As the temperature cools and the pastures wane, adjustments to your horse’s nutritional regimen need to be put in place. As with any changes to your horse’s feed, exercise regimen or management, changes should be implemented gradually to minimize the risk of complications and upset to your horse’s system.
If your horse has been on primarily pasture for the spring and summer, you’ll need to start adjusting her to hay and grain or concentrates. The deteriorating quality of the pasture as we progress through fall and approach winter necessitates these changes. Remember that horses need high-quality forage to keep healthy, so any hay should be consistent; free of contaminants such as weeds, dirt, and mold; be bright in color and have a fresh appearance and smell. More energy, minerals, and protein are found in young, leafy, immature plants than older plants. If you must feed a lower quality hay, be sure to supplement it with a higher quality feed to avoid compromising your horse’s condition and good health.
If your horse has been grazing throughout the spring and summer, you’ll also need to start adjusting her feeding schedule to accommodate the less-ready access to forage your steed will have through the fall and winter. Out in the pasture, your horse could wander and nibble whenever the urge struck. During the fall and winter, when your horse may be stabled more often and pasture is not as lush, forage on which to nibble may not be as easily come by. However, you can more closely replicate your horse’s natural feeding patterns when stalled if you are able to keep hay available for the majority of the day. And remember that changes in schedule or feed — even something as simple as changing from one hay to another — need to be undertaken gradually as sudden changes can leave your horse susceptible to founder or colic.
Horses should be fed according to a variety of factors, but size and the type of work done by the horse are two major factors that should be taken into consideration when determining an appropriate feeding regimen. Forage or roughage should make up as much of the diet as possible. Not only is your horse’s system designed to process it, but the energy expenditure associated with consuming these types of feed help your horse generate warmth. Grain should supplement pasture and hay rather than be the main event.
To help your horse with increased amounts of food, you may want to consider feeding her more often. Even though your horse’s nutritional needs are fluctuating with the season, her stomach remains the same size — about as big as a rugby ball. Splitting rations into three to four smaller meals reduces the volume per feed and helps prevent your horse gorging as well as the associated issues that could accompany it.
A proper nutritional plan would not be complete without water. Your horse needs ready access to water in order to stay hydrated, healthy and for proper digestive function. As temperatures drop, many horses will also drop off water consumption. You can encourage additional water intake by ensuring it is offered in a way your horse prefers (bucket vs. automatic waterer), warming the water (horses will generally consume more water if it is warmer rather than cold) and adding electrolytes to the water. If you are trying electrolytes for the first time, be certain to also provide a secondary water source in case your horse won’t drink the electrolyte water. If your horse’s water is not in a temperature-controlled environment, schedule to undertake regular ice checks to ensure your horse continues to have access.
If you have any questions about adjusting your horse’s nutritional plan for fall, please contact our office.