Last week we discussed the ‘when, why and how’ of horse blankets (an oft popular equine accessory once Utah’s temperatures dip down below freezing).
In addition to blanketing, extra feed is another avenue that horse folks across the Wasatch front employ to help their horses maintain comfort and energy during our area’s colder months.
There are several options for adding a bit of forage or supplemental nutrition for your horses’ health and assistance in temperature regulation. Keep in mind that horses are designed to graze round-the-clock, so any efforts we can make to assist them with this natural inclination can help them not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally.
If it is at all feasible to provide your horses with constant access to feed, that is generally the very best idea. Using a feed pillow or small-hole hay net will help slow the feeding process. Many studies have shown that horses with 24/7 access to their feed will not over-eat, once they become accustomed to the idea that their hay will always be available. There are even full-bale nets available, making it especially easy to provide your horses with free-choice feed.
Feeding three times each day (early morning, noon and night) is the next best thing to free-choice. Our area’s best stables (Bella, near Dimple Dell, for example) offer the first feeding at 7 a.m, with a mid-day meal around 12 p.m. and dinner after 6:00 in the evening).
Many horse owners, if at work from early morning until early in the evening, cannot run home at lunch, so that mid-day meal is not a realistic option. If boarding at one of Salt Lake’s affordable stables, it’s likely that they do not have the man-power or time to make an additional feed run, and thus deliver feedings only twice a day (usually around 8:00 in the morning and then again after 5:00 p.m.)
If your horses’ regular feedings (hay, alfalfa) are limited to twice a day, you’ll want to supplement them, and here your choices are plentiful:
Soaked hay pellets (be sure they’re well-soaked and fully dissolved before feeding) are a nice addition to the equine diet. One of their great features is that they require a good amount of moisture and thus aid in keeping your horses well-hydrated. The soaked pellets can also mix well with additional vitamins or medications, when needed.
Whole oats or rolled oats are used by many horse owners during the colder months. Keep in mind that these can make some horses a bit friskier than usual, and certainly more alert. Oats are never recommended for horses who tend to be heavy, or those who may be prone to founder or laminitis. Keep your chubby ponies oat-free!
Pasture grazing, when the ground isn't covered in snow, is a GREAT way to let your horses get out and relax, have a snack and enjoy some free time out of their stall.
Hay cubes or dry pellets are not recommended due to the high risk of choke. If you must use these products, it’s a good idea to soak them first in a sufficient quantity of water.
Limit sugary treats such as carrots and apples; sugars can lead to unhealthy spikes in energy levels, disrupt potassium and insulin levels (particularly dangerous in horses that may be HYPP-afflicted) and can also contribute to unhealthy hoofs.
Mineral blocks, a tub of Equi-Lix, or (at the very least) a good salt source (Redmond Rocks are enjoyed by most horses) can help round out your equine partners’ nutritional balance.