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Winter Feeding

Maintaining a healthy condition through the summer whilst the grass is lush is easy, but once the temperature drops and the grass dies down maintaining condition becomes more difficult. As autumn sets in and the rugs go on it is important to keep a close eye on your horse weight. The first signs of weight loss are often missed due to only briefly seeing your horse at close quarters in between rug changes. The use of a weigh tape and condition scoring will enable you to monitor your horse’s weight. Typically horses with a condition scoring between 2 and 3, depending on breeds and work load, will carry an optimum weight.

Condition Score Neck Withers Back & Loin Ribs Hind Quarters
0 - Very Thin

Bone structure easily felt

- no muscle shelf where neck meets shoulder

Bone structure easily felt 3 points of vertebrae easily felt. each rib can be easily felt

tailhead and hip

bones projecting

1 - Thin

Can feel bone structure

- slight shelf where neck meets the shoulder.

Can feel bone structure

Spinous process can be felt -

transverse processes have slight fat covering. (lower part of the lumbar vertebra)

Slight fat covering, but can still be felt Can feel hip bones
2- Fair Fat covering over bone structure.

Fat deposites over withers

- dependant on conformation

Fat over spinous processes. Can't see ribs, but the ribs can still easily be felt Hip bones covered with fat
3- Good Neck flows smoothly into the shoulder. Neck rounds out the withers Back is level. Layer of fat over the ribs. Can't feel the hip bones.
4 - Fat Fat deposited along the neck. Fat padded around the withers. Positive crease along the back. Fat feels spongy over and between the ribs. Can't feel the hip bones.
5 - Very Fat Bulging fat around the neck. Bulging fat over the withers. Deep positive crease along the back. Pockets of fat over and between each rib Pockets of fat over and on the hips.

(Dr. B. Wright - Veterinary Scientist, Equine and Alternative Livestock/OMAFRA; Gerrit Rietveld and Penny Lawlis - Animal Care Inspectors/OMAFRA - Body Condition Scoring of Horses 1998)

When the weight and current condition of your horse has been assessed you can work out the total level of feed and forage needed. This should normally be no less than 2.5% of their body weight. Based on an average 13hh pony this should be about 8kg per day, for a 15.2hh Thoroughbred, about 13kg and for a Hunter 15-16kg a day. On average a horse should be receiving between 0.6kg – 1kg of hard feed per100kg of body weight, the remaining levels should be made up with quality forage and fibres.

Due to the slow digestion and fermentation of fibrous feeds, the horse uses forage as a natural central heating system. When the ambient temperature drops, more calories are burned just keeping warm. It is vital then to ensure that the horse is supplied with an adequate level of quality forage so that no weight is lost due to a low body temperature.

Once the fibre has been weighed up correctly it is necessary to consider the level of hard feed needed to support the horse’s weight through the winter. Horses that live out with limited shelter can require up to a third more energy than those that are stabled. Different levels of energy (calories) can be delivered in the form of quality hay, haylage , concentrates (good source of starch) and oils. To maintain and improve weight through the winter energy levels must be increased. By increasing the calorie intake you increase the energy levels. Traditionally, starch is the preferred form of increased energy. Oil is an extremely rich source of slow release energy and is found in a more concentrated form. Problems can arise in the digestive system when too high a level of starch is introduced, for this reason quality products high in oil are quickly being recognised as a healthier approach to weight gain.

Conditioning feeds are specifically formulated to put on weight and can be very effective at providing the right balanced ingredients to maximise weight gain. They are generally high in protein, which supplies the amino acids that are essential for muscle development. Any excess protein will also be used as an energy source. Conditioning feeds can either be fed on their own or on a 50:50 basis with the horse’s usual hard feed ration.

Cooked cereals such as barley and wheat have been traditionally used for weight gain. The inclusion of cooked ground linseed meal as a weight gain ingredient had been introduced as a healthier lower starch form of weight gain. Higher levels of oil are used effectively in conditioning feeds aimed at horses that have an intolerance to cereals or tend to ‘heat up’.

To keep the competition horse in good condition through out the winter requires a good balance of calories, protein and nutrients. Often the reason horses lose weight during the winter is because they are not being fed the right quantities. In the case that a horse is already being fed the recommended levels of feed, replace at least half of the ration with a conditioning feed. Either soya oil, linseed oil or an oil based balancing feed can be added to optimise calorie uptake. This will not dramatically increase the total volume fed but you must ensure that they are fully balanced with the correct vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants to allow the horses gut to fully utilise the oil.

If you are feeding a manufactured hard feed then ensure that it has an effective probiotic included at the right levels. With any manufactured feed it is important to feed it at the recommended levels as the vitamins, minerals, trace elements and probiotics have been balanced out accordingly. These are small ingredients in a feed but are essential at helping your horse to maintain a good condition throughout the cold weather.

The Falcon Equine Feeds range offers balanced and naturally nutritious products that cater for the taste buds of all horses whatever the level or discipline. With international riders such as Ben Maher, Emile Faurie and Tina Cook being just some of the top riders feeding the Falcon way it is testament that the feeds provide an unbeatable level quality and nutrition.

Some of the range specifically designed to ensure that you can keep your horse looking and feeling great through out the winter are as follows.

Equitona Conditioning Mix – This is a high calorie complete feed that is a palatable ration even for the fussiest of feeders. The feed has been formulated with a healthier lower starch level and higher fibre level than most traditional conditioners. The inclusion of a probiotic aids the hind gut stability and improves the digestibility. This ensures that your horse gets the most out of the chopped Alfalfa, Wheat feed, cooked cereals and oils.

Oat and Barley Free – This is a feed designed for horses that have a tendency to get over excited when fed cereals. With a medium to high energy and protein level, the mix is professionally formulated to supply the high levels of nutrients needed for working and older horses that need to maintain condition. The blend of Soya, Maize, Pea flakes, chopped Alfalfa and a probiotic give a high fibre low starch mix that supports normal acid balance in muscle function and encourages good top line.

Conditioning Cubes – This is a none-heating and highly digestible cube for extra condition and top line. The inclusion of a Probiotic encourages good hind gut health and stability. The added oil will aid in providing a terrific coat and winter bloom.

Omega Rice – This is a unique, energy dense feed that can be top dressed onto an existing feed. Feeding a small ration of this product daily, in conjunction with your regular feed will effortlessly promote condition. Omega Rice provides a concentrated level of Linseed, Omega 3 and antioxidants. The high protein content encourages good top line and muscle development.

All of Falcon Equine Feeds range provides balanced high levels of vitamins, minerals and trace elements specifically formulated for each product.

For expert feeding and nutritional advice please contact the team on 01403 741103. Or to find your nearest stockist please visit