Australia has had a very dry summer; pasture is limited in many areas, so it has been necessary to feed our horses a higher level than normal. Going into the winter months means we have to prepare our horses by altering our feed programs changing the way we are rugging our horses and possibly altering our work programs.

In some areas of Australia the level of feed has been excessively low due to the dry summer and very low rainfall, we have spent a great deal of time assisting these horse owners in areas where feed has been depleted. High levels of roughage have been extremely important in this situation and continue to be important heading into the colder weather. Because the summer has been so dry there is less pasture around than in previous seasons. In the northern parts of Australia it has been more significant.

As we have travelled around Australia conducting seminars on equine nutrition we have been told many stories of hardship and difficulties achieving good body condition with their horses, with the colder weather our horse’s coats will begin to change adjusting to different circumstances ahead. Many horses are rugged during all months of the year, some horses are stabled, and many other horses are not rugged or stabled. Depending on the situation your horses are located will affect how you will feed your horse in the cooler months. Fortunately we are not like some European winters where it can be freezing cold this is the reason why many horses are stabled 24/7, not the ideal, but sometimes unavoidable.

For those horses that are used to being rugged it is important to ensure that you begin using a warmer rug at night when the temperatures begins to drop, this will help to maintain a good body temperature. If your horses are out on pasture for 24 hours and are rugged this will certainly provide some protection from rain, wind and cold temperatures, however your horse should still have access to windbreaks, shelter beneath trees or a box in the paddock.

Make sure you assess your horses comfort level during the day if possible, for example is your horse shivering, does he appear to be too warm, and is he sweating?

You may need to change his rugs from time to time to ensure that none of the above occurs. Most importantly it is the night-time that your horse will require further warmth, as temperatures around Australia, depending on the area, may drop excessively low.

It is very common for horses to lose weight at this time of the year; sometimes the winter coat appears to give more coverage and can be a bit deceiving. So assessing your horse’s body condition throughout the cooler months is essential. Don’t wait for the horse’s body condition to drop too low for you do something about it. It is very common for horses to lose condition in the cooler months no matter how high the body condition is during spring and summer.

You should still be able to feel the last three or four ribs through light pressure if you need to apply more pressure to feel the ribs it is possible that your horse maybe a little overweight

If there is a loss of body condition you need to increase the horses feed, this should begin by increasing the roughage component of the feed. It is also very important to check the amount of water that your horse is drinking on a daily basis if possible, if the water is cold this may discourage your horse from consuming a normal amount of water each day. If your horse does not consume a sufficient amount of water the horse may become dehydrated and this could lead to colic.

Always make sure that the water provided to your horse is kept clean, scrubbing out your water trough every 1 to 2 weeks is an ideal way to maintain this. During heavy rain falls in winter horses may ingest mud, dirt and other particles, and therefore bacteria in particular if water has been lying stagnant for a number of days. A good pro and prebiotic treatment is highly recommended should this occur.

Feeding your horse the correct diet in the winter months is not difficult to achieve, always remember that a high roughage diet is the most important part of the management of your horses feed program. Providing plenty of good quality hay is essential, this can be in the form of lucerne, oaten, or pasture hay providing it is good quality.

Generally speaking our horses are worked less during the cooler months due to inclement weather, unless you are lucky to have an indoor arena. So bearing this in mind many horse owners tend to turn the horse out during this time, this does not mean that you stop feeding your horse correctly and if you are using a daily supplement it would be advised to continue a low maintenance dose when your horse is turned out. By doing so, when you bring your horse back into work, he will be much better prepared.

For those of you, like me who will be continuing working their horses through the cooler months, feeding your horse will be based on the workload, the type of horse, sex of the horse and many other factors.

A good high roughage pellet such as the Johnson’s natural formula is one that I highly recommend; it is a clean feed with no additives or by-products. This product is steamed and compressed and the quality of the hays and grains used in this pellet is grade one export. There is a feed to suit any purpose depending on your horse’s workload.

For a horse working 4 & ½ hours per week, I will use one of my own horses as an example to provide you exactly what I would be feeding him during the winter months based on working these hours. Rotsi is a warmblood by Rotspon and is 14 years old, he is 16hh. Rotsi would normally have four to five 45 minute sessions per week and he is a dressage horse. He receives in the morning 1 slab of top-quality compressed oaten hay. At night he receives 1 ½ kg of Johnsons Alfalfaplus and 1 kg of Velocity 2 and slab of top-quality compressed oaten hay in his box at night. The nutritional value of these feeds is exceptionally high due to the quality provided so therefore a large feed is not required, hence he only has one hard feed per day.

I also use the Next Generation Oxydane pellets, ProflamAid Plus joint supplement andBioEquus Synbiotic (pro-and prebiotic). This diet is very simple but will ensure that he maintains good body condition, is able to perform his work and is easily adjusted if needed.

Managing your horse during the cooler months check list:

  1. Check the body condition on a regular basis
  2. Ensure your horse is warmer during the cold nights,
  3. Plenty of clean fresh water
  4. High roughage diet and include grains if required
  5. A good daily supporting natural supplement to support overall health
  6. A good worming program
  7. A very good Pro & PreBiotic offers great preventative benefits especially with heavy rains and water lying around.

For further advice on a detailed diet and management system for your horse please during the cooler months contact me on (03) 9775 6422 or email me enq@hiform.com.au