In part 3 we consider grazing and what our options are for the good doer.

While it is obvious when we look at a field of lush, rich, green grass that this is unlikely to be suitable for good doers, is the alternative of very short cropped grass the best alternative, or perhaps something in between?
Firstly, it’s important to understand that there are a couple of factors here that we are aiming to control, the first being overall quantity and the second being sugar levels and subsequently the potential for more calories. When managing the good doer, both factors should be considered.
While we can strive to do the best by our equine friends when it comes to grass intake, it is very rarely completely black and white, although there are some fundamental scientific facts we can base our management on, grey areas still exist which can muddy the waters. Management must not only consider the facts below but also the individual horse or pony involved.

In order to understand the reasons behind suitability of different grass lengths, we need to consider where the nutrients are stored within grass and how we can gauge grass intake.

 

How much grass does a horse eat?

Research suggests that horses and ponies can eat anywhere between 1.5 – 5.2% dry matter of their bodyweight per day. As a rough guide, using an average of 3% bodyweight, a 500kg horse could consume 15kg dry matter of grass in a 24 hour period (on good grass), this is just over 0.6kg per hour. This highlights the very real danger of horses consuming excess calories from grass alone. As a general rule, grass will always provide more nutrients than hay or haylage so, if the grass is good it’s likely that the horse’s energy demands will be partially, if not fully, satisfied (or exceeded) by what he grazes each day.

During the process of photosynthesis, grass creates sugar (sucrose, glucose and fructose), required for growth, and any excess is converted into storage carbohydrate. This sugar can be referred to in a number of ways: one being non-structural carbohydrates (NSC), which is the simple sugars, fructan and starch fraction of the plant. A term more commonly used in pasture analysis, is the term water soluble carbohydrate (WSC), which encompasses simple sugars and fructans.
UK grass species store excess sugar (produced by photosynthesis) as fructan, while those adapted to more tropical climes store the majority as starch. UK grass species must have the genetic potential to produce high levels of WSC in order to be productive throughout a long grazing season and a cold winter.
When it comes to where sugars are stored, WSCs are generally more abundant in the stem and leaf sheaths than in the blades of grass; levels tending to increase with plant maturity, peaking during flowering and thereafter declining. Over 30% of fructans can occur in the tops of mature plants, especially at flowering (going to head), but levels remain lower if the plant is not allowed to head.
Unsurprisingly, we notice a preference in grazing behaviour that can be linked to sugar storage, selection for grazing being closely linked with WSC content, making reducing WSC intake arguably even more challenging!
In some conditions, WSC levels in grass can reach up to 50% (dry matter)! This is significantly more than grass hay or haylage which can reach ~20%. Having knowledge of when these sugar levels are likely to be at their peak may help to inform better management for good doers and those prone to problems such as laminitis.

While these figures can sound scarily high, it is important to remember that while undesirable for some, sugar is by no means unnatural for horses. In fact, many working horses, of healthy body condition, tolerate sugar well. However, for those requiring a low sugar and ultimately low calorie diet, management of grazing is essential, although it is important to note that a completely sugar- free diet is an almost impossible goal. The best that can be achieved is to minimise sugar intake from forage (grass, hay, haylage), which is typically the largest contributor of sugar in the diet.
Sugar levels can vary between seasons. In the UK, there is increased potential for a rise in horses WSC intake during spring when soil temperatures reach 5°C, and again in the autumn. While there is an increase in the level of WSC during this period, the potential for increased intake is more likely linked to an increased potential intake of grass overall. When it comes to considering WSC levels, while certain species can accumulate more than others and certain times of year may see a peak in level, WSC concentrations are more closely associated with environmental conditions.

 

What impacts the WSC level in grass?

There are many factors that influence the level of WSCs in grass and the same grass pasture can vary from year to year and even at different points throughout the day! While there are no absolute guarantees, considering the following factors, which increase WSC levels may help to identify times of greatest potential intake. It is important to note that a lot of these factors have a common theme running through them – stress. When grass is under stress of any kind, WSC levels accumulate.

  • Temperature: Cold nights and bright sunny days. The risk of WSC accumulation increases during spring when grass is growing, when the night time temperature drops below 5°C and during the winter months, immediately after a hard frost or when grass is snow covered. In these conditions the plant is unable to use the WSCs for growth, which can lead to accumulation. The risk increases further when these colder nights are coupled with bright sunny days.
  • Reduced soil fertility
  • Water stress e.g. drought
  • Sub-lethal herbicide application
  • Presence of heavy metals in soil
  • Time of day (afternoon/early evening): when the right environmental conditions allow,WSC levels will rise during the day (sugars accumulating as a product of photosynthesis)peaking late afternoon and decreasing once the sun sets. The plant then uses these sugarsovernight for growth, and as such, levels tend to be at their lowest first thing in the morning(typically 3am to 10am). Where grass has undergone ‘stress’ e.g. drought or night frost, thisprocess of converting sugar to fibre cannot occur, meaning the grass may still be high in sugar come the morning.· High WSC accumulating species: e.g. Ryegrasses
  • Stage of growth: flower/development
  • Light intensity: Sunlight and bright days! High light intensity is thought to increase WSC levels in pasture, low light intensity is thought to do the opposite.
  • Over-grazing and under-grazing: Over-grazing and exposing the crown of the grass causes ‘stress’ to the plant resulting in increased WSC levels. However, under-grazing and allowing grass to ‘go to head’ also results in potential for higher WSC intake.

Management tips for reducing WSC intake:
– Avoid turnout on frosty bright mornings during the winter months or bright days in the spring/autumn where overnight temperatures have dropped below 5°C.
– When daytime temperature rises above 30°C, respiration increases faster than photosynthesis and subsequently WSC content is reduced. As such these periods of increased growth may present opportunities for reduced WSC turnout.
– Turn-out early morning or late evening (bearing in mind exceptions noted above).
– Turn-out on cloudy days or in shady paddocks where there is less photosynthesis, so sugars do not accumulate as quickly. It is for this very reason, that wooded areas (excluding trees which can pose risk such as sycamores and oak) can be very effective turnout areas where calorie/WSC intake is trying to be reduced.
– Don’t be too focused on grass species. Cultivating a pasture comprising of low WSC- accumulating grass species is harder than it might seem and even then, environmental conditions and management are likely to have a larger bearing on actual WSC intake. The additional challenge is that lower accumulating WSC species are often associated with lower productivity, so choosing a grass species that is well adapted to the growing area and seeking the right advice on seed mix is crucial. Management practises to minimise WSC intake would still apply if a lower WSC accumulating species is achieved, while avoiding plant stress by enhancing soil fertility and moisture level, will also help.

So what is the problem with short grass?

We know that when grass is under stress it is higher in WSCs. So, where grass is grazed close but importantly not to the point where the grass is permanently damaged, the horse is repeatedly taking the newest growth (which is under stress) and therefore likely to be high in WSCs and ultimately calories (and low in fibre). However, this is less likely to be the case where the area grazed is so small that the horse is grazing faster than the grass is growing, which will result in permanent damage to the sward and ultimately degraded bare pasture.

So is longer grass the answer?

In short, no. While longer, older grass is typically higher in fibre and lower in WSC (providing it has not gone to head), the horse is able to take larger mouthfuls and therefore a much greater quantity overall as compared to the shorter grass. Therefore, it is completely conceivable that the same amount of calories/energy (and WSC) could be consumed, therefore potentially presenting a similar risk. In fact, it could be argued that this type of grazing actually presents more risk in terms of overall calorie consumption due to the likely larger quantity.

So what is the answer?!

It is really down to the individual. We know that turning out for a shorter period of time can lead to compensatory grazing (the horse/pony eating more grass in less time!) and is therefore ineffective, so what are our options?

