The Vet’s Advice for Horse Weight Loss in the Winter

Evolution has empowered horses to lose weight in the winter months while most other animals gain weight when the temperature drops.   Horses have a long history of losing weight in the winter as food has been hard to come by in these frigid months.  These animals have packed on the pounds in the spring and summer in preparation for the winter.  Modern day management prevents horses from losing the weight they used to shed when the seasons change.

Today’s horses are well-fed throughout the entirety of the winter. Unfortunately, plenty of horses pack on the pounds in the summer and ultimately prove that much more susceptible to an array of health problems.  “Horse owners are encouraged to take advantage of their horses’ natural need to burn calories in order to stay warm, maintain a healthy weight and prove ready for the spring” says owner Richard Schibell.  Let’s take a look at some important advice that will help you keep the weight off your horse amidst the cold winter.

Exercise is Essential for Wintertime Health

Though it is a challenge to exercise a horse in the winter, you must seize every opportunity to give your horse some cardiovascular activity even when it is brutally cold outside.  Regular exercise gives the horse a chance to expend energy, burn calories and shed weight.  Even if you simply take your horse outside for a brisk walk, it will get the heart going and help keep the animal healthy throughout the winter.  Additional wintertime horse exercises include work over poles, horse-walker exercises and lunges.  Some horse owners build track systems in the field to form a track that makes it that much easier for the animal to exercise.

Minimize Grazing

Do not let the horse access the pasture whenever desired.  Minimizing access to this area should prove easier in the winter.  Grass is loaded with sugar.  If your horse consumes too much grass in a small period of time, problems will arise.  Pasture should be ruled out entirely if the horse in question is excessively heavy or inclined to laminitis.

Feed Your Horse Small Portions at a High Frequency

Too many horses are provided with unlimited forage throughout the winter.  The problem with this approach is it can lead to the horse consuming much more than it needs.  Mind both the quantity and quality of the forage.  When in doubt, opt for small meals at frequent intervals as opposed to excessive periods of fasting.  If your horse goes without food for an excessive period of time, you run the risk of ulcers forming.  Do not let your horse go more than a single night without eating.

Too Much Rugging can be Problematic

Ample heat is created through the fermentation of nutrition within the hindgut that ultimately keeps the horse nice and toasty.  Add in the fact that horses grow rugs as winter coats and there really is not a need to provide additional rugging.  Stabled horses should be fine without any additional rugging.  When in doubt, opt for a turnout sheet.  You can always add rugging if necessary.

Minimize the Horse’s Sugar Intake

The majority of your horse’s wintertime diet should consist of forage that is low in sugar.  Your horse will not require pelleted feeds or extra concentrate aside from a balancer.  Simply soak your horse’s hay in water for half the day.  You should also consider providing hay for analysis provided by numerous feed companies.  About one-third of hay rations can be eliminated in favor of clean straw to minimize caloric intake.

Clipping Might Help

A horse that is excessively overweight or a horse that doesn’t lose much weight following a rug removal might benefit from clipping.  A pudgy unclipped horse is likely donning much more weight than it should.  Clipping eliminates a meaningful portion of the insulation, making it that much easier for the horse to enhance energy loss.

Winter Grass Growth has the Potential to be a Problem

Grass has the potential to grow year-round.  Your horse might eat a considerable amount of grass even on a cold winter day.  Grass is rife with sugar, especially following cold nights and sunny days.  Be mindful of your horse’s grass and sugar intake to prevent weight gain.

Feed Your Horse Carefully

If your horse is overweight and does not have access to a pasture, do not feed any more than two percent of the animal’s body weight in hey each day.  It is best to divide the horse’s feed into even portions across multiple small meals for what is referred to as “trickle feeding” or grazing.  Continue to feed your horse in measured increments with the aim of shedding about half a percent of body weight each week.  It will also help to add a mineral and vitamin balancer if feeding a hay diet that is low in calories and protein.

Do not get Into the Habit of Providing Treats

Providing a steady stream of treats is a major mistake unless the offerings are uber-healthy.  Even a seemingly healthy treat such as an apple or carrot can backfire as these fruits are loaded with natural sugar.  Opt for a fiber-based treat with minimal sugar to keep your horse’s weight down.

Be Detail-oriented

The best horse owners are willing to go the extra mile by taking notes.  Measure your horse’s body fat with regularity.  If your horse continues to gain weight, do not hesitate to consult with the vet for assistance. If you found this article helpful be sure to follow Richard Schibell online for more helpful tips!