Winter weight management
November 30, 2021
Has your pony waddled in from the summer paddock looking a little too well? Or is he looking great having gained some condition after a few months of good grazing?
Either way, feeding your horse to lose or maintain body weight through the winter can be challenging. Horses living in the wild experience a natural fluctuation in body weight. They spend the summer gaining body fat on good grazing so during the shortage of grass in the winter, they have plenty of fat stores to burn to survive. However, many domesticated horses avoid this natural fluctuation in weight. They easily gain weight on good pasture during the summer, but we stop them using up these fat stores in the winter by giving them additional food, keeping them warm with rugs and shelter, and often reduce the amount of exercise they do because riding becomes impractical with the short days.
In the other extreme, some horses appear to lose their condition during Winter despite all of our domesticated habits and efforts. It is well known that some breed types, such as natives, hold onto body condition extremely well and other more hot blooded breeds seem to drop weight very easily. What is more, some horses have underlying dental or health conditions that mean they require more calories or more readily available calories once the energy content in the grass declines and grass growth rate reduces.
It is always a good idea to monitor your horse’s weight using a weight tape. If your horse is overweight, trying to achieve weight loss in the summer is a real challenge especially if they are grazing. Using the winter months to take control of your horses’ weight by restricting their food intake and increasing their energy output by wearing fewer rugs and exercising as much as possible to get them leaner by the spring, means they have less risk of becoming obese and developing diseases such as equine metabolic syndrome (EMS) and laminitis during the summer.
Our vets can advise you on a weight loss plan to ensure your horse loses weight at a healthy rate. For horses that easily drop condition without good grazing, winter can be a struggle to keep them looking well. This could be due to their breed, but it is always important in these cases to ensure there are no underlying diseases preventing them getting the maximum nutrition from the food you are giving. Having a chat to one of our vets about their worming history, as well as a general clinical and dental examination to rule out any underlying condition is strongly advised for any horse prone to winter weight loss.
Feeding unrestricted hay or haylage rations as the grazing starts to reduce, alongside supplementing with hard feed high in fats and oil, with increased rugging and stabling in bad weather can make a real difference to these horses.
If you have any queries about how much your horse should weigh or have concerns about them being over or under weight, please contact one of our equine vets for some advice.