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:


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



Nicola Kinnard-Comedie MSc, BHSAI Int. SM

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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 Kinnard-Comedie MSc, BHSAI Int. SM
NKC Equestrian Training run Horse First Aid and Horse Anatomy courses across the UK together with qualified vets
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