One option would be to graze close but not to the point of sward damage. This can reduce overall intake through reducing bite size (essentially like a grazing muzzle) BUT this could come at the risk of not meeting minimum fibre requirements and crucially not satisfying the horse’s appetite (which is linked to dry matter intake rather than number of calories) – resulting in a hungry horse! Long term grazing in this manner can also compromise dentition (causing excessive wear to the front teeth). If you decide to keep your horses under this management (or have little choice in the matter) ensure that you supplement this with a high fibre (late cut hay/haylage potentially alongside straw, (at a maximum 30% of the forage ration)) to help meet requirements and satisfy appetite.

Another option is to remove grazing from the picture altogether. Arguably the easiest way to control intake, by removing the main factor which is difficult to regulate. You can then pair turnout on a bare or woodchip paddock with a suitable low calorie forage source such as late cut forage, ideally soaked and or steamed.

In both of the above management scenarios, Trickle Nets can be used to increase chew time and mimic grazing.

A grazing muzzle is another alternative and despite not quite conforming to that picturesque idea of ponies grazing naturally in the field, can achieve something close to what we are after – opportunity to burn some calories by promoting movement and a trickle feeding of food through the system enabled through essentially restricting bite size. Be sure to introduce these gradually and adhere to best practise regarding appropriate length of grass for use and maximum duration of wear.

Other methods of restriction such as strip grazing and mixed grazing are available but don’t work for all, a lot of these systems still enabling intakes which far exceed requirements of many leisure horses and ponies.
If using any management that incorporates grazing, try and also consider the environmental
conditions and let these inform your day to day management. Also consider compensatory grazing. If grass intake is restricted using a grazing muzzle, for example, which cannot be used for more than 12 hours, the remaining 12 hours will need to be spent in a stable/dry lot to avoid compensatory grazing.

Pasture and/or forage is likely to be the main source of sugar in most horses’ diets and while some can tolerate this, others may need their intake restricting whether for specific health concerns or to moderate behaviour or energy levels. Grass pasture is undoubtedly one of the most natural feed sources for horses however it is important to consider how it has changed since the horse’s evolution and therefore, should be constantly reassessed as part of the horse’s diet.

 

Briony Witherow MSc RNutr. FHEA
Practical Equine Nutrition
Consultancy in Equine Nutrition
Tel. 07908 984 034

A four-part series on the tale behind the good doer.

Part two:

In part one we explored how our native breeds have evolved and some of the challenges that modern management presents. In this blog we discuss different pasture types and how these compare to what our native breeds require.

Within modern management, it is increasingly common for horses to graze monoculture (single grass species) pastures, more suited to dairy cows and production livestock. This is a major factor suspected to contribute to obesity levels, as ponies would naturally have grazed meadows which featured a variety of grasses and browse, rather than single species pastures.

Broadly speaking, pasture type can be divided into four main categories, knowledge of which can help us to appreciate some of the differences between what horses have evolved to thrive on and what they are presented with in domestication.

Improved grassland has been managed to increase its productivity. These pastures are dominated by productive species such as ryegrass, and white clover. These species are designed to be more competitive and provide more calories per mouthful.

Semi-improved grassland has had some agricultural improvement (such as drainage or fertilisation) and is dominated by species such as ryegrass and cocksfoot.

Semi-natural (or unimproved) grassland is where grazing, cutting or burning prevents scrub and trees from becoming established but is otherwise not altered by human intervention. This type of grassland is species-rich and is usually dominated by less productive species such as fescues, along with sedges, rushes and mosses. Unfortunately, species-rich grassland is now relatively uncommon, however some good examples still exist, in places such as Exmoor and Dartmoor.

Degraded grassland is exactly as it sounds – grassland that has been mismanaged and become poached, over-grazed or under-grazed, dominated by weeds such as thistles, nettles and docks. This is an all too common sight with horse pastures and is undesirable, even for the good doer.

The majority of grassland grazed by domesticated horses in the UK would be classed as improved or semi-improved, containing more productive species such as ryegrass. Ryegrass is an example of a species that has been continually ‘improved’ to be more productive for farm animals such as cows and sheep and as such can be one of the least suitable swards (area of grass) for meeting the needs of the native pony, the species specifically bred for high energy (high sugar) values.

Less productive species such as fescues and timothy are better for the native horse or pony. These species accumulate lower levels of sugar and therefore tend to be lower in calories than their more productive counterparts. These grass species would be more similar to what ponies have adapted to thrive on – a larger quantity of lower quality fibre alongside other roughages.

Unfortunately it is not as straight forward as just seeding different grass species and letting them grow! These lower productivity (lower sugar) grasses – being less competitive – can struggle to thrive if not well adapted to the growing area. As such, seeking the right advice on a seed mix is crucial. Alternatively, management practices, such a turning out at certain times of day or making use of shady pastures and cloudy days can be employed to reduce sugar intake, thereby making it more suitable for our natives (see part 4 of this series for more details).

Join me in part 3 where we look at the potential impact of over-rugging on our good doers.

 

Briony Witherow MSc RNutr. FHEA
Practical Equine Nutrition
Consultancy in Equine Nutrition
Tel. 07908 984 034

A four-part series on the tale behind the good doer.

Part One:

Evolution vs domestic reality – can looking back at what the horse has evolved to eat help us to understand why obesity and laminitis are all too common place in our domesticated horses and ponies?

Let’s start at the beginning. Our equine friends have adapted to survive in nutritionally sparse environments, sourcing the necessary nutrients from coarse, low-grade fibre. Under modern management systems however, this is often far from the case.

Many UK domestic ponies are of native type, these types having adapted over millions of years to thrive in unforgiving, seasonal environments where grazing is sparse and of poor quality. Unlike its feral counterpart, the domestic horse and pony undertake little work and yet are receiving a comparative abundance of high-quality grazing and forage, in addition to the provision of shelter and rugs; somewhat tipping the scales in terms of calorie intake (see figure).

 

Wild/Semi-Feral Horse

Domesticated Native Good Doer

Trickle feed (up to 22 hours/day) would rarely fast voluntarily for more than 2-4 hours at a time.

Meal fed. May spend long periods without food unless slow feeders are used, or feed is physically staggered.

Large quantity of poor-quality high fibre forage containing a diverse range of species and roughage types (browse and grass)

Comparatively small amount of high-quality forage typically grass based (conserved/fresh) and limited number of grass species. Usually a single forage source is provided.
Grazes from the ground and browses other roughages, constantly moving and foraging. When stabled, often eats from a single position from a raised net or rack.
Can typically cover 20 miles per day in search of fresh grazing and water Little or no turnout. Increased time spent in a stable other than ridden/in-hand exercise

 

This is exaggerated by the horses’ naturally adaptive behaviour of building up stores of body fat in the summer as a buffer against the ‘inevitable’ scarcity of winter feedstuffs. The combination of these factors promotes adipose deposition (the laying down of fat stores).

Obesity can be defined as the result of an imbalance between energy intake and energy expenditure and it is easy to see how this imbalance occurs under modern management, with food in plentiful supply. Horses and ponies are considered more likely to become obese during the summer months, displaying seasonal differences in metabolic rate, food intake, gut transit time, and energy expenditure all of which are increased over the summer months and decreased during the winter. During the winter months the horse’s appetite is reduced and animals enter a period of negative energy balance, during which mature animals lose body weight and condition. These losses are then regained in spring and summer when high quality forage becomes available.  In contrast to this natural fluctuation, studies have also shown the body mass of obese animals to remain constant irrespective of season – this could reflect the state of cumulative weight gain achieved over consecutive seasons.

