There is no denying that we are now into autumn and looking winter square on in the face. We have already had our first grass frosts and whilst the milder weather means that the grass is still growing at times, it seems prudent to start to consider how you plan to feed your sometimes unruly, poor doer through this transition period and beyond in to winter.

Changing Seasons

During this transition period from summer in to winter (autumn, in essence), there are a few, sometimes dramatic changes, happening in your horse’s environment and lifestyle.

  1. More often than not there is a reduction in exercise levels due to deteriorating weather conditions, lack of daylight and/or a holiday period for your horse.
  2. For a lot of horses turnout time is reduced from 24/7 to being in every night, and in other cases turnout time may be reduced to as little as 4-6 hours a day. This also counts as part of exercise reduction.
  3. Grass quality reduces as colder weather hits and there is greater reliance on preserved forage (hay/haylage).
  4. Colder weather means that your average poor doer will struggle to keep warm, especially if also clipped. This means that their maintenance requirement will increase, which essentially means that they need more energy just to maintain their current body condition.

Cause and Effect

– condition loss

If no changes are made to your horse’s feeding regime, he will lose condition due to the fact that the nutritional quality goes out of the grass and that, as mentioned above, the colder weather will increase his maintenance requirements. If your horse is now in for part of the day you will already be relying on forage.

This year the nutritional quality of the hay and haylage is likely to be very good so should mean that horses hold their condition better than in years when hay quality is not so good. The only issue this year could be availability and hence it would be wise to try to partially replace it/extend its use as early in the winter as possible, rather than running out completely at the end of the winter, which is a scenario best avoided.

In previous columns I have discussed in detail about the use of chopped grass etc as partial hay replacers. This is easily done by providing it in a large tubtrug (in a tyre) in the stable so that your horse can choice feed between this and his haynet (slow things down by placing a salt lick or two on the top for them to eat around).

Try to use small holed haynets/slow feeders as well to limit wastage wherever possible. Ensure that your poor doer is kept warm, but not over-heated, especially if they have been clipped. It is also prudent to consider how much hair you really need to take off for a clip.

It is good management to clip off the least amount of hair required and will also potentially save on your feed bill in the long term. Leaving hair on over the back is the best way to prevent excessive heat loss.

Even with the above points taken in to consideration your poor doer is still likely to need some kind of hard feed in order to prevent condition loss.

Cause and Effect

– behaviour

Whilst we cannot change the behaviour of a horse totally through what we feed them, we certainly can help by not exacerbating unwanted behaviours. Selection of the appropriate energy sources for your horse can help keep the lid on things against a background of reduced exercise and turnout.

Fizzy horses should be fed on feed containing slow release energy. This means that you should avoid feeds that are high in cereal content (Maize, wheat and barley particularly). If the feed is high in cereals they will appear high up on the list of raw materials on the label, don’t worry unduly if they do appear nearer the end of the list, unless your horse has an intolerance of course, as the total amount that they will consume per day will be small.

Select feeds that are high in oil and digestible fibre instead, as these are slow release. One option is to use a high energy chop (eg alfalfa or chopped grass plus oil to condition (100-300ml/day and preferably linseed or rapeseed oil) plus a good quality balancer with good quality protein sources (look for soya and linseed to be first and at the very least second in the list of raw materials).

This may be all that your horse needs to maintain condition. As a general rule, nuts/cubes are less heating than coarse mixes as these tend to have cooked, flaked cereals in them. Some coarse mixes are designed to be of low cereal content but these tend to be fairly rare and fairly pricey too.

I generally try to encourage the use of good, high oil conditioning cubes for highly strung/fizzy types (eg Harbro Conditioning, Gain Freedom or Spillers Conditioning cubes).

Vits and Mins

If you are not feeding the level of cubes recommended on the feeding instructions then you should top up with a good quality vitamin and mineral supplement, to ensure that all your horse’s vitamin and mineral requirements are being met (eg Harbro One Scoop)

This can often be the one thing that is missing, that makes the difference to your horse’s condition. An alternative to using a balancer would be to use a vitamin and mineral supplement alongside Linseed Meal or Full Fat Soya at 100g/100kg bodyweight. This will provide quality protein and oil plus the vits and mins.

If you choose full fat soya, which most horses find highly palatable, then add ~ 20ml of cod liver oil to rebalance the Omega-3/Omega 6 fatty acid balance.

Using the above advice and selecting the correct type of feed for your horse should keep him in good condition, without the added negative behaviours. Just remember, a lively horse is always a lively horse and the best thing to keep the excess energy levels down is turnout and exercise.