Sure, horses have a layer of hair, but what really helps them fight the cold is their own internal heaters. When horses digest fiber in the hind gut, one of the byproducts is heat. So eating forage in cold weather helps horses stay warm. But, when all the pasture grass has frozen over, horses can’t get the forage they need to stay warm. Here are three basics your horse needs to fight the cold.
Water is essential for keeping your horse happy and healthy. Without it, your horse’s dry feed can get stuck in the digestive system (causing impaction colic). Often, horse owners provide their horses with clean water during the winter, but they don’t check the temperature of the liquid. If the water is incredibly cold or even frozen over, your horse might not drink enough to stay healthy.
Forage is critical for horses, especially during the winter months. As the microbes in the hindgut breakdown fiber to create energy, they also create heat—which serves to help keep them warm. It’s recommended that your horse eat between 1.5% and 3% of his or her body weight in dry forage per day. For a 1,000-pound horse, this equals between 15 and 30 pounds of hay per day or 450 to 900 pounds per month. If your winter lasts from four to five months, you’re looking at 1,800 to 2,250 pounds of hay (based on feeding at 1.5% of body weight).
3. Essential Nutrients
In order to stay warm, your horse burns calories. In cold conditions, horses frequently burn more calories than they eat. This can lead to an unhealthy reduction in weight. Poor-quality hay often doesn’t have enough calories for a horse to stay healthy in chilly weather. Forages such as premium western alfalfa and alfalfa mixes are higher in calories to keep your horse happy and warm.
This article was authored by Dr. Tania Cubitt and Dr. Stephen Duren, Performance Horse Nutrition. You can learn more about Standlee’s Premium Western Forage Alfalfa and Alfalfa mixes at standleeforage.com/products.