Feeding Horses and Ponies in Cold Weather

Our horses and ponies have many natural and effective ways to help them keep warm during cold weather. One of these mechanisms is to increase their metabolic rate (and in turn, reduce their risk of metabolic diseases). To learn more about this, see the article Rugging (Blanketing): Increasing the Risk of Laminitis, Insulin Resistance & Equine Metabolic Syndrome

Another way is how they position themselves during cold, wet and/or windy weather. Read more about this by visiting Why do horses and ponies turn their backs to the cold during inclement weather?

Another important aspect of helping our equines keep warm during cold weather is how and what we feed them. The digestive systems’ of horses and ponies can significantly contribute to keeping them warm.

Our horses’ and ponies’ hindguts house trillions of microbes (including bacteria and other microorganisms). These microbes play a key role in many facets of equine health: they influence immune function, inflammation, behaviour and temperament, and nutrient status. When we feed our horses and ponies high fibre diets (particularly long stem fibre found in hay) we help to promote a healthy balance of these microbes.

The microbes digest (ferment) the fibre found in hay, pasture and other fibrous feeds to produce energy in the form of volatile fatty acids (VFAs). These are also referred to as short chain fatty acids (SCFA).

Heat is a by-product of breaking this fibre down. In turn, the fermentation of fibre can provide a significant amount of energy (calories) to our horses. Further heat is also produced by chewing: the more time a horse spends chewing, the more heat is produced. Eating 1kg of hay requires four times as much chewing and takes four times as long as eating 1kg of oats or grain! This also has additional effects in helping to protect against gastric and colonic ulcers. To read more, see the articles: Hay, Stomach (Gastric) & Hindgut (Colonic) Ulcers; Why Basics Matter: The Importance of Chewing

Feeding our horses and ponies sufficient hay (at a minimum 1.5% of their body weight in dry matter daily) is one of the most natural and easy ways to help keep them warm in the winter. As an added bonus, feeding them this way in turn helps to promote a healthy gastrointestinal microflora balance: resulting in a flow on of multiple positive health benefits.

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