FOR some horse owners, it can be easy to fall into the illusion that our horses are feeling the colder temperatures and reaching for a heavier rug is often seen as a solution.
How do we manage the delicate balance between providing enough energy for our horse, without the extra calories?
We now know that over-rugging is an issue that can affect natural weight fluctuation. Keeping horses heavily rugged means less energy is lost and fat deposits can develop, leading to weight gain and predisposing them to metabolic diseases, such as laminitis or Insulin Resistance.
In the UK, vets have warned horse owners just how serious the consequences are when over-rugging their horse. Vets have also stated an important fact: “Over-rugging is ‘a man-made welfare problem’”. Autumn and Spring seasons are when horses tend to be over-rugged, as temperatures fluctuate the most. During these periods, it is cold in the early morning and late evening, but much warmer in the middle of the day, so some horses can endure heat stroke. However, in winter it’s cold enough throughout the day for horses to not become overheated.
What is natural?
Dr David Marlin stated: “Horses are highly adaptable and can live in multiple different climates with temperatures ranging from -40°C to 60°C.”
Horses, especially native breeds, should naturally gain weight during the summer and lose weight in the winter. By over-rugging, horses are unable to reset their hormone levels and use thermo-regulation to control body temperature. Coming out of winter, the horse’s ribs should be just slightly visible. If they do not undergo this natural weight loss, their hormones remain high.
Additional care (stabling, rugging, extra meals) is required for:
– Underweight horses
– Geriatric horses or young foals
– Horses in hard workload/ competing
– Horses suffering from illness/disorder
– Clipped horses or Thoroughbred horses who have a light coat and are unable to grow a thick coat to protect themselves from bad weather conditions
– Horses with poor dentition
– Ideally, try not to rug your horse until late Autumn to allow natural seasonal variation of their coat to develop. Rugs should only be considered when temperatures are dropping to below 10°C.
– Begin with lighter rugs and move towards thicker rugs as the season gets colder.
– Try to record the horse’s body condition score throughout the year or weigh your horse if possible, this will give you guidance.
– Where there is exposure to sunlight and it is warm during the day, remove the rug to allow exposure of natural Vitamin D.
– Native breeds should manage better under harsh conditions, as their coat will grow thick enough to protect them. Rugging native bred horses will disturb their natural insulating properties as the hair will be compressed.
Feeding During Winter
– Feeding an overweight horse can be difficult. Providing a minimum of 1.5 -2% of body weight in forage per day along with a supplementation of essential proteins, vitamins and minerals via a balancer, such as Stamm 30, can help to reduce calorie intake whilst providing a balanced diet.
– Heat is a natural by-product of hindgut fermentation. Providing extra fibre via forage or a high fibre feed, such as Bluegrass Turmash generates natural heat production. During the colder temperatures, giving an extra scoop of Turmash or handful of hay will help to keep you horse warmer.
– Additional calories may be necessary if workload is increased or for horses that struggle to maintain weight. Bluegrass Flax Plus contains both Equi-Jewel and Linseed oil to promote weight gain, topline and support overall health and is rich in Omega 3,6 and 9 fatty acids.