By Vicki Glasgow

Nutritionist, Harbro Limited

Most queries regarding winter feeding tend to be around the topic of the hard keeper, the horse that struggles to hold condition over winter. It is worrying for many owners when their horse drops condition, but what of those owners who would give anything to feel a rib, let alone glimpse the outline of one, on their equine friend?

Mother Nature

The good doer type or true native also needs special consideration when it comes to winter feeding, albeit for very different reasons. Good old Mother Nature would have it that horses would lose weight over the winter, due to scarcity of food and colder temperatures and would then build up body reserves over the spring and summer, for the cycle to start all over again. The domestication of the horse and improvements in agriculture and nutrition has meant that this natural cycle is missing in the majority of our horse’s lives. This means that many of our equine friends can come out of winter fatter than they went in to winter, or at the very least certainly no thinner and this is not a good start to a spring/summer of lush grazing. Now is the golden opportunity to take some action and shift some pounds from your equine friend.

Management changes

The scenario most horses experience over winter is that their work load decreases, sometimes very significantly, they are often stabled over night and they are put on to winter grazing, which in many cases involves going in to a bigger field with “rough grazing”. Either that or they are in a mud paddock and have free access to a big bale of hay or haylage. If some work is to be continued then the good doer will also be clipped, which then necessitates the use of rugs.

The first part of this scenario is that exercise is reduced from a few directions, due to less riding, less turnout and generally standing still eating hay. This decrease in exercise alone would deem that your horse’s rations do not need increased for the winter. There are a few points to help your good doer to lose some weight or at the very least not gain weight over the winter months.

1. If your horse is to go on to an unrestricted, large area of grazing during the winter, then use a muzzle on your horse during the milder months of winter as the grass will still hold a surprising amount of calories. Even if it is considered “rough” grazing, the sheer quantity that they can consume will negate this premise. Muzzling will limit their intake.

2. Only give hay/haylage to good doers out on the field if they are on restricted grazing, in a mud paddock or there is snow on the ground. They will just eat it because it is there and if the hay is of reasonable quality and unrestricted, they will very easily eat over and above their energy requirements. Where possible use small holed haynets or some other method of slowing down hay intake. Big bale ring feeders are handy but a good doer’s heaven. They don’t have to put any effort in to seeking food and can stay “plugged” in to the hay bale all day!! There are big bale nets with small holes which can work very well and also reduce waste. Soaking hay cuts calories but is not a great job when the temperature drops and may be best saved for milder weather. Make sure hay fed in the stable is fed from small holed hay nets or racks with small holes, to limit intake.

3. These types most certainly do not need any extra hard feed, even if their friend in the next door stable is suddenly getting bucket loads of yummy, yummy feed. Feed your good doer a good quality, general vitamin and mineral supplement (check out Harbro One Scoop) or a balancer pellet if still in work. Use a low energy chaff or un-molassed sugarbeet as a carrier for this and any other supplements and don’t be tempted to add a handful of this and that, just because the temperature plummets.

4. Our native ponies and horses and many good doers descended from these types, are masters at keeping warm. The process of keeping warm uses up energy, which is great. Always under-rug, if required at all. Many good doers receive some kind of clip during the winter, as they will sweat quite heavily when exercised, due to their thick coats. Just because your horse is clipped, doesn’t mean he suddenly needs a heavy weight rug all winter. Many days during the winter a light fill rug will more than suffice and on sunnier days, often no rug is appropriate. Keep your horse comfortable but not toasty, or he will not lose any weight trying to keep warm at all.

The needs of the good doer are often neglected during the winter months but they need completely different management from their trimmer counterparts of the equine world. Essentially, the aim for the good doer over winter is; to lose some weight if possible, but most definitely not to gain excessive amounts of weight. Continue to restrict grazing where possible using either fencing or muzzles and also make sure that they are not eating more than their daily requirement of hay every day. Provide the trace elements and vitamins that they require via a vitamin and mineral supplement or balancer and do not over rug. Keep the above points in mind and your good doer should come out of winter slightly trimmer this year.