Summer is here – apparently! Although the weather has not felt as warm and summery as some years, we still have more sunshine and lighter nights than the rest of the year. This causes changes to grass and consequently may see changes to feeding horses throughout summer. Here is some advice from the Equine Nutrition team at Bishop Burton College.
The first thing to consider is if the summer grass meets your horse’s nutritional requirements. Consider what you are feeding them and what work they are doing. Even if their work increases slightly in the summer, it does not always mean extra feed is needed. You may need to reduce hard feed or remove it altogether.
Hay or haylage may need to be provided in the field if the grass is of poor quality or for mares supporting a foal, horses in hard work or during poor weather conditions. Native ponies turned out all summer will not need extra forage.
Do they require supplements?
If your horse's ration now only consists of forage, you may need to add a supplement to ensure their vitamin and mineral requirements are met. This is because UK soil can be deficient in certain minerals such as selenium (supports the immune system), zinc (needed for bone development, healthy hooves and coats) and copper (needed for bone and cartilage development). Ideally, a forage analysis of the grass should be carried out to determine which, if any, minerals are lacking.
Supplements can compensate for vitamin and mineral deficiencies in the horse’s forage-only diet. As supplements do not add calories to the diet, they are suitable for overweight horses and those who do not need the extra calories. They can be added to a small amount of low-calorie or straw chaff, or a salt/mineral lick can be used (Be cautious of the sugar content of some licks due to the molasses in them). Alternatively, a balancer can be used, but they do have a calorie value. They will also give added protein to the diet.
Obesity - neglect is not only underweight horses
Good digestible energy, protein and improved nutritional quality of the grass can result in your horse gaining extra weight. Sometimes this is needed as horses may come out of winter needing to gain summer condition (Winter BCS 2.5/5 to Summer BCS 3.5/5). This is the horse's natural weight gain and weight loss cycle due to the changing seasons and nutritional value of vegetation; however, most horse owners mistakenly keep their horses at the same weight all year round. This means coming into the spring/summer, the horse does not need to put weight on, as they are already at their summer weight. When they gain weight because of spring grass or their ration has not been altered for summer, this can lead to obesity. Research shows that over 70% of some equine populations are obese and that obesity has become so common it is now seen as the norm. Obesity is a common risk factor for Equine Metabolic Syndrome, insulin dysregulation and laminitis. It can also lead to infertility, orthopaedic disease, hyperlipaemia, hyperthermia and poor performance.
Key Points To Consider
- Always feed work done, not work you are going to do – then you can see if they hold their weight, extra feed is not needed.
- Feed according to body weight, not workload.
- Use a weigh tape, body condition score and take photos. This will enable you to identify changes and take action.
- If the horse becomes overweight, restrict grazing and increase exercise.
Cuddeford, D., 2003. Equine Nutrition. Wiltshire: The Crowood Press Ltd..
Frape, D., 1998. Equine Nutrition and Feeding. 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell Science Ltd.
McDonald, P. , 2009. Section 13: Horse Nutrtition and Feeding. In: Animal Nutrition Handbook. London: Pearson Education Limited, pp. 332-359.
O'Beirne-Ranelagh, E., 2005. Managing grass for horses: The responsible owners guide. London: Cambridge Publishing Ltd.
Rendle, D., McGregor Argo, C., Bowen, M., Carslake, H., German, A., Harris, P., Knowles, E., Menzies-Gow, N., Morgan, R., 2018. Equine obesity: current perspectives. UK-Vet Equine, 2(5), pp. 1-19.