Hello Winter! The season we all dread as horse owners, cold, rain, ice and even snow!! Well lets hope Winter 2016/2017 is a mild one!
Over the last few weeks I have seen more and more horses on restricted Winter turnout, if you are lucky enough to have your horses living out then your main worry will be correct rugging and making sure they have enough forage/hay to eat during the day and night!
Many of my clients are now on restricted grazing of some description, every yard has different rules and it is important to find a yard that suits both you and your horse. Every horse owner has a different priority list of what they look for in terms of location/facilities/cost/turnout.
As we know horses tend to lose ‘topline’ and ‘condition’ over the winter, I often find that horses stabled for prolonged periods of time are the ones most affected. This has got me thinking what can you as an owner do to try and help keep your horse in the best shape over winter.
We all know correct feeding is an important factor, I had a lecture from independent Registered Equine Nutritionist Claire McLeod whilst I was studying at Hartpury. One thing that I personally took away from her talk was that a good quality feed balancer is key! This is the only way (bar having your hay tested) that we know the horse is getting all their key vitamins and minerals needed for their diet. This is something that I always pass on to my clients, if you are not feeding a balancer, or the recommended amount of feed for the horse then why are you feeding at all?
In humans it takes just two weeks of physical inactivity for those who are physically fit to lose a significant amount of their muscle strength new research indicates. In that relatively short period of time, young people lose about 30% of their muscle strength, leaving them as strong as someone decades older. Meanwhile, active older people who become sedentary for a couple weeks lose about 25% of their strength.
So think about the stabled horse… in the wild horses graze 16-18 hours a day and travel up to 100 miles a day during a 24hr period! Yes I know that our horses have been domesticated and are now far removed from their wild ancestors. Horses also naturally only stand still to sleep, and move to graze typically every 3-5 seconds.
So what can we do to try and recreate a more natural environment when stabled? We can make sure the horse has access to forage; being without food for even a few hours can lead to frustration, behavioural problems and even risk gastric ulcers!
- Try to feed a choice of different forages at ground level
- I’m not a great fan of haynets, but they can be useful when placed at different heights and locations around the stable to encourage the horse to move and add variety and interest.
- Place the water bucket away from the hay to encourage movement away from the haynet.
Stretches to maintain suppleness
- Carrot stretches are not over-rated, they also do not need to involve carrots!
- A little tip is to fill a small plastic mug with some nuts to keep your horse interested,
- Bring the horse round to their hip,
- Round to their hind fetlock and
- Down between their knees –
- Be careful not to allow the horse to lift a leg or bend at the knee to compensate, only work to the point that your horse can achieve comfortably.
- Remember if your horse is on restricted turnout they may benefit from a walk around the yard, or a hand graze for even 15 minutes a couple of times a day to allow them to stretch their legs out of their stable. If you are able to turn them out in the ménage take the opportunity whilst you muck out!
- Riding/lungeing regularly will also maintain fitness and maintain muscle bulk
Stable toys are a great idea..
- Treat balls
- Hanging a swede in the stable is easy to do
- Even try a toy box filled with horse safe toys – large dog toys are ideal
- Stable mirrors can be great for some horses
And lastly, ensure that your stable is big enough for your horse to lie down comfortably, horses generally do not sleep well unless they feel safe in a her environment, in the wild they will have their equine friend stand over them to guard from any potential danger.
Did you know that to achieve REM sleep horses need to be able to lie flat on their side?
Roll on Spring!!