Keeping weight on your horse during winter can be an endless struggle. Here are a few ways you can help keep your horse fat and happy this winter.
Feeding your horse fibre keeps them warm. So how does this happen? Fibre is made up of cellulose and hemi-cellulose. They produce the ‘stalkiness’ in the stem of grass and hay. When your horse eats hay, the fibre passes through the stomach and small intestine into your horse’s large intestine. The large intestine in the horse is like a large fermentation vat. When fibre passes into the large intestine, the bacteria living in it works to break down the cellulose and hemi-cellulose. This process of break down by the bacteria causes heat which intern keeps your horse warm.
Warm Water Proof well fitting Rugs
Your horses shape changes from year to year, so it is logical that you take the time to properly fit your horse’s rugs for comfort and warmth. Ill fitting rugs are at risk of slipping and cutting into the flank of your horse. Horses have been known to break their legs in belly and leg straps that are too loose. So taking time to regularly inspect your horse’s rug is very important.
Water proofing your rugs each autumn ensures that they will keep your horse warm and dry in even the most severe storms.
When you are riding on cold, windy and rainy days it pays to wear an exercise rug. When your horse is sweating the pores open in the skin to allow the heat and sweat to escape. In the wind and rain, once your horse has stopped exercising, they will cool quickly and this can form the basis for illness, weight loss and physical stress. Another added bonus for wearing an exercise rug when out road riding on grey, cold days is that many of them are made of high visibility fabrics. This keeps you safe while out riding, after all you want a fat horse not a flat horse!
For horses which are regularly working up a sweat in the evening, when you are short of time, a clip may be very useful in assisting your horse to dry swiftly. Horses sweat contains a protein which makes it white and foam (this is why a hosed horse will dry faster than a sweaty horse). Its role is to slow down the sweat evaporating on the horse’s body and therefore being an effective cooling mechanism. In the winter we want the horse to dry quickly so clipping helps the horse to dry quickly as the sweat cannot get trapped in your horses long, shaggy coat.
The type of clip is important to ensure your horse’s vital areas remain protected and warm. Areas to leave on are the ones which are not prone to sweating such as the loins, back and legs.
Warm Down and Rug Quickly
Take the time to slowly warm down following your schooling or work out. It gives you quality time with your horse and ensures he returns back to the paddock or stable warm and dry. This removes the need for the body to burn valuable energy trying to warm up his core temperature once he is turned out. It also assists your horse’s body to remove wastes created by the contracting muscle fibres such as lactic acid. This reduces stiffness and muscle damage from your work out.
Feed on hand
When you feed your horse after your ride, give him readily absorbed sugars and simple carbohydrates such as feed mix or grain. This raises the glycogen levels in the muscles. The quickly restored glycogen levels in the muscles prevent your horse from draining his fat reserves to replenish them. The amount of feed will depend on his constitution (body type) and the type of work they are being required to undertake.
Change your paddocks regularly, even if the grass length is low. Pasture repairs much quicker if it is not damaged too badly. Move horses every 2-3 days when short of pasture.
A Leg to Stand on
A dry area in your horses paddock saves their feet and preserves your pasture. Putting down pads of gravel gives your horse the option to stand on it to dry out their hooves. They are also good to feed out hay on as it reduces the amount of hay trampled into the mud.
Ensure each paddock has adequate shelter such as trees and shrubs, gullies or a shed. Giving your horse the chance to get out of the cold wind is essential to keeping their weight on during those bleak winter months.