If your horse has been out of work during the winter, what is the best way to increase its energy intake as you begin exercising him in the spring?
Mother Nature may boost your horse’s energy intake! Springtime offers nutritional perks for all horsemen. One involves the caloric contribution of fresh forage (pasture) that might be available to your horse.
If your horse is allowed unrestricted access to lush pasture, he may require no more, and perhaps less, concentrate than he is currently consuming. Many good-doers can maintain their weight on forage alone, particularly if their diets include spring pasture.
However, forages do not provide horses with complete vitamin and mineral fortification for optimal performance; therefore, a concentrated source of these nutrients should be fed, such as a low-calorie, concentrated feed available from your produce store.
Your eyes and hands constitute important tools in monitoring your horse’s weight. If he has a wooly winter coat, be sure to feel for his ribs. As more work is added to his routine, does it appear as though he is losing weight? If a change in his diet is in order, it must be done gradually.
Many people believe, erroneously, that the only way to add energy to the diet is through increased amounts of concentrate. In keeping with a diet most similar to that found in nature, attention might be turned to the forage first and the concentrate second.
Mixed hays (a combination of grass and lucerne) contain more calories than grass hay alone. Pure lucerne hay contains more energy than grass or mixed hays, assuming all are of equal quality. Slowly accustom your horse to the richer hay by increasing the amount given and decreasing the amount of grass hay each day. The changeover should take a week or ten days to accomplish.
If higher quality forage doesn’t achieve the desired weight gain after several weeks, increase the amount of concentrate fed, referring to the manufacturer’s feeding directions. Be aware that horses should not be fed over 2.3kg of concentrate in one feeding. If the amount given to your horse is approaching this limit, consider feeding more meals per day.
Alternatively, a high-fat supplement such as vegetable oil or rice bran can be given. These should be added gradually to the ration, too.
Once again, your horse will let you know if and when he requires a change in his diet. If he is burning more calories than he is consuming, he will eventually drop weight. The measures described above will help counteract weight loss.
If he is consuming more calories than he is expending (which is possible if fresh pasture is available), he may gain weight. If this is the case, a muzzle or restricted access to pasture or a change in concentrate may be necessary.