23 Dec Spelling Your Horse – Feeding Guide
We are galloping towards Christmas faster than a Miniature Shetland after a carrot! Sometimes during this crazy period, we try to have a break, or even steal a little holiday! Maybe it’s just a time for you and your steed to take a break from training and campaigning with a little rest and a few extra Christmas cookies. But what does this all mean for your horses? While our calorie and energy consumption will probably go up…theirs needs to come down.
Giving your horse a break over Christmas and the New Year all comes down to planning and preparation. If your horse is going to be turned out for a few weeks, or even brought down off a performance diet, it is a good idea to make the alteration over a period of time. This allows the horse’s digestive system (hind-gut bacteria) to get used to the change in diet. Just like when we add feeds, if feeds are removed or changed, do so slowly!
Turning out onto pasture:
If you are turning your horse and pony out from a yard or stable into a large paddock with pasture, try to do so gradually. Let them have a short amount of time each day for several days, until the horse is better prepared to be out 24/7. Remember to offer plenty of fibre and hay to your horse when they are back in their stable during this time.
We adjust a horse’s diet slowly because of how their digestive tract and especially their hind-gut functions. Altering a diet too quickly, like going from a stable with only hay as roughage to being fully turned out on to pasture can cause gastric upset or at worst colic &/or even laminitis.
- Keep an eye on your horse’s hooves during the transition period. If at any time there is a change to you horse’s movement, comfort or their hooves feel warm to the touch call your vet ASAP.
- Watch for any changes to your horse’s faecal matter too!
changing from a performance diet:
If you have been competing and had your equine partner in tip-top condition & performing to the best of their abilities, then you will have most likely been feeding high quality hay, feeds, concentrates and supplements with a focus on energy. Giving your horse a bit of a break, means you might look at bringing down the calories and energy in their diet.
Ideally, like turning onto pasture, you could aim to make the transition over a week or two to slowly reduce both their hard feeds and their exercise regime together. Over this time, you can increase the fibre content of their diet & reduce the concentrates.
But even without the added extra stresses of training and competition, your horse or pony still needs the same basic nutrients, so ensure they are still getting their requirements. It’s a good idea to keep feeding them supplements, as if they were being fed when being ridden e.g. mineral supplement, hoof formula and their joint supplements.
Allowing your horse to have easy access to hay in the paddock if the pasture is poor will also help to provide fibre & calories, alleviate boredom and reduce the chance of gastric ulcers by increasing the saliva produced & mimicking trickle feeding so the stomach is never empty.
Sensitivities to sugar in grasses:
For some horses & ponies who are sensitive to the sugars in grasses it is not a good idea for them to have access to unlimited amounts of pasture. These ponies & horses can still get benefit from a few hours grazing though, and here are some strategies for managing this:
- Turn them out early morning or later at night (when the sugar levels are lower)
- Turn them out partially with a grazing muzzle
- Use strip grazing or ‘paddock paradise’ systems to help with feed intake and exercise
Alternatively, you can keep them in a dry paddock with access to a supply of quality low starch & sugar hay
Sponsored Rider tips
Here are the strategies that some of our sponsored riders use during the holidays:
“I like to keep the horses at home for a few weeks while monitoring their feet and down grading their hard feed. I keep the horses at home until I’m comfortable with where they are at. From there I like to put them out in a large green paddock, preferably together if possible.
I do like to keep them on a hard feed whilst being out as for the thoroughbreds, this keeps a little extra weigh on them, but also gives me the peace of mind that the horses are taking in all vitamins, minerals, nutrition and any personal supplements they may need.”
“Our Show Team are put on spell after their final Agricultural Show of the Year. This entails no longer stabling; however, our team are still rugged, fed twice a day and spoilt rotten! Feed wise, the bigger horse’s feed remains unchanged, but the ponies always have a decreased feed intake – as they are grazing 24/7 and we are always mindful to look after their hooves and condition.”
“At the end of the season when Hank is on spell, we wean him off his hard feeds and put him in a big paddock with other horses on a round bale where he can just relax and be a normal horse. We also put vitamin/ mineral licks in the paddock as well, so he is still getting the necessities.”
“Summer is a great time of year for our high-level eventing horses to have a small break to rest their body and mind. Since the horse’s energy needs change when he is spelling, during the week prior to the rest period our horses have their hard feed intake reduced gradually and their roughage increased, ready for the lower energy diet they will receive during the break. This is also a great time to get some extra weight on those horses that can be tricky to maintain by adding in higher fat feeds and plenty of roughage.”