For many horse owners the late winter months can be a worrying time as horses lose condition and, in some yards, turn out becomes limited.

Natural feeding

The majority of horses do very well on ad-lib, good quality forage, with supplementation from a balancer (eg Gain Opticare Balancer,) or a good quality trace element and vitamin supplement (Harbro One Scoop).

Check that any balancer you use contains high quality protein sources, such as Hipro Soya or linseed along with Lysine etc. Generally, protein provision from conserved forages is poor and the balancer provides the protein etc that is missing from the forage.

Horses in the wild eat for 17 hours a day and have adapted as ‘trickle feeders’, so this method of feeding is natural for the horse. It also keeps the gut healthy and reduces the likelihood of stereotypies (stable vices) in stable-bound horses.

If you are feeding something like One Scoop you may also wish to provide a quality protein source via linseed meal or full fat soya, depending on condition. Generally, 100g per 100kg body weight is a good starting point.

Keeping warm

Some horses struggle to maintain condition over the winter so take a step back and assess your horse’s condition once a week.

Use a weigh tape to ensure that you notice any changes early on. Make sure that your horse is warm enough as they use a significant amount of energy keeping warm and an extra rug may cost less than the extra feed required to regain condition lost.

Also assess the amount and quality of forage the horse is getting and increase/improve it if possible. Include bagged chaff products in this assessment (eg Graze-on, conditioning chops, alfalfa etc). The hind gut fermentation required to digest these feeds produces heat and can be likened to internal central heating!

More energy is provided to the horse by improving his forage intake and also by warming him up from the inside. Once you have ruled out these things, it may be time to consider ‘traditional’ conditioning feeds.

Conditioning feeds

One of the easiest ways to improve condition is feeding a good quality conditioning cube, either at the recommended rate or alongside a balancer/supplement if fed at less than the recommended rate.

This takes away the guess work and proves very effective. Ensure the product has a high fibre and oil level. The addition of cereals for promoting or maintaining condition should be done with great care and only if you are still working your horse hard over the winter.

Alternatively, oil is an excellent, non-heating, conditioning feed. For conditioning purposes 30-100ml/day is normally adequate (although it can be fed at up to 300ml/day).

Extra vitamin E may be required and current recommendations are to add an additional 100iu of vitamin E for every 100ml of added oil. A recent study showed that 40% of all colics were due to a sudden change in diet.

Remember that feed should be introduced/increased slowly to avoid problems.


Airborne dust and spores pose a real problem, so if in any doubt soak hay.

Products such as respiratory licks contain eucalyptus and aniseed to help clear the airways and also provide a tasty lick to help ease boredom.

Ammonia build-up can be a real problem so don’t shut up horses in an airtight stable if it is cold; add another rug instead. Disinfection is vital, use a dry powder disinfectant that actually binds ammonia (eg Biosuper).


Horses tend to reduce their water intake as temperatures fall and this can increase the risk of impaction and colic.

Make sure ice is broken on field troughs, a football placed in the trough can help prevent refreezing. Add some hot water to stable buckets to encourage intake and perhaps reduce the risk of buckets freezing-over in the middle of the night.

Also, if you don’t already do it then wet feeds can also help with hydration. It is amazing how much water a chop will hold.

Attention to even some of the above suggestions can make winter a happier time for all concerned and let’s face it, there is nothing quite like a hack on a crisp, winter’s morning to put a smile on your face!