Use winter to help horses lose excess weight

The next months are the perfect time to help each horse find its “summer body”, owners have been reminded.

Leading vets agree that obesity is the top welfare issue affecting UK horses. And with this in mind, feed manufacturer Spillers is urging owners to use the season to their advantage, by allowing horses to shed excess weight.

Horses are designed to gain weight in spring and summer and lose it in winter, but modern management often means they achieve the former — but not the latter.

“Unrelenting rain, brown porridge gateways and mucking out akin to painting the Forth Bridge are some definite downsides to winter,” said Clare Barfoot, marketing and research and development director at Spillers. “But being able to use the season to help your horse’s condition is a positive that owners of good doers can embrace.”

Clare’s top winter weight loss tips include: cutting calories rather than nutrients, with balancers ideal to provide everything horses need without excess calories.

She urges owners not to be deceived by winter grass; grass grows for most of the year and still contains calories in winter. Grazing muzzles or strip-grazing can help restrict intake.

Soaking hay helps reduce sugar content, and clean, good-quality straw can be used to replace up to 30% of the hay ration, although it should be introduced slowly.

Adding low-calorie chaff, short fibre or soakable fibre can help bulk out feeds and extend eating time without hindering weight loss, and using multiple small-holed haynets can also help make rations last longer.

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Rugging less, or not at all if appropriate, will help horses burn off more weight in keeping warm, and exercise is also beneficial.

“Yes, it’s a challenge to find the time and the inclination to ride when the weather is rubbish, but you need to find your mojo for the good of your horse’s waistline,” a Spillers spokesman said. “Exercise will help burn excess calories and a recent study found that even small amounts of exercise can help to support a healthy metabolism.”

Owners can monitor progress by checking horses’ body condition score and measuring their belly girth.

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