In addition to this, climate change and improvements in technology could represent further cause for concern for our good doers. Anecdotally, grass is seen to be growing later into the year, providing a longer grazing season, the calories from which are not always accounted for in subsequent forage and hard feed provision. The vast improvement in the quality of rugs and provision of shelter, has seen horses not needing to burn extra calories in order to keep warm and therefore laying down fat instead. All of which offsets the natural winter weight loss which horses and ponies have evolved to employ.

By enabling year-round positive energy balance, the effects of successive summer gains on fat deposition build year on year, rapidly resulting in obesity.

 

 

Why is it that of a number of animals which graze in the same field, and are subjected to the same management regime, some remain perfectly healthy and others get fat?

Native pony breeds in particular are reported to retain strong seasonality with respect to appetite and body condition. This seasonality predisposes them to gain weight through the summer months, where food is plentiful, before losing this weight over the winter months, where food is scarce. There is some suggestion that genetics, and more specifically, a ‘thrifty gene’ lies behind this propensity to gain weight with such relative ease. In a ‘normal’ animal, it is thought that closely regulated systems function to maintain body weight within a narrow range – this regulation system having a sensing mechanism for energy stores to be matched by eating behaviours and energy metabolism. The idea behind the ‘thrifty gene’ proposes that this system will be inclined to favour mechanisms encouraging weight gain, due to the survival value of that characteristic in surroundings with unpredictable and restricted access to food. Therefore, natives and cob types will typically store fat more readily due to having adapted to harsh climates involving travelling long distances to find food and water. The metabolism of these animals is specially adapted for optimum fat storage, so it’s no wonder we are finding them hard to manage in a domestic environment that provides in excess of their needs.

Another key factor to consider aside from general management is exercise. Horses have evolved to graze up to 22 hours per day, and in the wild can cover distances of up to 20 miles per day in search of fresh grazing and water. This acts as a good reference point for what a healthy horse can manage under natural conditions, and why, in domesticated conditions a lack of exercise often leads to weight gain.

 

 

So what does this tell us?

The native pony requires a constant supply of small amounts of low protein, high fibre forage. Meanwhile, many domesticated horses and ponies (in comparison to their feral counterparts) have a lifestyle that provides plenty, allowing them to, in the short-term at least, thrive not just survive. Exposing the horse to situations it is not evolved to deal with, such as year-round access to good quality food, often in excess, it isn’t surprising that the prevalence of obesity is so high.

With the prevalence of obesity reported as upwards of 50% of the equine population, it is essential that we get to grips with what these underlying factors are and changes we can make to improve the long-term health and ridden longevity of our horses and ponies. A good starting place for this is to evaluate the differences between the environments under which they have evolved to thrive and the domesticated environment which we provide. You only have to observe semi-feral pony populations to appreciate the vast differences in lifestyle and environment (not to mention condition) and a notable difference is the grasslands upon which they graze.

Join me in part 2 where we discuss the difference between semi-natural and improved grasslands and find out why this might be such a key piece of the puzzle when getting to the bottom of equine obesity. 

 

Briony Witherow MSc RNutr. FHEA
Practical Equine Nutrition
Consultancy in Equine Nutrition
Tel. 07908 984 034

First Aid for Laminitis

 

You think that your horse has laminitis- HELP!

It can be difficult to know what to do for the best, and no doubt everyone on your yard will want to give their opinion, leaving you with plenty of conflicting advice. With that in mind here are nine practical steps to take if you suspect that your horse has laminitis

 

  1. Call your vet

It’s essential to call the vet. This sounds very obvious but sadly so many owners think that that they will ‘wait and see’ during a bout of laminitis,  or that it’s normal for their horse or pony to become a bit ‘footsore’. Don’t forget that horses are prey animals and will generally try and conceal lameness or injury, so a ‘foot sore’ pony could actually be in a lot of pain. Some owners think they should call their farrier, and although the farrier is an essential part of the recovery process they cannot diagnose or offer pain relief like your vet can.

 

     2.Don’t be tempted to ‘self-medicate’

Do not give any medication without speaking to your vet first. Many owners have some nonsteroidal anti inflammatory medication such as phenylbutazone at their yard, but this should never be given without consulting with your vet first. Often medication that has been kept has expired, or hasn’t been stored correctly. Your vet will have a variety of pain relief options, these will be faster acting and more effective than an out of date sachet of bute.

 

     3.Remove the horse from the pasture

With any suspected case of laminitis it is essential to limit any further damage to the laminae by reducing movement. The horse or pony should be removed from the field, and stabled immediately. Due to the painful nature of the condition the horse should be allowed to walk at their own pace, however long that takes. It may be appropriate to travel the horse in a low trailer if the field is a longer distance from the stables. If no stabling is available a small pen will need to be created, within the field to reduce movement, or you could use a field shelter.

     4.Make the horse comfortable

A horse suffering from a bout of laminitis will be experiencing a lot of discomfort, and stabling on a deep bed of shavings is ideal. The horse needs to be able to dig it’s hooves into the bedding material to provide pain relief, and the deep bed must be continued right up to the door of the stable. Some owners like to use sand but this must be dry and not too tightly compacted, and cardboard bedding could also be used, the bedding material just needs to be able to mould around the hoof and provide support to the frog.

 

     5.Keep the horse calm

Keeping the horse calm, quiet and still is essential while you wait for the vet, and also in the short term management of the condition. It is sensible to ensure that the horse has a companion close by, it will help to keep them as relaxed as possible. If your horse is stressed, your vet may be able to provide a mild sedative to settle them. 

 

     6.Don’t starve them

The laminitic horse should not be starved, and this is a common misconception about caring for a horse or pony with laminitis. They do need to be fed an appropriate diet which is lower in non structural carbohydrates. Your vet will help you to devise a suitable diet to help manage laminitis, but soaking hay is an effective way to reduce the sugar content. Hay can be soaked in cold water for several hours, but for a more immediate option warm water can be used, soaking hay for 30 minutes to one hour to make it a safer forage choice for the laminitic horse or pony. A Trickle Net is an excellent way to feed soaked and rationed forage, providing more hours nibble time and a welcome distraction from boredom and pain. 

     7.Easy reach

It is essential that both hay and water are easy for the horse to get to, as limiting movement and reducing any further pain is the priority. For horses who like to look out over the door, keeping hay and water close to the door will limit the to and fro and help rest those painful feet. 

 

     8.Frog support

While you wait for your vet to arrive another practical step you could take is to provide your horse with some frog support, this would be particularly helpful if you aren’t able to stable the horse on a thick bed of shavings or sand. The idea is to help the horse take more weight through the frog and take pressure of the wall of the hoof, thus relieving the laminae.

You can purchase specialist frog supports, and these may be part of your horse’s recovery plan. (Maybe keep some in your first aid kit.) However you can use a roll of vet wrap (unrolled) on the frog and simply tape it to the hoof. This will provide the same benefits in an emergency situation.

 

     9.Be patient

Laminitis is a tricky condition to manage, but there are many success stories of horses who have made a brilliant recovery from this condition. You might find that the recovery process is longer (and more frustrating) than you expect so do be patient. There is lots of help and support out there, and many horse owners are in the same boat as you. Sharing tips and ideas for recovery is always positive, but beware the myths and always give your vet a call if you’re unsure of anything. Many owners are reluctant to call the vet thinking that a visit will always be required, but most vets are very happy to take a quick call and guide your decisions for horses already under their care. 

 

I hope that you have found this article helpful, remember laminitis can affect horses and ponies of all ages and sizes, and it is essential to call the vet if you suspect that your horse is suffering with this condition.

 

If you’d like to learn more about laminitis, and how to manage this condition you can take part in the first ‘National Laminitis Awareness Day’ which I am running on 10th July 2019. You can take part in live web chats, finding out more about laminitis, feeding the laminitic horse, underlying conditions. There will be free factsheets to download, and I’d love you to take part by sharing pictures of your horse with the hashtag #lamiaware.

