Feeding The Dressage Horse In Winter
The onset of autumn for many horse owners starts to raise the question of ‘how is the change of season is going to affect my horse?’
For many of us, the shorter days mean that it’s not always possible to ride as often as we might like, and the UK’s reputation for torrential downpours can cause a restriction in turnout and access to quality grazing. Feeding routines, therefore, need to take these factors into consideration so that horses remain in optimum condition, a pleasure to handle and kept occupied during times of stable confinement and reduced workload.
Forage should form the basis of every horse’s ration. This is extremely important and one rule that can get easily overlooked. In many cases, condition, performance and mental well being of the horse can be improved if close attention is paid to exactly how much forage is being eaten. In the winter months, forage fermentation also acts as an internal radiator and can help to keep horses comfortable. The minimum that a horse should eat in forage on a daily basis is 1.5% of their body weight, with this being increased to 2-2.5% in horses that struggle to maintain their condition.
Winter diets usually include concentrates for two reasons, nutrients, and energy (calories). Hay and dormant grasses don’t have the same nutritional value as fresh grass, and this can be overcome by feeding a fortified feed such as a compound mix or cube. Horses that are working hard or consuming large amounts of hay but still not maintaining any weight may require additional calories in order to maintain in optimum body condition.
The type of concentrate will depend on the individual horse and their workload, and choosing the right one can seem like a difficult task! For horses that can become a bit more excitable in the colder weather, choosing feeds that contain highly digestible fibre sources together with a high oil level are useful for maintaining a trainable temperament. Higher starch feeds that may contain cereals will help to maintain energy levels in the more laid-back types that might be having an increase in their training prior to moving up a level for the following season.
With cold temperatures often leading to a layer of ice on water troughs, it is not surprising that horses might drink less in the winter months. Maintaining sufficient water consumption is vital not only for reducing the likelihood of impaction issues, but in maintaining optimum performance through reducing the effects of dehydration. Dehydration and loss of electrolytes can lead to muscle stiffness as well as early fatigue, and so it is vital that you begin competition with optimum levels of both fluids and electrolytes. Adding warm water to your horse's bucket or using a soaked product such as our RE-COVERY MASH can be a great way of tempting fussy drinkers and maintaining water intake.
Travelling even short journeys can cause all horses some degree of stress, even in well-seasoned travellers who do not display any signs. Travelling can use up the horse's stores of antioxidants and it can take a long time to build these levels back up again, leading to a lack of energy and a decrease in performance levels. Antioxidants are readily supplied by fresh, green grass, and so in the winter months, it is likely that requirement levels are not always being met. Supplementing concentrates with additional vitamin E such as NANO E will help to boost the anti-oxidant level in the body, helping the competition horse to recover quicker and support optimum performance.
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