How to encourage healthy equine weight loss by using the winter months to your advantage
Equine obesity has hit the headlines again recently. The winter is the perfect time to take control of your good-doers waistline and use the inclement conditions to your advantage.
In general, our wild moorland ponies don’t suffer with obesity and all those conditions associated with it. This is because any weight they have gained during the summer grazing will be lost as they utilise body fat to keep warm during the winter. This natural cycle of weight gain and weight loss, helps to maintain their overall average condition. However, we tend to closet our horses, even when we don’t need to, so rather than lose weight in the winter, every spring there is a weight gain. Which year on year, sees our horses getting fatter and fatter, probably without us even realising!
During the summer it can be almost impossible to encourage weight loss by diet alone. But during the winter you have a good chance of getting some weight off gradually. Here are some points to consider if you would like your good doer to lose weight this winter:
Allowing your horse to utilize body fat to keep warm during the winter is one of the most natural ways of losing weight. Many good doer types don’t actually ‘need’ a rug at all. If you want to use a rug for the convenience of keeping them clean and dry, choose a lighter fill (or no fill) and save your thicker rugs for sub zero days.
The quality of the grazing drops significantly during the winter, and grass stops growing all together below 6 degrees. You will need to judge the amount of additional forage he needs in relation to the grazing. As you want your horse to lose weight, wait until he starts losing it before giving any extra hay.
Splitting the hay ration
If your horse is stabled over night, he will need additional hay to keep his gut healthy and maintain trickle feeding. Try to split his hay ration, leaving a portion for your late-night check.
Using a small holed haynet (3 – 4 cm) could result in him taking almost twice as long to eat his hay, compared to having it lose on the floor. Not only does this help to keep his gut healthy, but it will keep him occupied too.
If your horse is only in light work, his energy and protein needs can be met by forage alone. You shouldn’t give a large hard feed just because it is winter. If he is lacking energy for the work he is asked to do, this is the time to start giving a hard feed, not just because the weather is colder. You can make sure your horse is receiving adequate vitamins and minerals by using a HerbiLIX low sugar lick, or add Think Complete, our high specification general purpose supplement to a high fibre bucket feed, or small amount of hard feed.
Hay Vs Feed
If it’s cold outside, give extra hay, not feed. When it is cold and miserable you may be tempted to give your horse an extra hard feed because you feel sorry for him, but actually, extra hay would be much more beneficial. Hay is digested in the hind gut via fermentation. Fermentation creates heat, and this will keep your horse worm, a bit like internal central heating. Hard feed is mainly digested in the small intestine and it won’t keep him warm.
Check your horse’s condition regularly, either with a weigh tape or by condition scoring. Doing this every couple of weeks will allow you to measure for the gradual weight loss you are hoping for – or make further adjustments to his feed.