With winter arriving horse owners are facing different challenges in caring for their horses. From feeding to water and shelter to exercise, our horses require special care to keep them healthy and maintain the level of conditioning we've worked to achieve throughout the year. A recent article from Dr. Young, a Equine Nutritionist from Purina Mills, shared some great tips to help us keep our horses healthy and happy this winter.
Many horse owners believe that when the weather is cold, horses need to be fed rations containing more corn,
because they think of corn as a heating feed. However, corn and other cereal grains do not cause the horse to
become warmer, they simply provide more energy (calories) to the horse. Hay, which contains more fiber than
grain, provides more of a warming effect internally, as more heat is released during the digestion of fiber than of
starch from grain. Therefore, horses are more able to maintain body heat if adequate hay is provided in the diet.
Further, good quality hay is important during cool weather and winter months when pasture grasses are short or are
not growing. Horses need at least 1% of their body weight per day in roughages to maintain a healthy GI tract, but
2% or even more may be appropriate during cold weather, especially when the horse lives outdoors.
Although grain does not provide as much of an internal warming effect as hay, it is often necessary to supplement a
horse's winter ration with additional grain to boost calorie supplies. Cold temperatures increase the amount of
calories a horse needs to maintain body weight, as well as support activity or production. Because a horse may
digest feed less efficiently as the temperature drops below the horse's comfort zone, additional feed may be
required to maintain body weight and condition. It is important to maintain the horse in a body condition score of 5-6
(moderate to moderately fleshy) because a layer of fat under the skin provides insulation against the cold. Further,
horses in moderately fleshy condition require less dietary energy for maintenance in cold weather than thin horses.
In general, feeding an additional 1/4 lb of grain per 100 lb body weight to nonworking horses will provide adequate
calories during cold, windy and wet weather. Working horses may require up to an additional 1/2 lb per 100 lb body
weight, depending on workload, to maintain body weight during cold weather. Feeds such as Purina Ultium,
Strategy, Race Ready or Omolene 200 may be especially helpful in these situations, since the added fat provides
more calories than grain alone.
Senior horses, which are unable to chew hay completely due to poor teeth and suffer from less efficient digestion
and absorption of nutrients in the GI tract, need a feed specifically designed for them such as Equine Senior
especially during winter months. Equine Senior contains enough roughage and added fat to ensure that the older
horse can meet its fiber and calorie requirements without depending on long-stemmed hay or grass.
Water should always be readily available t