It’s going to be an action packed day.

 

You can register for more details at the link below

http://eepurl.com/giIXx5

Nicola
Nicola Kinnard-Comedie MSc, BHSAI Int. SM
Owner and founder of NKC Equestrian Training
0782 4326245
 

About the author

Nicola Kinnard-Comedie owns and runs NKC Equestrian Training, a training company providing Online and One day Horse First Aid Courses across the UK, together with qualified vets. These courses and workshops are designed for horse owners to update their knowledge on preventative health care, wounds, colic and infectious diseases, and have been developed together with vets. As with with human first aid recommendations for Horse First Aid change over the years, and these courses are the perfect opportunity to ask the vet lots of questions and enjoy a relaxed day of training, or you can learn at your own pace with the online course.

 

 

Easter is always exciting as a horse owner, the clocks have changed and it’s four full horsey days with plenty of Easter eggs thrown in for good measure. With Easter falling on a different date each year it’s a bit pot luck what the weather will bring, I’ve certainly got sunburnt at Easter, and I’m pretty sure we’ve had snow as well.

As with the Christmas holidays veterinary practices often report an increase in call outs either over or immediately after the Easter break. So what can you do to keep your horse happy and healthy over the long bank holiday weekend?

 

  1. Stick to the routine

As a hard working horse owner an extended weekend break means it’s really tempting to turn the alarm clock off and have a slower start in the morning. However no-one told your horse this, and it is important that we try and stick to a normal routine as much as possible, particularly for horses who are stabled. Stabling horses means that they are 100% reliant on humans for all their fibre needs, which is a far cry from the natural ‘foraging and roaming’ behaviour pattern they are designed for. It is essential for both physiological and psychological benefits that horses can eat ‘little and often’ and slowing their intake of hay or haylage is a great way to replicate their natural eating behaviours in a modern environment. Make sure you’re using your Trickle Nets!

 

Now the clocks have changed many horse owners will be planning to turn their horses out for longer periods of time, or maybe moving to 24-7 turnout. It can be particularly tempting to turn your horse out for the long weekend over Easter to make life easier. Winter is a long slog for horse owners and the thought of no mucking out is a very exciting proposition, but what is best for your horse?

As every owner knows horse’s are creatures of habit, and it is sensible to make any management changes gradually over several weeks. Vets often report a rise in colic cases when horses become suddenly stabled during snowy weather, or over the Christmas holiday period due to the change from grass to more hay, and horses drinking less water.

Suddenly allowing your horse more field time doesn’t give the microflora in the hindgut time to adjust to more grass, and the increase in water content from the grass can both result in loose droppings or even diarrhea. Which leads nicely into suggestion number two…

  1. Limit the grass

Overweight horses and ponies will quickly ingest far too much grass, as hormonal changes mean that their ‘off switch’ effectively doesn’t work, which can result in digestive upsets, colic or trigger the onset of laminitis. Ensuring your horse can have all the benefits of lots of turn out without excessive grass consumption can be difficult, but there are plenty of steps you can try …

  • Grazing muzzle

I personally think that grazing muzzles are a very useful tool for managing the overweight horse, or native pony. They allow you to turn the horse out, but grass intake is limited. Yes they might not look that pretty, and yes it can take a bit of trial and error to find the best fit for your horse but I think that these are certainly worth persevering with.

  • Track system

You will find plenty of suggestions online about creating a ‘track system’ for your horse, but the principle is to provide less grass and more exercise by sectioning a ‘walkway’ section around the outside of a field. This can be quite a basic construction, or be specially designed to cover a large area, and hay can be provided as necessary.

  • Provide ‘safer’ grass

Although this is a longer term solution, and might be beyond your control at a local livery yard providing access to more appropriate grazing is one of the best ways you can keep your horse turned out as much as possible.  So many horses are turned out on former dairy pastures which are sown predominantly with rye grass, and have been heavily fertilised. This is ideal for cows to consume, after all farmers want maximum milk yield per cow, but not at all suitable for the modern leisure horse. Creating a turnout space based on meadow grass, containing more appropriate grass species such as fescues, timothy grass, cocksfoot and crested dogstail would allow your horse access to the right grass, preventing weight gain and helping to reduce laminitis.

  • Grass free turnout time

If the none of the above options are suitable for you and your horse is there a way of providing some time without grass? Maybe there is a safe part of the yard that can be fenced off, or a lunge pen or arena that could be used to create a turnout space free from grass.

  1. Consider your horse’s fitness levels

The bank holiday weekend is the perfect time for longer hacks, a sponsored ride or maybe a cross country schooling session. However before you get to carried away it is sensible to think about how fit your horse is, and how much weight and condition they are carrying. Is it fair to ask an overweight unfit horse to puff around a hilly sponsored ride without sufficient preparation? How would you cope if you had to run a 5km race without an training?

If we have a warm bank holiday weekend (fingers crossed) overweight unfit horses can be at risk of heat stress when asked to suddenly work harder than normal with lots of  cantering and jumping.

So if you have some exciting adventures planned for your horse over the Easter break try and be consistent with riding and exercise between now and then. Long slow hacks will help build up fitness levels and consider what steps you can put in place to help your horse slim down if they are overweight. Using less or no rugs, slowing down forage consumption and limiting hard feed are all sensible steps to help your horse stay healthy.

  1. Keep an eye on ‘normal’

The best way to keep your horse healthy is to know what is ‘normal’ for your horse, this way you will spot ‘abnormal’, i.e. the early onset of illness or disease much quicker. Owners can assess ‘normal’ by measuring vital signs such as temperature, pulse and respiration rates and establishing a baseline recording for each of these signs can be very helpful.

Many horse owners have never taken their horse’s temperature, which is actually surprisingly straightforward to do, although do take care whilst doing this.

Another quick and easy way to check ‘normal’ for your horse is to keep an eye on the number and consistency of droppings that your horse produces. This is something that most owners would be automatically noting when mucking out each day, but over the holiday break it is easy to be in a hurry, or perhaps you have someone else looking after your horse. A reduction in faecal output is a cause for concern

 

The need for speed ….

Many horse owners will delay calling their vet out over the long weekend, hoping that the problem can wait until after the bank holiday. However seeking prompt veterinary assistance will result in a better prognosis for your horse, and is generally the most cost effective option. Cases of colic, eye conditions or wounds involving joints or tendons are just too serious to ‘wait and see’. If in doubt just call the practice and speak to the vet on call, they will be more than happy to chat to you on the phone.

 

If you would like to learn more about keeping your horse healthy and happy then why not consider joining our online Horse First Aid Course. The course has been developed together with vets, and includes access to videos, slides, over ten hours of audio content recorded with vet and a printed learning pack.

 

Email Nicola (nkcequine@gmail.com) for more details.

 

Visit the website for details of my courses at http://www.nkcequestrian.com

Nicola Kinnard-Comedie MSc, BHSAI Int. SM
07824326245

 

February has been a busy month weather wise, here in Wiltshire we were snowed in earlier in the month, and a few weeks later we’ve had some lovely warm sunny days. Now we are into March and Spring is around the corner. This is the ideal time to think think about laminitis, and assess your horse’s risk levels. There are plenty of actions you can take to help your horse, and I am going to outline these in this article.

If your horse suffers with laminitis you are probably on ‘lami- alert’ all year round, it can be a very difficult condition to manage. However so many owners think of laminitis as a disease that occurs just in the Springtime, and only affects a fat ‘Thelwell’ type pony. Sadly this is not the case. Laminitis is now thought to be the biggest cause of lameness, and an increasing number of horses are euthanized each year due to the unbearable pain of this condition.

