Winter is coming to an end and spring is fast approaching! The way we feed and the nutrients available in grass are changing. That can only mean one thing, the ‘winter to spring’ transition. Obviously, when it comes to equine nutrition, completely changing the feed and the way you feed would not be recommendable. Simple changes to prevent weight gain are easy to do and can benefit your horse. I, for one, don’t like skinny horses, overweight one’s aren’t that great either. Of course, we all love a healthy-looking horse, but this can be difficult to achieve at this time of year.
If you found that your horse has lost some condition over the winter, adding some mineral supplements will help your horse ease into spring and its fresh spring grass! However, if we look at horses and ponies in their natural environment through the seasons it’s obvious their weight changes. Very simply, they lose weight over winter and gain it over summer. Which is essentially saying, its OK to see your horse looking slimmer for the start of spring; but too ‘skinny’ or 1-2 and below on the body scoring chart (link to a body scoring guide http://www.thelaminitissite.org/articles/body-condition-scoring ) suggests there could be some nutrient loss over winter. But at the other end of the scale, you don’t want you horse looking overweight as this puts extra strain on the joints and ligaments.
So, we want to feed an in-betweeny mix that allows a transition from a higher % hard feed base with some forage diet. To a diet containing a good mix of grass, forage and hard feed, perfect for the spring! If you are working your horse regularly there will be a higher need for some added energy and nutrition. This may result in feeding more hard feed than to those in little to no work.
You will also find that as the months get warmer the more your horse will be outside grazing. Meaning for equine nutrition, a smaller % of their diet will be hard feed and a higher % will be forage and grasses. Especially as spring grass and forage are much higher in nutrients than the ‘stale’ winter grass. Of course, it all comes down to what your feeding and how much exercise the horse is getting, to how you should alter their diet. I’ve currently been studying equine nutrition at university and finding it all rather fascinating!
Different breed types also require different nutritional needs! The natives and stockier horses will require subtle amounts of hard feed and forage. With grazing they’ll usually hold their weight and condition quite well over winter. Whereas the skinnier types, like Thoroughbreds and some Warmbloods, will lose condition quickly over winter if not managed properly. A combination of rug management, forage, hard feeds and grass availability will help reduce the speed of which your horse loses condition.
Spring feeding for the natives is similar to the winter. But they may require less hard feed. They could live off just grass and forage quite happily if they are not in work. However, for those doing a bit more, small hard feeds and plenty of grazing should keep them going. For those horses who have been unfortunate to not have grazing over winter, to get their gut back into terms with eating grass, a gradual increase of time turned out would be advisable. This can help prevent gorging and reducing risk of colic and other intestinal problems.
Good stable management will also help you transition into spring as warmer weather means less need of extra or any rugs (depending on your horse’s needs). Previously, I’ve come across horses that have been over fed and over rugged during the winter months and beyond. It makes me chuckle slightly, when the owners are left scratching their head, as they place the over flowing feed bowl down and ask, “why isn’t my horse losing weight”. I often recommend they have a look online, as there are plenty of equestrian websites, forums and apps where lots of owners and riders share tips and concerns. However, asking a vet or an equine nutrition specialist is always the best tip I give.
Feeding horses isn’t always going to be perfect due to seasonal changes, but with correct management and help from professionals; you will be able to feed for the correct time of year without too many problems.
Katy is currently a student at the Royal Agricultural University, studying BSc Bloodstock and Performance Horse Management. Alongside this she’s an active young farmer’s member and is currently working for a Stud in Wiltshire. Despite not having her own horse currently, she often finds herself around horses, covered in horse hair and mud! She plans to work with horses following her degree, hopefully in the breeding industry, due to her love of foals!