With winter halfway over, this is a good time to assess whether your feeding program is still meeting your horse’s needs. A regimen that worked well at the beginning of the season may require adjustments as the weather grows colder, and blankets or heavy winter coats can easily hide critical changes in a horse’s weight.
If your horse has gained excess weight, you’ll want to cut back on his calories. Some horses, like people, are apt to put on a few extra pounds if their activity level is curtailed by cold weather. But that added weight can adversely affect a horse’s health in many ways, from extra strain on his joints to metabolic stresses, so you’ll want to get ahead of the problem before the lush spring grass arrives and makes it even more difficult. Several strategies can help:
• Switch to a lower-calorie feed made for less active horses. A wide array of feeds formulated for specific stages of life and activity levels are now available. (Simply feeding less of your current feed may shortchange him on nutrients, so check the minimum recommended amounts before trying that approach.)
• Evaluate how you are feeding hay. Forage is important to your horse’s digestive health—and it is typically less calorie-dense than concentrates—but feeding large quantities of very nutrient-rich hay can lead to weight gain. Consult with your veterinarian about the appropriate amount and type of hay for your horse. Slow feeders and small-holed hay nets can keep a horse busy while eating less.