Wednesday 10th of April 2024
Horse Nutrition

5 Top Tips for Winter Feeding

We are delighted to welcome Sarah Kearney BSc (Hons) as our regular Horse Nutrition Guru on The Gaitpost. Over the coming months, Sarah, who is a member of the experienced and friendly team of Dodson & Horrell Nutritional Advisors, will be providing seasonal feeding advice.


Sarah Kearney BSc (Hons)



It is important to bear in mind that for all horses the winter can be a challenging time; a combination of wind, rain, mud, dark nights, diminishing grass quality coupled with limited grazing and longer stabled periods can mean that maintaining your horse’s health, weight and fitness can be a challenge.

There are, however, ways that we as horse owners can help to minimise the weight and health issues that can be associated with the colder weather. For most horses, we believe there are five key concepts to keep in mind when it comes to winter feeding;


© The Gaitpost

1. Compensate for the calories lost in the colder weather.

The obvious choice is to increase the volume of your current hard feed in order to provide more digestible energy, however it is important to bear in mind that your horse’s stomach is about the size of a rugby ball, so ideally the concentrate feed that you offer shouldn’t be more than 2kg per meal.

Most horse owners who choose this method are able to feed several feeds throughout the day and so can break the larger volume of feed up into smaller portions, however many of us do not have this luxury.

The alternative option therefore, is to add in a slow releasing energy source on top of your existing diet. This can be achieved by adding a good quality oil to your horse’s feed or using a manufactured pelleted calorie supplement, such as Build & Glow, Alfalfa or sugarbeet pulp. Unmolassed sugarbeet is a source of highly digestible energy and helps to increase the horse’s ability to digest fibre feeds.

If the desired results are still not seen, the final option is to move from your current feed to one that has a higher digestible energy value (it appears as DE MJ/kg on the bag).  These feeds are usually considered ‘conditioning’ feeds and should predominantly contain slow release energy sources such as oil and fibre in order to help promote body weight without causing excitability.





Mischief hay

© The Gaitpost

Dodson and Horrell Winter Mash

2. Feed ingredients to aid digestive function and help to provide warmth from the inside.

Forage is a fantastic form of internal ‘central heating’ for horses and ponies, due to the fact that when fermented in the hind gut, heat is produced as a by-product.

In turn this reduces the amount of calories burnt to maintain core body temperature. It is recommended that horses eat 1.5% of their bodyweight in forage per day and so increasing the amount of hay or haylage that you offer throughout the winter ensures that you can keep forage intake high while grazing diminishes.

Feeding supplementary feed such as Dodson & Horrell’s new Winter Health Mash, and using warm water rather than cold to soak, can make a significant difference in cold weather, particularly if your horse has been stood out in the field or working hard earlier during the day.

The addition of prebiotics, mint and fennel can also help maintain a healthy digestive function, when there is more reliance on dried forage and poorer quality grass.

ponies eating

© The Gaitpost



3. Boost the antioxidants in the diet to support the immune system.

It’s always a good idea to provide nutritional support over the winter to help reduce the risk of health issues such as colds. Most high quality, complete feeds contain a range of different vitamins in order to help meet daily nutritional requirements.

If, however, you are feeding less than the recommended daily amount, adding a high specification balancer is a really good investment, remember to choose one with plenty of antioxidant support such as Ultimate Balancer which contains our QLC package.

The addition of herbs such as Echinacea can also help to support your horse’s immune system. The herb is reputed for being helpful in the recovery processes and is considered a good ‘pick me up’ for equines that are under the weather.

4. Ensure all the dietary components for hoof quality are supplied.

Everyone knows the saying ‘no foot, no horse’ and during the winter horses have to cope with all different kinds of ground conditions. In order to give your horse the best chance of coping with the changing environments it is important to make sure you are supplying all the key components at the recommended feeding rates to allow your horses to build strong and healthy hooves.

A high quality, complete feed should have effective levels of biotin, zinc and methionine already incorporated but if you are not feeding up to the recommended rates, it is advisable to top up with a high specification balancer to increase the nutritional value. Alternatively if hooves are a particular area of concern for your horse then adding a specific hoof supplement is advisable. 

Biotin is linked with increased hoof hardness and greater growth rates when fed between 15-20mg per day, however when fed alone it is not enough to correct poor hoof quality. Zinc is needed for the assembly of keratin, the protein of which hoof horn is made, and deficiency in zinc may slow hoof growth and lead to brittle and flaky horn.

Two other essential additions are, Methionine, unable to be produced by the horse itself, an essential amino acid that is closely linked to hoof quality, and Calcium, which is key in the cell-to-cell attachment in hoof horn. Feeding a hoof supplement such as Hoof Support will assist in all of these areas.


© The Gaitpost


5. Maximise ways to increase moisture intake

Water can be forgotten about during the winter as it tends to be kept at the forefront of our minds during hot weather. In very cold weather making sure water is accessible and finding ways to prevent buckets of water and troughs from getting frozen over can be a challenge. By incorporating soaked sugarbeet pulp or a soaked mash into your horses diet, they are able to benefit from both increased fibre and water intake.

A lot of horses would rather go thirsty than drinking icy cold water, so try and encourage your horse to drink by offering tepid water at some point each day if you can. Lack of water intake is one of the most common causes of colic during the winter. Electrolytes are useful for working horses and can help encourage horse to drink.

It can be difficult to know when to start making some of the above changes to your horses feeding regime however by monitoring when the average temperature starts to drops and the grass growth slows down we can get a good indication.

Monitoring your individual horse’s weight and condition can also give you an idea of when to start making some adjustments. A horse’s condition is determined by his level of muscle development and ‘topline,’ as well as by his actual bodyweight and the amount of fat covering the neck, ribs and quarters. A horse in good condition should have well developed muscles and have the ribs just covered so that you can feel them easily but not see them.

By taking fortnightly pictures of your horse, you can compare the differences in bodyweight and condition score which will helps to monitor fluctuations before they may become a problem. It is important to make any changes to your horse’s diet gradually, taking 10 days to change to a different feed type including forage types.

Even new hay or haylage should ideally be mixed with the previously fed batches. This is to avoid the micro flora in the gut being disturbed. Being aware of the environment and your individual horse’s needs at this time of year is the key to coming through the winter season with a happy healthy horse.

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