Forage and Food
Horses are meant to nibble on small amounts of food over the course of a day. With grazing pastures unavailable during the winter, forage hay is the feed of choice. Forage hay provides the fiber necessary for good hindgut health and also helps your horse produce body heat more readily than concentrates.
Hay provides a significant amount of a horse’s daily nutritional needs. Alfalfa hay and Orchard Grass hay are the most popular in the U.S. Alfalfa hay has nearly twice as much protein, three times the Calcium, and about the same amount of simple starches as Grass hay.
Alfalfa hay with its high protein might be the right hay for a hardworking horse, but not right for a less active horse. Grass hay makes horses feel full and still meet their nutritional needs, but it has slightly more carbohydrates. Alfalfa hay’s lower carbohydrate level is better for obese horses or those with insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, laminitis, or even PSSM.
Horses often decrease their water consumption, as the weather gets colder. Providing warmer water may encourage drinking, and adding electrolytes can be helpful too. Consider offering another bucket for the flavored electrolyte water, just in case your horse doesn’t like the taste. And of course, check all water sources for ice when temperatures get below freezing.
Keep Rodents out of the Feed Room
Cleanliness is critical to managing rodents. Cold weather sends them indoors, where there is food and bedding. They carry disease that can be easily transferred to humans and horses. They also can consume a lot of your feed. Make it hard for them to settle in your feed and tack room. Here are some tips:
- Upon purchase, decline any sacks of feed with holes that appear to be caused by rodents.
- Any feed contaminated by rodent feces should be thrown away.
- Sweep and clean diligently and place sweepings in a metal container. Regularly pull items away from walls and sweep.
- Secure the feed room. Plug holes in the walls temporarily with steel wool and later with caulk. A mouse can fit through a ¼” diameter hole, while a small rat can fit in a hole the size of a quarter. Shut windows and doors tightly with no gaps around the frames.
- Use traps rather than poisons. You don’t know where poison can end up. When using traps be sure they are placed where pets or children won’t find them.
- Protect your tack room. Store your spare equipment, blankets, and saddle pads in rodent-proof containers.
- Cats, barn owls, and terriers are good rodent catchers. Be sure there is food, water, and a litter box for them.
By taking these steps, you can protect your horses, family, and save your hard earned money.
Fall Physical and Your Horse’s Body Condition
Fall is a good transition period and a great time to address any of your horse’s health concerns. We’ll test heart, lungs, GI tract, blood, provide necessary vaccinations, and complete fecal and dental exams.
Colder weather requires attention to your horse’s nutrition. As we head into the winter months, monitor your horse’s body condition every couple of weeks. Estimating the amount of fat present on your horse’s body allows you to adjust their feeding program. Keep in mind horses with longer thicker coats might hide their actual condition.
Reduce the amount of calories from grain for over-conditioned horses before reducing forage amounts. Under-conditioned horses should have an increased amount of forage or a more nutritious type of forage. Hard-keepers may need additional calories from concentrates or fat sources.
During the fall physical, we can help determine if your horse’s weight/condition requires more or less feed.
Horses are equipped to handle the cold. Horses originated in a temperate climate. At temperatures of 20 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit, they don’t expend energy to keep warm or stay cool. Horses prepare for winter by growing a thick winter coat while their metabolism stores fat. These two elements protect your horse from the cold.
If you do work your horse out in cold weather you will want to account for Muscular-Skeletal, Cardiovascular and Respiratory issues.
Cold weather likely decreases muscle temperature in horses. Warm your horse up and increase the amount of blood flow to muscles and joints.
Horses are more likely to exercise at lower heart rates in colder temperatures than warmer temperatures. This is because cold causes vasoconstriction in the skin, which diverts blood flow to working muscles. It’s another reason why horses can handle cold weather better than humans.
Cold weather workouts might lead to exercise-induced bronchospasm or EIB. It can lead to chronic low-grade lung inflammation because the horse’s upper airways can’t warm and humidify the cold air before it reaches the sensitive lower airways.
Frostbite cases are rare, in horses, but the first areas affected are likely the tips of their ears and legs.
Transitioning your horse to winter presents many challenges, but with proper diet, water and clean feed they will fare well. Combined with a Fall Wellness Exam, knowledge of how your animal handles cold weather ensures your horse’s transition from fall into winter. Happy Riding!