As we all know, it’s been a strange year for horse keeping and even with viruses aside, the weather has been very mild thus far.

Autumn seems to have been a wet and mild affair and as yet we don’t know what winter has in store for us. I see that there is a wintery blast due to come our way this week, which will be quite a shock to the system after a very mild spell.

I am sure that our equine counterparts are just as confused about the wintery weather as we are. Winter feeding needn’t be a complicated or confusing part of horse care/management and hopefully the below tips will assist in helping you to plan ahead:


Anyone, who has ever read any of my previous columns, will be more than familiar with the concept of fibre first.

This is very important to the horse, from both a digestive health and a psychological point of view. Horses should always have ad-lib access to forage (the only exception being obese, or laminitic horses that are on a strict, monitored, weight loss regime for health reasons).

As the absolute largest part of your horse’s diet, the nutritional quality of the hay or haylage that you feed this winter, can have a massive impact on your horse’s body condition.

Make sure that your forage is appropriate for the type of horse that you have. Choose late cut, stemmy hay for good doers or even oat or barley straw.

For the leaner type of horse look for early cut softer types of hay or haylage. If in doubt and you are buying a large quantity of hay, then do have it analysed before committing as it could save you money in the long run by drastically reducing feed bills.

Your horse should be on ad-lib forage first of all and then supplemented with extra feed or supplements according to work load and condition.


The inclement weather, darker nights and mornings, plus the Covid-19 impact, probably mean that the majority of horses will see a much reduced work load over the winter period.

This generally necessitates a change in the hard feed component for the winter period. If your horse is a good doer and you keep him on the same type of feed as when he was in heaps of work, guess what?

Yes, he will pile on the pounds and it will creep on until one day you take off his rug and say 'by heck, when did you get so fat boy?' Better to change his feeding now.

You may also suddenly have a wild, crazed beast on your hands, which is no fun for anyone. For good doers, over winter, a light chaff alongside a decent balancer or mineral premix (for example Harbro One Scoop) will more than suffice.

For those who struggle to keep condition, you may have to consider a change in type of feed, rather than cutting back, as such.

If you have a horse who is of a fizzy personality and is already being fed on a low starch, low sugar, high oil diet then you are unlikely to have to change your feeding much. An extra feed a day is likely to suffice to keep the condition on, especially if point 1 has been taken care of correctly!

If, however, your horse is fed for a bit of va-va-va voom over the summer, then you will most certainly be on a higher starch diet. Staying on this type of feed, when your horse is on reduced levels of work, is fine if you wish to perform airs above the ground every time you ride, otherwise I would recommend that you switch on to a high oil and low starch (cereal), low sugar feed for the winter period – check out the likes of Harbro Conditioning Nuts and unmolassed alfalfa chaff.

For any situation, please remember not to feed more than 2kg of hard feed at any one sitting. It is better to increase the number of meals rather than the size of the meals, if your horse needs more feed.


We do not know what lies ahead with Covid-19 restrictions, but also if we get a really wet or very snowy winter then there will be occasions when your horse can’t be ridden and may not even get much turnout time.

Have a contingency plan for this scenario. This will mostly impact on those who have managed to keep their horse in a decent level of work over winter. In this case, see point 2!

Reduced turnout time can be very tedious for both horse and keeper but a few tricks can help. Where possible try to provide different types of forage and hang haynets etc in different parts of the stable.

Use haynets with different mesh sizes so that some hay is easy to get at but some requires a bit of dexterity. Jolly balls and snack balls can also add a bit of interest.

Also try to give your horse some degree of turnout if you can, even if it is just whilst you muck out etc.


This is something that I probably make reference to at least once a year.

Winter is the time to try to shift some pounds off a fat pony/horse. Firstly, it is the correct time of year for them to be allowed to lose weight as in nature ponies will always lose weight in the winter and build up stores during the plentiful months of summer.

Secondly, with most native and cob types, it is a lot easier to try to get weight off when drops in temperature and low nutritional value grazing are on your side.

Ponies and cobs are very good at keeping warm and even with a partial clip they are still able to keep the heat up. If your fatty is not clipped then, they should be able to go without a rug for the majority of the time.

Some may need a thin rainsheet, or very low fill (40-70g) rug if there is driving wind, rain and there is little shelter. This type of rug doesn’t provide much warmth, but can keep a pony dry if days and days of persistent rain are forecast.

You may also wish to keep them clean for riding etc and it is a consideration when we are all short for time.

The main point would be to not over rug this winter and try when possible to let your pony or horse go without; even a partially clipped native can go naked on a cold but dry and sunny day.

When there is no rain and/or wind they are tremendously good at keeping warm and will burn off a fair few calories in the process.


Finally, but most importantly, water.

During the winter months the majority of veterinary practices will see an increase in colic cases. This is almost always due to a lack of movement, a sudden change in routine (in 24/7 suddenly from being turned out for 12 hours a day) and a lack of water.

Frozen water is always a nightmare during the truly cold days of winter, so water troughs should be checked regularly and ice cracked etc as frequently as possible.

Many horses do not like drinking frozen, or very cold water and will, therefore, drink a lot less. If possible, offer your horse warm water in his stable, this will encourage some to drink a bit more and has the added advantage of taking longer to freeze.

This can also be achieved in the field by providing a bucket of hot water and/or topping up frozen troughs with a small amount of boiled water to take the chill off.

The good old thermos flask comes in handy for this trick! Make sure that you are still providing salt to your horse during the winter, as this will also encourage drinking.

The above tips should help to make for a less stressful winter all round for you and your equine friend.