Robert Fowler from Smart Horse Nutrition – a new feed company locally based in Hay on Wye in Herefordshire – is here to give us some insights into how to manage this change and into the nutritional needs of your horse this summer.
During the winter months your horse faces challenges from cold weather, the lack of nutrients available from grazing and a continued work load. As a result, your horse will tend to use more energy to meet these demands in winter and it will take more energy just to maintain his weight and condition. Rugs, shelter, extra forage and high energy feeds are all ways to help manage your horse during winter and help him to maintain his optimum body weight.
Now we are in spring and approaching summer, many of these environmental factors disappear. The weather is warmer, the grass is growing and we tend to see our horse’s condition increasing. For sport horses, the few hours spent grazing will provide more nutrients and be less challenging than cold, wet weather and for those horses living out 24/7, life will suddenly become a whole lot easier.
Manage the change
Managing this change is vital to maintain a healthy horse. It is important to allow your horse to gradually adjust from eating hay or haylage as their main forage source, to eating grass. Don’t stop feeding hay or haylage, as spring grass is low in essential fibre and his digestive tract must be given time to adjust to the change. This transition should take several weeks rather than just days as the microflora in the horses’ hind gut will need to adapt to the change in diet.
This is also the time of year when horses and ponies are most at risk from metabolic disorders, such as laminitis or insulin resistance. Such animals should not be given free access to new spring grass and a management program should be worked out to allow these horses access to pasture, but without the risk of over indulgence. A bare paddock in the spring will still have a lot of grass shoots coming through and these can be the most dangerous to the metabolic-at-risk horse. Using a grazing muzzle can offer a solution to some horses and there are a number of paddock layouts that can encourage a horse to move and eat on the go and so replicate a more natural grazing pattern.
It is essential that an exercise program is worked out to help these horses burn calories, as weight gain is the greatest danger coming into summer. Ponies especially find spring and summer a very easy time. Most pony breeds have been developed to withstand harsh environments with little food and they are extremely good at converting any food into energy. Welsh, Shetland and Highland ponies, to name a few, have extremely efficient metabolisms, as do some horse breeds such as the Iberian breeds and Arabs. So when these breeds are offered nice spring grass and an easy life, it puts them at great risk of metabolic disorders.
However, it’s possible for us, as responsible horse owners, to manage this through both an exercise and feed regime. Cutting down on available calories is essential: feed low energy forage such as oat straw, and balance this with a good quality feed balancer. There are many feeds on the market for the ‘at risk’ horse, but you have to remember that what you are aiming for is a balanced, low energy diet and this can simply and cheaply be achieved by using oat straw chaff and a quality feed balancer. Exercise is an essential part of managing the challenges Spring brings, as it is not just the addition of grass to the horse’s diet that can lead to weight gain. An improvement in the weather also means the horse will not use as much energy to keep warm and so will then store this energy as fat. We then need to increase exercise to burn off these unused calories, but what could be nicer than making the most of the good weather than spending more time riding your horse?!
Part of the Smart Horse Nutrition range, Smart Balance is the ideal summer time feed for horses at grass, those at risk of laminits, or those that tend to pile on the pounds in summer.
Smart Balance is ideal for laminitics and horses that need to lose weight as it is low starch and sugar, molasses free and provides optimal levels of vitamins, minerals and micronutrients, which are so essential in keeping your horse healthy and to aid in repair and healing. Smart Balance contains high levels of vitamin E and selenium, antioxidants that combat free-radicals, optimum levels of biotin (which is scientifically proven to improve hoof quality) and generous levels of B vitamins for efficient energy metabolism. Smart Balance is also made without cereals or cereal by-products, is Soya free, and contains non GMO ingredients.
Smart Horse Nutrition is on mission to allow you to take control of your horse’s diet. By providing you with the 3 essential building blocks of a balanced diet – micro nutrients (Smart Balance), macro nutrients (a Smart Muesli) and fibre, Smart allows every horse’s diet to be tailored exactly to its individual needs, for the benefit of your horse’s health and your pocket.