 

So with this in mind here are five steps you can take to reduce your horse’s risk of suffering from laminitis.

1. Open your eyes to your horse’s true weight

Laminitis can affect horses of all ages, shapes and sizes but the overweight animal is at significantly greater risk of suffering from laminitis. Whilst a hairy cob or Shetland pony can’t be magically morphed into a lean Thoroughbred it is possible to have your horse at a healthy weight whatever their type.

So firstly it is essential to realistically assess your horse’s weight and body condition score. I say realistically because I hear so many owners give such an array of ‘excuses’ for their horse being overweight. Establishing your horse’s weight using a weighbridge is a very useful exercise, partly to help you create a weight loss plan but also to give you an accurate weight for medication and worming dosing. Assessing your horse’s body condition score, as well as establishing weight is the best way to determine if your horse is overweight, and if so to what extent.

Body condition scoring involves assessing the amount of fat coverage over specific bony landmarks and scoring this on a one to five, or one to nine scale. Just like humans horses and ponies lay down fat in different areas, so it is important to assess the whole horse. I use a nine point scale, and an overall score of 4 or 5 would be ideal. Again there is a need for owners to be realistic and objective when completing this assessment. We sometimes include this as part of a  practical element to our popular Horse First Aid Courses, and I generally hear remarks like ‘he looks well’ for horses scoring a 6 or 7, and an assessments can be skewed by the conformation of the horse or pony. Many owners would be familiar with feeling for their horse’s ribs, but again it is worth highlighting that light pressure should be used, not the owner virtually pushing the horse over in their attempt to feel it’s ribs.

Did you allow seasonal weight loss to occur over the winter? I have written numerous posts and articles over the winter about the benefits of seasonal weight loss, but I still think owners are reluctant to allow this to happen, and don’t to use this to their advantage. It’s not too late to help your horse lose weight naturally by reducing the number of rugs used, leaving stable windows open and choosing lower calorie feed options.

 

2. The right forage ingested at the right rate

The aim of feeding an overweight horse, or one prone to laminitis is to provide a reduced calorifc intake, but still with plenty to eat so that digestive function is not compromised, and natural grazing behaviours can be mimicked. Good options for these horses and ponies are soaked hay, or hay that has been steamed and then soaked. If soaking hay isn’t possible then it is sensible to have your hay analyzed so you know exactly what you are feeding your horse.

To make a comparison with a human needing to lose weight a reduced calorie diet high in fibre, fruit and vegetables results in successful sustainable weight loss. It’s not dissimilar for your horse.

It is well documented that once a horse is overweight metabolic changes can occur, and these horses may also be insulin resistant.  This means that will also be resistant to another hormone called leptin. Leptin is a useful hormone which tells the brain that the horse has had enough to eat. The overweight horse effectively doesn’t have this ‘off- switch’ so it will continue to eat. Slowing down their rate of ingestion is probably one of the easiest steps you can take to help your horse maintain or reach the correct weight. Trickle Net products are an ideal way to slow your horse down, and many owners have noted how much slower their horse is eating, and that their hay is lasting longer. Trickle Nets will help to reduce weight, and maintain a healthy weight. 

 

3. Limiting the grass

At this time of year the grass is already starting to grow, particularly given the lovely warm days we have experienced recently. Unlike hay it can be difficult to assess how many calories your horse is receiving from the grass, and  it is estimated that ponies who are only turned out for a few hours a day can ingested the same amount of grass as those turned out for a whole day.

Providing your horse with less grass, but still giving your horse adequate turn out time is a real challenge. I saw a great set up at a yard last week where three ponies, who have previously suffered with laminitis, had an enriched ‘low grass’ turnout area, and looked very well and happy. They had access to a hard standing covered area with soaked hay, they had some safe ‘scrub-area’ with very poor patchy grass, and access to a little arena as well which they were clearly enjoying for rolling. This was a so much better than stabling these ponies, or giving them a ‘starvation paddock’. They had a lot of space to move around, they had to search out the hay and were able to satisfy their natural behaviours.

Whilst this might be not possible to do at every livery yard a grazing muzzle is a useful way to limit grass intake, without compromising on turnout time. I find that owners are very reluctant to use a muzzle, but in my experience horses and ponies do get used to these very quickly. I suggest to owners that they start off with several different muzzles to find which one suits there horse or pony best, and swapping between different designs will help prevent rubs over the first few days.

Another option which is becoming increasingly more popular is the use of a ‘track’ grazing system, where the centre of a field is fenced off leaving the horses a large walkway round the outside. Hay can be provided if required but this limits grass intake, and encourages more movement which is ideal.

 

4. Establishing an underlying cause

Around 90% of laminitis cases actually have an underlying hormonal cause, and grazing is a trigger for laminitis to occur. Working with your vet to establish the cause, and then working out a sensible treatment plan will help keep laminitis at bay.

The two conditions linked to laminitis are Cushings Disease, correctly termed Pituitary Pars Intermedius Disfunction (PPID), and Equine Metabolic Syndrome. PPID is a hormonal disease caused by changes in the pituitary gland in the brain, it is often a consequence of aging, although it can affect younger horses, and depending on your horse’s age it may be a sensible step to get your horse tested for this disease. It can often be well controlled with medication, and treating this condition will lessen the symptoms of the disease as well as reduce their risk of suffering with laminitis. EMS is likened to a ‘pre-diabetic condition’ in humans and these animals are typically overweight, with abnormal fat distribution and may be insulin resistant putting them at increased risk of laminitis. Working together with your vet to help your horse become a healthy weight will help you manage this condition.

 

5. Know the early signs

If you asked a room full of horse owners to name the signs of laminitis most would describe the classic ‘laminitis stance’, with the horse or pony rocked back on its heels. Research has highlighted many sub-clinical signs of laminitis, which if noted in time allow for treatment and management changes before the condition worsens.

Horses may change their behaviour in the stable, banking up bedding under their hooves to take pressure of the front of the hoof. The appearance of hoof rings on the outside of the hoof, is likely to indicate changes in the lamellar cells, and this may allow a window of time for treatment before the condition develops and becomes increasingly more painful

The horses digital pulse can often give you a good indication that something is happening within the foot, so it’s a great idea to get familiar with what the ‘normal’ pulse feels like with your horse. When the pulse feels stronger, more ‘bounding’ this can be a warning sign.

Your horses gait may change in the early stages of laminitis. It’s common for horse owners to report their horses as moving with shorter steps, slightly ‘pottery.’ If caught and treated correctly at this stage, recovery can be much swifter and more simple. Don’t ignore any changes in gait. Always seek advice if you suspect something is not quite right.

One study noted that the ‘Horse Grimace Scale’, a method of facial pain recognition scoring was a more accurate way to note pain associated with laminitis, and that these facial expressions were more common in laminitic horses and ponies than the classic laminitis stance. There are certainly many signs to look out for before the horse is lame with hot painful hooves.       

    Horse Grimace scale research

 

I hope that you have found this article helpful, and this you feel empowered to take some positive steps in the fight against laminitis. Remember this condition can affect horses and ponies of all ages and sizes, but that there is lots that owners can do to prevent this happening.

 

If you’d like to learn more about laminitis, and how to manage this condition why don’t you take part in the first ‘National Laminitis Awareness Day’ which I am running on 10th July 2019. You can take part in webinars, Q+A sessions with our vets and there will be lots of free fact sheets to download. You’ll even be able to get a discount code to use on your next purchase at Trickle Net, it’s going to be an action packed day.

You can register for more details at the link below

http://eepurl.com/giIXx5

 

Visit the website for details of my courses at http://www.nkcequestrian.com

Nicola Kinnard-Comedie MSc, BHSAI Int. SM
07824326245

So it’s 2019, and January is typically a time that us humans go on a bit of a health kick. I don’t know about you but I’m certainly trying to add in some more exercise and steering myself towards more fruit and vegetables.

