BD Insight: Top tips for winter weight loss

  • Written By: Saracen Horse Feeds
  • Published: Sat, 29 Feb 2020 11:40

With spring just around the corner, now's the time to get your horse in optimum condition before he's turned out to relish the spring grass! We speak to Intermediate I National Championship sponsors Saracen Horse Feeds to find out their top tips on last minute winter weight loss. 

With days left until spring arrives it really is now or never to get the extra weight off your good-doers before the spring grass and warmer weather (hopefully!) appears. In feral or wild situations it is normal for horses and ponies to lose weight over the winter months when forage is poor quality and quantity. These horses will often come out of winter looking quite skinny, but soon put the extra weight on with the spring grass.

Although many horses are now domesticated they still have this natural metabolism and are ‘designed’ to lose weight in the winter, which is then gained again in the summer months. The trouble we have is that we often do not allow our horses to lose weight in the winter meaning they go into the spring at an optimal weight, or even still overweight! This means that when the spring grass comes through they only need to put on a very small amount of weight to cause problems. This becomes a vicious cycle of weight gain, which can lead to obesity and other issues such as laminitis. It is therefore best to allow good-doers and native types to come out of winter slightly underweight to allow for ‘safe’ weight gain in the spring.

Top tips for encouraging weight loss over the next few weeks

  1. It’s starting to get lighter in the morning and evenings now so take advantage of this and try to increase your horse’s exercise routine. Even a 10 minute lunge is better than no work at all!
  2. Learn how to condition score and do it weekly to get a good idea of the level of fat your horse is carrying. Remember to be honest with yourself – your horse will thank you for it!
  3. Take a look at your horse’s diet. Have you started feeding more and more feeds as the winter has progressed? If your horse is a good-doer they are unlikely to need more than a good quality chaff and a balancer.
  4. Reduce or even remove the rugs your horse is wearing. Horses have a much wider thermo-regulation range than humans. A naked human will begin to feel cold as temperatures start to drop below 21 degrees, whereas a naked horse will only start to feel cold as temperatures drop below 5 degrees. If you feel cold remember that your horse probably doesn’t! By leaving your good-doers un-rugged you will allow them to start using their extra calories to keep warm.
  5. If you are feeding hay on an ad-lib basis you may need to look at starting to reduce the forage intake to allow for weight loss. Start to reduce the hay very gradually, by only 0.5kg every few days, until you reach a stage where your horse is losing weight. You may find this is more than 1.5% of their body weight, which would be ideal as the more forage you can feed the better. 
  6. Keep an eye on your grass. It will being starting to grow now the days and getting lighter and we’ve had mild weather.

Content kindly provided by Saracen Horse Feeds, please click here to view the original fact sheet or contact the nutritional team at Saracen on 01622 718487 for further advice on feeding your horse.