Dealing with Cold Weather: Diets
Change of weather brings potential change of diets. Even when I was boarding my horses (them only being occasionally outdoors as opposed to them being mostly outdoors) I often had to tweak diets. Even when blanketed, quite often a horse’s winter diet needs a bit of tweaking. Horses will burn more calories in the winter in order to stay warm and most horses are exercised less in winter which adds to the need to address diet changes. So here are some ideas…
HARD KEEPER: The “Hard Keeper” horse loses weight easily no matter how much food is given. Either they only eat a limited amount of feed, or no matter how much you give them it just goes in one end and out the other. These horses are usually older and have digestive issues though its not always obvious what those issues are or how severe. A gentle and easy to digest diet is very important. As the body gets older, digestion slows down and it becomes more difficult to process sugars, carbs and proteins. Often the answer is to give more carbs and proteins…the opposite of what should happen! The following are some of the RIGHT foods to add to the diet to help support all horses, not just the hard keeper.
HEALTHY FATS: Healthy fats are easier to digest than carbs and proteins and have the added benefit of being anti inflammatory and helping support healthy joints. Examples of healthy fats would be chia seeds, flax seeds, camelina seeds and coconut meal. There are many more “healthy” fat items out there but it is important to not just use fats, but the RIGHT fats. Unhealthy fats should be avoided as they cause additional inflammation in the body and are harder to digest. Those would include soy oil, and canola oil.
NUTRITIONAL YEAST (fortified with B12): Nutritional Yeast is very beneficial for underweight horses as it helps the body upload proteins so less proteins can be fed but you will get more benefits from what you do feed. The added B vitamins in the diet help support nerves and healthy energy levels.
DIGESTIVE HERBS: Digestive herbs, like those found in our Tummy B Calm blend, are a very natural digestive support for horses. Horses in the wild seek out these herbs naturally. Commercial foods and controlled diets (such as hay only diets) do not account for the horse needing digestive herbs…which are beneficial to all horses of all ages but especially to the “hard keeper” horse.
Supporting the diet through the use of herbs, nutritional yeast and healthy fats will make much more efficient use of foods given and will help keep weight on during the winter months.
EASY KEEPER: While most people don’t think of the “easy keeper” as needing a different diet during the winter months…after all, chances are that same horse has a very thick coat, the easy keeper is the horse most often lacking nutrients. Holding onto nutrients is one of the reason an “easy keeper” holds onto weight. Simply adding additional nutrients quite often helps the easy to keep horse as their body feels less need to hold onto every calorie it gets. Feeding kelp, and supporting with metabolic herbs (such as in our Sugar Down and Cushings Calm) will help rebalance the body, support nutrition levels, and make shedding out in the spring a lot easier. So while the easy keeper might not need extra calories in the winter months, extra nutrients will definitely help the process of shedding and keeping feet strong and solid.
THE HIGH ENERGY HORSE: Since most horses have less exercise in the winter, bringing down energy levels can be very helpful in not only helping keep a winter stalled horse more content but lessen the chances of accidents from the over energized horse that might be turned out in slippery conditions. Low carb, higher healthy fat diets are preferred for this horse so that sugar spikes are more controlled. Calming herbs are also very helpful like those in our Calm Down Now. Slow feed hay bags and a low protein hay are also very helpful in keeping a busy brain busy on things other than pacing or tearing up a stall. This approach is also very handy for an injured horse that needs to stay in a controlled environment. And as high energy horses also tend to be the hard to keep horse, this change to a higher fat, lower carb diet with supporting herbs will not only help hold weight on the horse but produce a calmer disposition.
Though later in the winter than I had originally planned on posting this blog, it is never too late to make the change to a more fitting winter diet to ease the transition into spring. Shedding season will be upon us soon and a healthier diet means a quicker shed out with less issues.
For those mares who tend to have hard seasons, consider adding hormonal support herbs in with their new winter diet, such as our Too Much Mare blend to help support the “spring crazies”. And as the ground hog saw his shadow…here’s to six more weeks of winter!