Your horse’s diet plays an important role in supporting his health throughout the year but summer can bring particular challenges. Dietary advice at this point in the season would usually be focused on your horse’s increased workload; as you make the most of longer daylight hours, better weather conditions and competitions. However, the covid-19 outbreak has had a big impact on many plans made for this summer. Let us hope that by the time you read this article some equine activities are encouraged by the government.
If your horse is still unable to exercise as normal, his diet should not be forgotten as there are new challenges involved in keeping him healthy.
One of the biggest risks if his workload is still reduced is excessive weight gain. You may not have experienced this with your horse before if he is usually worked hard but with little or no work, and possibly an increased turnout time, it is a concern for many horse owners. Problems such as laminitis and arthritis are associated with being overweight, so it is important to address the weight gain before any potentially serious consequences occur.
Whether you are feeding your horse to avoid unwanted weight gain, or for weight loss, there are several points to consider in order to ensure you keep him as healthy as possible.
Feeding in a way that is sympathetic to your horse’s digestive system is important for supporting his health. The way to do this is to provide a diet based on forage with small, low-starch, hard feeds.
A constant supply of fibre is essential, even though his calorie and protein requirements will be low. Insufficient fibre in his diet will disrupt the normal microfloral balance in his hindgut, which can lead to loose droppings, colic, ‘fizzy’ and stereotypical behaviour. It can also cause gastric ulcers and contribute to ‘tying-up’ and laminitis.
Your horse’s turnout time is likely to have increased compared to his winter regime due to, for example, improved field conditions or livery yard rules for reducing contact with others. However, as grass quality is usually reasonable at this time of year, it can have a significant impact on condition.
Grazing may need to be restricted and the best way to do this includes mixed grazing (e.g. with sheep), using a grazing muzzle, use of a bare paddock/ ‘sacrifice paddock’ or limiting turnout time severely.
When stabled, or in a ‘sacrifice paddock,’ a low sugar, low calorie conserved forage should be used. Late-cut meadow hay is usually suitable but may require soaking for between 3 and 12 hours in ample, cool, fresh water to reduce its sugar and calorie content. Using haynets with small holes is helpful to slow intake. Some hay can be partially replaced by an exceptionally low calorie, chopped straw to ensure that he doesn’t stand for too long without forage available.
Do you need to feed anything else?
In theory, if your horse has access to ideal grazing, has no nutritionally-related issues and is not in work, he could remain healthy on grass plus a salt-lick alone. However, ideal grazing is rarely available in the UK, so his diet will need to be balanced for essential micronutrients, including vitamins, minerals and trace elements. This is particularly important when grass is restricted.
Feeding an appropriate top specification feed balancer or multi-supplement is an ideal approach. This can supply everything that is needed in the hard feed, except for salt. A salt lick should be on offer 24/7, with extra salt added if your horse sweats significantly.
Naturally, ample clean, fresh water should also be constantly available to ensure he remains well hydrated.
Article supplied by nutritionists from the TopSpec Multiple Award-Winning-Helpline. They can be contacted, free of charge, on 01845-565030.