Horse Health in Winter: Winter Weight

How to feed your horse in winter to maintain his weight and health.

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Winter Forage
Weight loss is the most common health issue seen in horses during the winter. Knowing when and how much extra to feed can be tricky. Research has shown that an average adult horse requires extra calories when temperatures dip below 18 F. For every degree under 18 F, a horse will require a roughly 1 percent increase in energy.

The best way to provide extra calories to your horse for warmth is to increase his forage. Hay and other forms of roughage generate more body heat during their digestion than grain. Unlike grain, forage contains lots of fiber that is slowly broken down by microbes in the horse’s large-capacity hindgut; this microbial fermentation gives off a tremendous amount of heat that helps keep the body warm.

While nutrient requirements don’t change in cold temperatures (other than calories), you may consider offering loose salt for your horse, as many horses are understandably reluctant to lick a frozen salt block in the winter.

To keep tabs on your horse’s weight, start by taking a measurement with a weight tape prior to the start of winter and again halfway through the season. You can also evaluate your horse’s body condition score on a monthly basis. Evaluate body condition in the winter by physically touching your horse; a thick winter coat can hide weight loss. Finding out your horse is losing weight halfway through the winter is easier to rectify rather than at the end of the season. Consult your veterinarian if you are having particular trouble keeping weight on your horse in the winter.

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This article originally appeared in the November 2014 issue of Horse Illustrated. Click here to subscribe!

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