But what about your horse?

Why not make 2019 the year to give your horse a health kick…..

Here are some simple steps you can follow to help your horse be healthier and happier in 2019.

 

  1. Is your horse the correct weight?

Horses carrying excess weight are prone to a variety of health problems (just like humans), including an increased risk of laminitis, equine metabolic syndrome, joint disease and reduced performance.

Knowing how much your horse weighs is very helpful, as this will ensure that you are providing the correct dosage of wormer and that you aren’t overloading a lorry or trailer when travelling your horse. In conjunction with body condition scoring your horse this will help you establish if your horse is overweight or not.

How to weigh your horse

You can use a weight tape, but this is generally quite inaccurate method as the calculations that weightapes are based on are taken from a 500kg Thoroughbred type of horse. It is a convenient, and low cost method and it is a useful way to monitor your horse’s weight on an ongoing basis, and it is certainly better than nothing.

The most accurate method is to use a weighbridge, which is basically a giant set of bathroom scales for your horse. Most veterinary practices have these at the clinic, or you can arrange for a set to be brought to your yard either via a feed company or some independent nutritionists have these as well.

 

Body Conditioning Scoring

Body Condition Scoring is simply assessing the amount of fat covering in specific bony landmarks on the horse. You work your way along the horse assessing the crest, the side of the neck, behind the shoulder, the ribs, the rump and above the tail and give each site a score out of 9, with an ideal score being 5.

If your horse is consistently scoring 6 or 7, or even 8 in some of these areas then it becomes very clear that your horse needs to lose some weight. Just like humans horses will lay down fat in different areas, and as an owner it is easy to be fooled into thinking that your horse isn’t overweight because you can feel it’s ribs. In some horses the rib area might score a 5 but the other areas might be a 7. This just means that the horse is still overweight, but that they are carrying this excess weight in different areas.

Be honest when body condition scoring your horse, can you really feel the the underlying structures easily or are you applying lots of pressure so that you can?

Once you have assessed the weight and condition for your horse you can see if your horse needs to lose weight, or simply maintain its current weight. If your horse needs to lose weight winter is actually an ideal time to do this. Remember seasonal weight loss is perfectly normal, and in ‘good doer’ types it should be encouraged. Try using less rugs, or no rugs and soaking hay as a great way to get your horse’s weight under control before the calorific Spring grass arrives.

  1. Use it or lose it- does your horse get enough exercise?

Horses are designed to be moving around and ‘trickle feeding’ for around 18 hours a day. Modern management means that they are often kept in small stables for anything from 8- 24 hours a day, and if stabled like this they can only eat what and when they are given.

Keeping your horse moving is so important for their physical health, and their mental wellbeing. Allowing sufficient exercise and turnout time will keep healthy movement of the guts, essential to help prevent winter colic, will reduce stiffness and will also keep your horse more ‘rideable’. Hopping onto a fresh horse who hasn’t left the stable for a few days on a frosty morning can mean that you are in for a bumpy ride!

The Animal Welfare Act of 2006 outlines Five Freedoms which all animals must be offered under British Law. These are:

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst
  2. Freedom from discomfort
  3. Freedom from pain, injury and disease
  4. Freedom to express normal behaviour
  5. Freedom from fear and distress

Horses who don’t receive sufficient turnout are, in my opinion not able to express normal behaviour such as grazing, grooming with other horses and physical play behaviours such as bucking and rearing which we all see our horses do when they are out in the field. Likewise horses who don’t have the opportunity to move around enough, whether that is through exercise or turnout may not be free from pain because they might becoming stiff and uncomfortable when stabled.

During the winter months it can be very difficult to turn your horse out as much you might like to. Livery yard rules might mean that the horses are stabled more, your horse might suffer from mud fever, or very bad weather could all reduce turnout time.

So what can you do to keep your horse moving?

  • Turnout in a school or arena if it isn’t possible to turn your horse out in the field
  • Stable in a larger space such a ‘pen’ in a barn
  • Pole work – simply walking over some ground poles in the arena, or riding over some challenging pole patterns this is a great way to encourage straightness and inject some fun into your schooling. Pole work can be just as useful completed in hand, and working your horse in-hand can be a great time saver.
  • Make your hacking count- working up hills, performing simple lateral movements (when safe to do so) will add extra training to your hacking programs.
  • In-hand work – as well as working over poles in hand lunging and long reining are very useful ways to keep your horse active and mentally engaged.
  • Use of a horse walker can also provide a helpful ‘leg-stretch’ for your horse if turnout is limited.

 

  1. Have they got a balanced diet?

Deciding what to feed your horse can be really challenging. There are so many products on the market, friends, yard staff and trainers will all have an opinion, and there is a lot of conflicting advice online.

Two key points you might like to consider are;

Does your horse receive all the nutrients he/she requires?

Feeding an overweight horse is difficult as you only want to give a very small amount of feed to limit the calorific intake, but this can mean that the horse is not receiving all the protein and vitamin and minerals it requires.  

Do you feed the recommended amount of the feed? If you look at the back of the bag of feed you will see how much your horse should receive per day to meet it’s recommended daily amount of specific nutrients such as protein and essential vitamins and minerals. This is probably more quantity of feed that most horses actually need however.

To provide a balanced diet, without excessive calories, you might want to consider feeding a ‘balancer’ which is designed to be fed in a small quantity, rather than just providing a handful of a regular mix or cube product for your horse.

  1. Have you got the right horse for the job?

As part of recommendations for having a healthier happier horse in 2019 I think it is also worth highlighting how some horses are just not suited to particular yards, training regimes, equestrian disciplines and even owners.

If you have a horse who seems very stressed, or doesn’t enjoy their work maybe it is worth considering what you can change. Moving yards can be a big upheaval but horses can have such personality changes in different environments. Some horses love the hustle and bustle of a busy yard, others are happier in a small quiet yard. Likewise if your horse is a happy hacker and your ideal is to school most days then perhaps you need to see what you can alter? Maybe schooling on hacks would provide the best of both worlds for you and your horse.

Over the years I have met many lovely horses who were not thriving due to the wrong job or an environment that didn’t suit them. Some horses love living out, many enjoy the comfort of their stable. Yes of course you can train and condition a horse to accept a particular environment or work pattern, but ultimately knowing what suits your horse is key to having a happy horse

 

Wishing you every success and happiness with your horse in 2019. You can learn more about keeping your horse healthy and happy at one of our Horse First Aid Courses just sign up at the link below for more details of a course near you

http://eepurl.com/dxH6b9

Nicola

http://www.nkcequestrian.com

Nicola Kinnard-Comedie MSc, BHSAI Int. SM
07824326245

Follow NKC Equestrian Training on Facebook

So as I write this there’s only a few days to go until Christmas, and excitement in our house is pretty high. Most of the presents are organised, and many of you will be thinking about getting a gift for your horse. Christmas is a great excuse to over indulge and splash out, but what does your horse actually need over the festive period?

  1. Less rugs not more

Hands up if a new rug is on your Christmas wish list, or perhaps it will be a ‘self gift’ dressed up a present for your horse? Rugs are great, they keep your horse clean and dry perfect when you want to fit in a quick winter ride. There is literally a rug for every occasion, and picking up any horsey magazine you are bombarded with choice. Keeping your horse warm and cozy with several rugs in the winter is sensible for an older horse, a horse that is clipped and in regular work, or any horse who doesn’t hold condition so easily.

