Worrying About Your Horse Losing Weight in Winter?
Many owners become concerned if their horse loses weight in the winter months. But weight fluctuations throughout the year are natural. It could be harmful to your horse if you try to prevent all winter weight loss.
The Equine Metabolism
Horses’ metabolisms have evolved in response to their natural feeding conditions. Forage is plentiful in summer and so horses in the wild will gain weight. Their fat reserves are then used to help them survive in the winter when there is less forage available.
Domesticated horses are not so dependant on their fat reserves as they are supplied with food and burn fewer calories than their wild counterparts and ancestors. However, they have retained the same metabolism. Their bodies will be expecting less food in the winter so it is easy to overfeed your horse. Winters are not as cold as they used to be and most horses are not exposed to the extremes of the weather as they are stabled and have rugs to keep them warm.
Digestive Health and Boredom
It is important for horses to spend as much time as possible eating due to the nature of their digestive system and to prevent boredom. But leisure horses don’t work excessively hard and so can easily pile on the pounds.
If a horse doesn’t lose a little weight in the winter months, there is no natural slack to be taken up in the summer. It could be better for them to emerge from winter a little leaner. So how do you strike the right balance?
The Best Winter Diet
Measure your horse regularly as winter coats and rugs can make it hard to accurately assess their weight. Your horse is an individual and must be fed and rugged according to its own particular needs. Feed plenty of roughage in the shape of hay and haylage as this will help your horse to keep warm. Most horses won’t need much else except vitamins and a supplement featuring trace elements.
Whilst your main concern might have been that your horse will lose weight in the winter. You should really be more worried about them not losing a little! If your horse is carrying too much weight in spring, it could end up being overweight in summer.
If you find that your horse is not losing weight in winter or is even gaining weight, try feeding a low energy forage. You could also expose them to the cold a little more as this will speed up their metabolism. Many horses are given unnecessarily heavy rugs or are rugged when there really is no need. The cherished horse has an easier life than its wild counterparts but it has the same metabolism. It is important to account for this fact in your winter feeding regime.