Equine Health Care

Perfect Winter Condition

By Baileys Horse Feeds

As we are still in winter objectively assessing a horse’s body condition will influence what and how he is fed and managed...

Body Condition Scoring (BCS) provides a numerical scale according to how much body fat the horse is carrying and is a helpful in assessing what is required from the diet and winter management routine.


Many horses will be going into winter carrying a little extra condition – they’re designed to, after all! They are also designed to use up those stored energy reserves through the winter months to keep warm and so enter the spring considerably slimmer. Problems arise when horses remain perpetually overweight as the fat deposits produce hormones which cause insulin resistance and Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS).

If your horse or pony is going into the winter with a BCS of 6 or over (on a 1 to 9 scale where 9 is extremely fat/obese), his calorie requirements have and are being exceeded. That means that he is consuming more than he is burning to stay healthy, keep warm and fuel work.

Feeding Tips for Winter Weight-Loss

· To encourage weight loss, the combination of forage and hard feed should not weigh more than the equivalent of 1.5% of your horse’s bodyweight. Use a weightape to assess and monitor your horse’s bodyweight.

· Forage is the main source of calories. Control intake by weighing what you feed and using small-holed hay nets to make the daily ration last as long as possible. Whilst you need to control calorie intake, a horse still needs fibre to chew and to keep his digestive system healthy. Do not leave the horse for long periods of time without forage.

· Use late cut, stalky hay and soak it for up to 12 hours, if possible, to wash out soluble carbohydrates (calories) yet leave essential fibre.

· Hay or haylage will always be the most cost-effective fibre source but low calorie Light Chaff, soaked Speedi-Beet and Fibre Plus Nuggets, will add variety during the winter as long as you watch how much you feed.

· Fatties still need essential nutrients for health and well-being. A balancer, alongside forage will provide quality protein, vitamins and minerals, for muscle tone, metabolism and healthy hooves and skin.

· Exercise not only burns calories, it keeps the horse mentally and physically healthy. If your horse has limited or no access to turnout, he must have some other form of exercise everyday, even if it is only in-hand.

· Use only lightweight rugs, if at all, so the horse has to burn fat reserves to keep warm.


It’s always harder to promote weight gain in the depths of a cold winter than it is to prevent weight loss in the first place so monitoring your horse’s condition during the late summer and autumn will give you a head start. A BCS of around 5 (on our 1 to 9 scale) is described as “moderate” and indicates that optimum calorie requirements are being met so, whilst you need to be vigilant, don’t feel you need to maintain excessive condition during the winter as you may be setting yourself up for other problems in the spring and summer months.

Condition is also about muscling and overall health and well-being so other nutrients, not just calories, are important. Without good quality dietary protein a strong physique and well-rounded top line will be difficult to achieve no matter how correct the work and training.

Feeding Tips for Winter Weight Gain or Maintenance

· Ad lib forage will provide calories and “save calories” by helping to keep the horse warm from within as heat is generated during its fermentation in the hindgut.

· Fibre is important for gut and psychological health – if your horse doesn’t, for whatever reason, consume a minimum of 1% of his bodyweight in hay or haylage, use alternatives to encourage him to eat more. Alfalfa Blend, Alfalfa Plus Oil and soaked Speedi-Beet or Fibre-Beet are all excellent sources of digestible fibre which can be offered as a separate “haynet in a bucket”.

· Some horses will maintain condition happily on forage and/or other fibre sources, plus a balancer, but a horse’s appetite is limited so they can only physically eat the equivalent of 2 to 2.5% of their bodyweight per day. If they need to gain weight, once fibre requirements are met by forage, they will need concentrated sources of additional calories (not more fibre) to achieve this.

· A good quality fully balanced mix or cube will not only provide extra calories but all the other nutrients lacking in a forage-only diet. It must be fed at recommended levels in order to ensure the horse’s requirements for these nutrients are met.

· Never feed great buckets-full of compound feeds. Large meals of mixes or cubes risk overloading the stomach and causing problems as well as simply reducing the amount the horse can actually obtain from each feed.

· Rugs will help conserve body heat both in and out of the stable. Exercise and turnout are as important for mental health as they are for physical health; when turnout is restricted, even in-hand exercise is better than nothing.

For more information on Body Condition Scoring, weight loss, weight gain and EMS, please visit: www.baileyshorsefeeds.co.uk or email: info@baileyshorsefeeds.co.uk.

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