However many equines simply don’t need a rug, never mind several duvets layers, and for a horse who is overweight providing less rugs can be the easiest way to promote some weight loss. Native and cob type horses are after all designed to exist on limited calories and harsh weather conditions during the winter, without the luxury of stables, feed and rugs. Horses are well documented to be able to tolerate changes in temperature well, and a healthy horse can cope to at least minus ten degrees without a rug.

Seasonal weight loss is perfectly normal, and should be encouraged in any overweight, or ‘good doer’ horses. Losing weight during the winter months is Nature’s way of re-programming the body after the horse gains weight during the Spring and Summer months. However as horse owners we expect our horses to look exactly the same all year round, and without seasonal weight loss over the Winter, horses are getting fatter year on year.

So why not think about how much your horse actually needs that thick rug or rugs, could your horse benefit from less rugs, or perhaps even no rug at all? Allowing your horse to get slimmer over the festive period will really help your horse to be healthier in 2019.

  1. Exercise

Christmas is a hectic time, and it’s a whirlwind of of parties, drinks and entertaining. It can be hard to fit in riding during the winter months, and the darkness wind and rain don’t always inspire you to tack up your horse. Keeping your horse exercised over the festive period is so important, particularly when horses are often stabled more.

Many yards will keep horses stabled during Christmas, and this can be a sudden change if your horse is normally turned out for most of the day. Veterinary practices often report a rise in colic cases in colder weather, and over Christmas and one reason for this is lack of movement.

Try and keep your horse exercised as much as possible over the holiday period, whether that is turn out, ridden work, long reining or other work in hand.

Not only will this be beneficial to your horse’s digestive system, encouraging regular gut movements but you will also be helping to prevent your horse gain weight over the festive weeks.

 

 

  1. The right amount of forage

As noted horses are often stabled more over Christmas, and this might be a decision that you can’t control. If you have a house full of guests it can be harder to get to the yard as often (although needing to feed your horse is a great way to escape the relations!). As a consequence horses are either given too much hay or haylage, or simply run out leaving them with nothing to eat for hours.

So what can you do?

Firstly it’s essential to work out how much hay your horse actually needs, rather than just throwing a few slices over the door.

Your horse should be receiving 1.5%-2.5% of its body weight in hay, and weighing out the hay out in advance will certainly make stable duties on Christmas Day easier.

Secondly look for ways that you can make your horse’s hay allowance last longer. Can you team up with a yard friend so one of you gives the horse’s hay at 3pm say and the other at 7pm? Using a robust small holed hay net, such as the Trickle Net is another great way to prevent your horse running out of hay.

  1. Less of the extras

Over Christmas us humans do tend to over-do the eating, there’s mince pies, cocktails, biscuit and chocolate selection boxes everywhere, not to mention the turkey plus all the trimmings. Quite why we do this every year, swiftly followed by a January health kick, I’m not totally sure, but there’s no need for our horses to match our significant increase in calories.

The horse world is awash with treats, supplements and ‘extras’ that you can feed your horse, but do they really need these? It’s natural to want to buy your horse a gift, most owners would see their horse as one of the family, but why not make this ‘gift’ a training plan, or a lesson rather than sugar laden treats.

I hope this post gives you some ideas about what your horse does and doesn’t need over the festive period. You can learn more about keeping your horse healthy over Christmas by downloading my free Winter Horsey Survival Guide at the link below:

https://mailchi.mp/a2a18580ca57/winter-horse-care

 

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year

Nicola

 

Nicola Kinnard-Comedie MSc, BHSAI Int. SM
07824326245

Follow NKC Equestrian Training on Facebook

 

You’ve heard it before, or perhaps you even do it. Feeding ad lib hay is often thought to be the most natural way to feed forage. Well that depends entirely on the horse you’re feeding. Feeding ad lib hay can be a big mistake for some horses and ponies. Especially our Native breeds.

Our Guest blogger Nicola Kinnard-Comedie from NKC Equestrian Training talks about when ad lib works well, and how and why it often doesn’t.

When is ad lib hay just too much?

Many horse owners will be aware that it’s essential to provide your horse with sufficient forage (hay or haylage), but how much do they actually need? It is popular with some owners to feed ‘ad-lib’ hay, but what does this mean and is this the best option for your horse?

 

Why would I want to give my horse ad-lib hay?

We know that the horse is a ‘trickle feeder’ designed to be eating for around 18 hours in a 24 hour period. The horse needs to chew to produce saliva and this has a healthy effect on the digestive system, buffering the naturally acid areas of the stomach where gastric ulcers can occur. Life is quite different for the domesticated horse which may be turned out in a small paddock and stabled for 12-18 hours a day. It is well documented that feeding restricted amounts of hay can raise cortisol levels, increase incidences of gastric ulcers and induce stress related behaviour such as crib biting.

In an attempt to replicate more natural feeding behaviour lots of owners want to give their horse a large quantity of hay, so that it doesn’t run out and the horse can be constantly eating. This sounds ideal, and many argue that the horse will only eat as much as it needs so that it will maintain a healthy weight. But is this true for all horses?

I have a good-doer… can he have ad-lib hay?

This is where feeding ad-lib hay becomes problematic, and for a horse that is overweight allowing free access to hay is not recommended.

It is important to note that each horse will have individual requirements for how many calories they need in a day, just like people. Whilst forage should make up the majority of any horse’s diet, providing an all day ‘hay buffet’ is just not suitable for a good doer or an overweight horse or pony. This includes your native types who are more inclined to hold on to extra weight, and are not designed to metabolise the amount of calories provided by ad lib hay.

There are many reason ad lib may not work for your horse, but we will look at two big ones.

Firstly hay significantly differs in nutritional value and unless you have each batch of hay analysed you don’t really know how much sugar, starch and calories you might be providing. Hay made earlier in the season will be more calorific, hay made from predominantly ryegrass will contain a lot more sugar than hay made from a meadow grass mix. It’s worth remembering that hay is a farmed crop. It is fertilised and tended to provide maximum nutrition. This is a long way from the natural forage (gorse, bark, moss, different grasses, reeds weeds and scrub) that our native breeds thrive on in their natural environment.

Secondly your horse may not be able to regulate thier intake as well as owners assume. Horses are meant to have ‘nutritional wisdom’, selecting the nutrients and quantities that they need, but there isn’t actually much empirical evidence to support this idea. Horses which are overweight, or good-doers, may also be insulin resistant, which means that will also be resistant to another hormone called Leptin. Leptin is a useful hormone which tells the brain that the horse has had enough to eat. The overweight horse effectively doesn’t have this ‘off- switch’ so it will continue to eat….and eat…and eat!

 

Which horses can have ad-lib hay?

For horses that are the correct body weight and in regular exercise, or have increased nutritional requirements providing free access to hay can work well. For example horses living out may have access to a large round bale of hay in the winter months, and provided they aren’t overweight they will regulate their intake reasonably well. For those living out they will also be moving around more, inevitably spend time away from the hay and will have increased energy requirements from the cold.

Horses which are stabled can either guzzle their hay too quickly, or waste it turning it into a bed if providing with excess. The best way to provide continual access to forage for a stabled horse if to divide the hay up into smaller quantities, (feeding some at 4pm and more at 8pm), and to use a system designed to slow the horse down, such as a Trickle Net. This allows the benefit of much longer time to access forage but prevents the horse eating it too quickly.

How much hay does my horse need?

Your horse needs 1.5%-2.5% of their ideal body weight as food intake. Depending on your horse, it’s health status and your pasture grazing alone may provide sufficient intake for the Spring and Summer months.

For the rest of the year, and for horses who have restricted access to grass, you will need to provide this as hay.

If your horse is overweight, it is recommended to feed 1.5% of his/her body weight. So for a 650kg horse, that’s 9.75kg per day. Many owners have no idea how much hay they actually feed- do you weigh hay out?

