Feeding during a layup

If you know you won’t be riding your horse for several weeks, give some thought to his feeding program---you may need to make some changes.

Whether it’s work obligations, health issues or a vacation, life can sometimes keep you out of the saddle for extended periods of time. If you know you won’t be riding your horse for several weeks, give some thought to his feeding program—you may need to make some changes.

If your break will last only a few days or maybe a week, there’s likely no need to cut back on your horse’s ration. In fact, doing so can create problems because when you return to riding you’ll need to increase his caloric intake. The fewer ups and downs in a horse’s feed schedule, the better. Short-term changes can increase a horse’s risk of colic.

On the other hand, if your horse will be inactive for several weeks consider adjusting his ration for the duration. Take these two things into account:

Is your horse currently very active and eating a relatively large amount of feed? If so, the decrease in his calorie needs during his time off is likely to be dramatic and he won’t need as much grain. Cut back anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of his concentrates and increase his hay to keep his belly full and mind occupied. Using a slow-feeder hay net can help.

Is your horse an easy keeper? If he holds his weight easily, even when he’s not getting much feed, you’ll still want to scale back on his grain when downtime will last more than a week. It’s entirely possible that an easy keeper won’t need any grain at all if he’s not working. Consider feeding “balancer” pellets that will provide necessary nutrients without unneeded calories. 

Of course, during your horse’s braeak, you’ll want to monitor his body condition and make adjustments as needed. Then, once you return to your regular riding schedule, slowly increase his grain until it reaches the normal levels, making additions incrementally over the course of several days. 

This article was originally published the April 2016 issue, Volume #475 of EQUUS magazine

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