Whether you are a happy hacker or seasoned competitor, summer is arguably the most pleasurable time to own a horse. The lighter evenings and milder temperatures bring ample opportunities to exercise and spend quality time with our horses, but providing the right nutrition and dietary management can be just as important as it is in winter. Lisa Elliott, Msc – Nutritionist at Castle Horse Feeds – shares some tips and guidelines for the summer months.
Water is the most essential nutrient in your horse’s diet, but is frequently overlooked. During summer when temperatures rise, research has shown that water intake can increase significantly. Therefore, it’s important to ensure your horse has regular daily access to plenty of fresh, clean water, which is palatable and free from contamination
Adding 1-2 tablespoons of salt daily to feed can help encourage drinking for good hydration. If your horse is away competing regularly and is reluctant to drink less familiar water, taking your own, along with adding tempting flavours like apple juice, can help ensure optimum intake.
When horses sweat, they lose water plus essential mineral salts or ‘electrolytes’, including sodium, potassium and chloride. Whilst working in hotter weather will induce sweating, most horses with access to water, salt and good-quality forage, will be able to replace these losses.
If your horse is working harder and competing regularly and with increased sweating in warmer weather, providing additional electrolytes can be beneficial. Electrolytes can be offered before, during and after a competition and can be made using a combination of table salt and Lo-salt (at a ratio of 2:1), which will provide the key electrolytes sodium, chloride and potassium for optimum fluid balance and hydration.
Summer grazing provides excellent nutrition but the higher sugar content (WSC) of grass can be a problem for those with metabolic issues or prone to laminitis. These horses and ponies will need their grazing restricted and the grass replaced with a suitable lower sugar form of forage to optimise health.
Ideally horses should graze a diverse variety of grass species and plant life to provide a full range of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and amino acids. However, while the quality and quantity of grass generally increases in summer, UK grazing is much less diverse, often dominated by a single grass species. This means UK grass can vary in protein quality, doesn’t supply a full range of micronutrients, and is often deficient in essential minerals such as selenium, copper and zinc. Therefore, it’s beneficial to supply these through a nutritious balancer to ensure micronutrient needs are met. Grazing plus a good-quality balancer such as Smart Balance should provide your horse with all he or she needs for health and vitality and represents the ideal summer diet.
It’s important to consider whether your horse will need any additional feed during summer. Most horses work levels increase during the summer and they are often working and competing more regularly, but if your horse is out 24/7 on good grazing, the energy from grass alongside the provision of essential micronutrients should easily support this.
If your horse is in harder work, additional feeds may be needed to meet increased energy demands. Look for good levels of highly digestible fibre and oil along with some cereals to supply this. Muesli type feeds which provide a blend of these energy sources can be ideal to support harder work throughout the summer.
Horses naturally gain weight during the summer, because the nutritional value of grass is higher, and they don’t need to burn energy keeping warm. As a result, the energy they consume from grazing is often stored as fat, which can result in weight gain.
Body conditioning scoring (BCS) and weighing your horse regularly with a weigh tape are both essential during the summer. These will help you to monitor weight and condition and allow adjustments to be made to your horse’s diet and exercise as necessary. Ideally your horse should be maintained at an overall score of 5 on a nine-point BCS scale.
If your horse gains too much weight when turned out at grass, restricting access to pasture can help reduce calorie intake. However, it is important to replace the grass with a suitable alternative forage to maintain digestive health. Lower calorie hays and oat straw which can be used to replace 25% of forage can be beneficial for weight management, alongside a balancer to supply essential micronutrients.
Exercise is essential for summer weight management and has many benefits. Increasing exercise will boost metabolism, which is important for horses with metabolic challenges, and help keep your horse fit and well by using up calories and reducing the potential for weight gain. Encouraging an active walk with regular trotting is also great for burning fat. The milder days and longer evenings present the perfect opportunity to increase your riding time and put all this into practice, whilst having some essential fun time with your horse.
Whilst summer can have a significant influence on your horse’s nutrient needs and condition, providing the right care and nutrition will help keep your horse happy, healthy and performing well throughout the season.
If you have any questions about how to create the best diet for your horse this summer, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01497 570345. See www.castlehorsefeeds.com for further information and to sign up for free nutrition news and insights.