight of hay or haylage. Hay is usually about 90% dry matter so that would mean feeding roughly 5.5kg a day, but haylage is often only 40% dry matter in which case you need to feed 12kg or 26lbs as weighed out in the net. That’s a lot of haylage to chomp through, so you may be better trying to find good quality hay.

To eat all that make sure your horses teeth are in good order. Get your vet or equine dental technician to check them at least annually. (www.beva.org/useful-info/Directories/EquineDentalTechnicians ).

The rest of the diet can be made up with bucket feeds. Many of these are now fibre and oil based rather than cereals so are helpful for horses that get fizzy.

All the best feed companies have excellent nutritional advice available on their helplines. Make use of them, it’s what they are there for.

Split hard feeds into as many small feeds a day as you can, three is ideal to avoid overloading the horses small stomach.
Thin skinned clipped horses can use a lot of energy keeping warm so make sure they are well rugged.

If your horse doesn’t seem to eat well or for any unexplained weight loss get your vet to do a dental and health check and perhaps a blood sample. Gastric ulcers are also common in horses stabled for long periods.

I hope these tips help your horses to come out of the winter in fine shape and with a healthy waistline.