Winter can be a challenging time for owners of 'hard-doers'. Many people feel as though they are already feeding these horses well, yet they are not gaining weight and still look lean.
It is not so much about the quantity of food but also making sure that the nutrients are properly digested, absorbed and utilised...
Here are some important considerations: (It goes without saying their teeth have been checked and worming is up to date.)
Check hay consumption.
Hay is not only the principle source of energy for the horse (via good carbs) and the best prebiotic you can give the hind-gut flora but it is also fuel for their internal body heater. The more hay they eat the better their digestive system will work. If every skerrick is gone then best to feed more.
What about Baleage? Baleage can work well so long as it is the drier baleage that has been made at a more mature stage of growth (as opposed to wetter/greener). Check it is not full of clover.
Winter grass Winter grass may be completely dormant in colder regions but even where it is slightly warmer growth will have slowed down and it will not meet the nutrient requirements of most horses. It will supply less energy, less protein, less vitamins such as Vit E and less of critical minerals including calcium.
Whether on hay or winter grass horses will need additional protein to avoid general muscle wastage, most noticeable as loss of top-line. Not as obvious is how a lack of quality protein compromises all body tissues inside and out, including red and white blood cells.
Nitrates & Potassium
Winter grass in general, but particularly shaded and or frosted grass can be high in potassium and nitrates. Consecutive cloudy days will cause this also.
Nitrates can cause mild to serious digestive upsets and hinder absorption of nutrients because they cause imbalances to the microbiome populations and compromise the epithelial lining of the intestines.
Monitor your horses manure and if there are any signs of softening, mucous and /or accompanying liquid then decrease grass intake while increasing hay.
Chronic lack of salt Sodium has several major roles including that of delivering nutrients into cells also for ridding the body of nitrates.
Often the first thought is to add Lucerne - however think twice about this as it will add to the already high potassium/crude protein of cool season grasses. In our experience it isn’t suitable as a protein source for ‘Grass Affected’ horses.
Instead choose oil-seed protein (Linseed and Sunflower 60/40) because these are non-nitrate sources which also supply the omega fatty acids. Avoid rapeseed-meal.
Thoroughbreds and other 'hard doers'
Many people are concerned about keeping thoroughbreds, particularly if they have to be kept Grass-free for one reason or another. In our experience the following example of a supplementary feed works well and is what we recommend to build and maintain good condition without causing or exacerbating any 'issues' the horse may have...
Oaten or timothy chaff
Linseed/sunflower (60/40) combination (Boiled linseed in a slow cooker (around 6 hours on low) works really well if weight gain is needed, otherwise crushed linseed is fine to use)
Supplements: PremiumMVA For daily essential nutrients including the additional lysine, methionine and threonine that horses need to build and repair muscle and other tissues. ShapeUp (Bio-available amino acids) - feed for 10 - 12 weeks especially over the coat change (late winter/early spring)
Salt For the average sized hack this works out to around 2 good tablespoons per day (pref split into two feeds.
Any of the following can also be added but if so, make sure you are also feeding SOS or XtraCal to compensate for the low calcium/phosphorus ratios...
Crushed or boiled barley Copra Meal Rice Bran pellets Whole oats
*Be aware that any extruded feeds are highly digestible and CAN be suitable if you can use up the energy (as in hunting, eventing etc) but not so great if your horse is already Grass Affected or if you just want the quiet hack/kids pony!
PIC: CHH 'Marshall Art', demonstrating that even thoroughbreds can do well on a
Grass Free track in winter