 

 

I hope you have found this blog useful in helping you decide how much hay your horse should receive. Please remember to consider how much hay your horse actually needs, the type of hay you are feeding, and don’t forget ways to provide more access to forage without allowing your horse to overeat and become obese.

Nicola
Nicola Kinnard-Comedie MSc, BHSAI Int. SM
07824326245
NKC Equestrian Training run Horse First Aid and Horse Anatomy courses across the UK together with qualified vets
Visit http://nkcequestrian.com for more information.

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Our guest blogger Nicola Kinnard-Comedie, from NKC Equestrian Training talks about those old rules we seem to have forgotten. Why were they important, and do they still apply to modern horse care?

With epidemic levels of equine obesity, laminitis and gut disorders, is it time we reflected on how we used to keep horses when these problems were rare?

Are the golden rules of feeding still relevant?

So if like me you were a pony mad child in the 80’s you would certainly have known these rules for feeding your pony off by heart. Whether you were in the Pony Club, or just devoured Horse and Pony magazine this information was everywhere.  Fast forward thirty odd years and horse’s don’t seem to be fed in this way anymore, many owners aren’t aware of these rules- so are they still useful? Is this information still correct and relevant for 2018?

So what were the golden rules of feeding?

 

  • Feed little and often  

So there are many reasons that this is still a very good feeding guideline:

The horse is a trickle feeder, it is designed to graze and roam eating for 16-18 hours a day. We keep horses in a very different environment but their digestive system remains the same. The horse needs to chew to produce saliva, and it this regular saliva production protects the stomach from acid splash back. Saliva has a buffering effect which raises the pH of this acidic part of the digestive system.

The horse has a relatively small stomach (around the size of a beach ball), and it has a capacity of 6-8 litres. It is very easy to overload the stomach, and this can have negative consequences for latter parts of the digestive system. If your horse does require concentrate feed (which the vast majority of leisure horses don’t) then it is imperative that this is split into several small meals. One scoop of cubes can weigh up to 2kg, do you weigh out food? How much do you feed at a time?

Splitting feed into several meals is also helpful for preventing boredom and potentially vices for a horse that is stabled more.

 

  • Feed according to workload, age, bodyweight, the rider, and time of year.

This is still very true, but probably the least adhered nowadays which is certainly contributing to the rise of equine obesity.

Workload

The modern leisure horse does a lot less work than a it’s counterpart did twenty or thirty years ago. More and more people have transport so hacking to shows or lessons (as I did) is relatively unheard of. Riders probably go on shorter hacks due to busier roads, less bridleway access and often less time.

A horse’s workload was typically classified as ‘light’ (schooling and hacking most days), ‘medium work’ (competing in dressage, showjumping or lower level eventing regularly) or ‘hard work’ (higher level eventing, regular hunting or endurance). If you look on many bags of horse feed they will labelled as appropriate for low or medium (or high) energy requirements but I think the many owners overestimate the work level of their horse.

Age

It is well documented that horses are not only living longer, but that they are aging better. A  horse in it’s twenties can still be enjoying an active life with correct management. The age of your horse will also determine the amount of energy that it requires to remain healthy, with older and growing youngstock having greater nutritional requirements.

Bodyweight

The horse’s feed ration should be calculated as a percentage of its body weight, and horses should be fed between 1.5-2.5% of their weight. This is still correct, however there are several areas where owners don’t quite get this right

 

Do you know how much your horse actually weighs?

Is your horse overweight?

Are you feeding for the current weight or the weight your horse needs to be?

It is recommended to feed for the target weight your horse needs to be (not it’s current weight) if it’s overweight.

 

The Rider

It might sound a bit strange to choose feed for a horse based on the rider but actually this is a very good point.

As a rider or owner it is a minefield popping into your local tackshop or feed store for a bag of food for your horse. There is so much choice, bright coloured bags and lots of clever promises across the products. There might also be others at your yard suggesting that you feed your horse this or that, and how it’s worked wonders for their dressage horse, eventer or trec superstar.

It is essential to select a food that provides appropriate energy levels and suitable energy sources for the work that your horse is doing, otherwise your horse will gain weight. Selecting the wrong energy sources for your horse can also result in a rather lively four legged partner, and rider’s level of skill, confidence and ability should be considered as well as what the horse really needs.

Time of year

Horses in the wild experience seasonal weight loss and gain in accordance with the availability of food and climatic conditions. This actually keeps them healthy, reports of laminitis are very rare among ‘managed’ Native ponies living on moors or forests. Nowadays owners go to great length to avoid ANY weight loss during the winter, and often this is a mistake. If you own a ‘good doer’ it can be tough keeping them slim during the Spring and Summer months, but letting them lose some weight in the colder months will be very beneficial for your horse. The horse will start the following Spring the correct weight, not with an 100kg excess, and if you encourage this to happen each year it will certainly keep your horse healthier.

  1. Feed good quality food

This feeding rule certainly still applies, to both hay and concentrate feedstuffs.

 

  1. Feed plenty of roughage

Hay or haylage (if your horse does need actually need the latter) should make up the vast majority of your horse’s feed ration. However there are a few points to consider…

 

How much hay does your horse actually need? Base this on 1.5-2.5% of your horse’s body weight, or target body weight.

 

How much hay do you actually give your horse? Quite often owners will say 3 slices, a big net, or ad-lib. But actually how much is this? You may well be widely over feeding your horse.

 

  1. Don’t make any sudden changes to your horse’s diet

I think that this feeding rule is probably quite well known by owners but not actually stuck to. The reason that this rule is still relevant is that the microflora in the hindgut are specific to the food that your horse is used to eating. A sudden change of diet means no time for these ‘good bacteria’ to adjust and your horse won’t be able to digest its food effectively

Do any of these examples sound familiar?

You go to buy feed (you’ve literally run out) and they don’t have your usual product. So you just select something else and hope for the best.

It’s Autumn time and your horse has been living out all summer long. Suddenly the clocks are about to change and your horse is stabled for 12 hours a day with no acclimatation period.  This is a big change from grass and lots of movement while turned out to hay (and possibly feed).

You run out of hay and think you’ll try haylage, and just open the new bale with no changeover time for your horse.

The sensible way to change your horse’s diet is over a 10-14 day period, this will avoid harming the microflora.

 

  1. Use clean buckets/ bowls

This is still very true, and also ensuring that feed bins are regularly cleaned out is also important.

 

  1. Don’t feed for an hour before exercise

It is still advisable not to give your horse a concentrate meal just before riding, but there are benefits to allowing your horse to eat some hay or fibre before light work.

 

  1. Feed at regular times

Horses are still very much creatures of routine and feeding at the same times helps reduce stress, and ensure gut mobility.

  1. Feed succulents every day

This would be a rule that the modern leisure horse doesn’t need. Succulents such as apple and carrots are high in sugar, and with more and more obese and laminitic horses and ponies reducing sugar intake is of paramount important.

 

  1. Water before feeding

This final golden rule of feeding also doesn’t apply to the modern horse, as horses do have access to clean fresh water at all times, and have no need to drinking too much after a feed. This rather old fashioned rule goes back to when horses were given access to water at certain times of day.

 

I hope that you have found this feeding rules useful, and that they give some some ideas to follow for feeding your own horse.

 

Nicola

 

Nicola Kinnard-Comedie MSc, BHSAI Int. SM owns and runs NKC Equestrian Training, providing training for horse owners together with qualified vets. Nicola has over 15 years experience in the equestrian world, teaching and riding for many owners and managing several large riding centres both in the UK and in Greece. Nicola runs Horse First Aid Courses and Horse Anatomy courses across the UK, with online courses in Horse First Aid, Horse Nutrition and Pasture management launching in 2019.

For a list of course dates and more information please see http://nkcequestrian.com/

 

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