Kate Hore RNutr (Animal) Senior Nutritionist at NAF
It is easy for horses to look good and maintain condition when there’s plenty of their natural food, grass, on offer. Problems can be seen when the grass disappears and winter sets in, and now is the time to ensure you and your horse are prepared and set for winter.
Firstly consider how the change to the winter diet will be made. Any sudden change of diet brings with it a risk of health issues such as colic, as does a sudden change of management like stabling overnight for horses who are used to 24hr summer turnout. So take care to make all changes gradually. If your horse has enjoyed a summer in the field start bringing him in for a few hours at a time before full return to his winter routine. With diet also, start to feed some winter forage in the field alongside grazing so the microflora in the gut have chance to adapt.
Putting fibre first is the best choice for all horses over winter, from hard working hunters to retired ponies. Fibre is the natural choice of the equine gut; it maintains body temperature and condition, provides sustained release energy for work and keeps the horse eating for longer, which is ideal for stabled animals. Most horses and ponies will do very well on a fibre only diet by selecting a suitable fibre based feed for their workload, alongside good quality hay or haylage. However it is important that the high fibre diet is balanced with the required micronutrients of vitamins, minerals and amino acids as fibre alone is likely to be deficient in these essential nutrients.
The convenient, cost effective choice for horse owners is to supplement with a concentrated feed balancer or supplement, which will combine gut support from pre and probiotics, with broad spectrum micronutrients for health and vitality. As with all things in life, not all products are equal. A quality balancer will ensure gut health is optimized, not just through pre and probiotics, but also by taking a multifactorial approach to gut health by providing natural antacids and herbal gut support too. For targeted support of specific requirements, such as the older horse or those with particular digestive challenges, look for bespoke supplements designed to meet their requirements.
As we know good gut health is so fundamental to general wellbeing in horses and ponies, if your choice of concentrated balancer or supplement helps maintain a stable gut environment through all of winter’s challenges, they will be happy and healthy right through to spring.
Recommended NAF Products: Five Star Optimum Balancer, In the Pink Powder, In the Pink Senior, Haylage Balancer, GastriAid