So as I write this there’s only a few days to go until Christmas, and excitement in our house is pretty high. Most of the presents are organised, and many of you will be thinking about getting a gift for your horse. Christmas is a great excuse to overindulge and splash out, but what does your horse actually need over the festive period?
- Less rugs not more
Hands up if a new rug is on your Christmas wish list, or perhaps it will be a ‘self-gift’ dressed up as a present for your horse? Rugs are great, they keep your horse clean and dry perfectly when you want to fit in a quick winter ride. There is literally a rug for every occasion, and picking up any horsey magazine you are bombarded with choice. Keeping your horse warm and cosy with several rugs in the winter is sensible for an older horse, a horse that is clipped and in regular work, or any horse who doesn’t hold condition so easily.
However many equines simply don’t need a rug, never mind several duvets layers, and for a horse who is overweight providing less rugs can be the easiest way to promote some weight loss. Native and cob-type horses are after all designed to exist on limited calories and harsh weather conditions during the winter, without the luxury of stables, feed and rugs. Horses are well documented to be able to tolerate changes in temperature well, and a healthy horse can cope with at least minus ten degrees without a rug.
Seasonal weight loss is perfectly normal and should be encouraged in any overweight, or ‘good doer’ horses. Losing weight during the winter months is Nature’s way of re-programming the body after the horse gains weight during the Spring and Summer months. However as horse owners, we expect our horses to look exactly the same all year round, and without seasonal weight loss over the Winter, horses are getting fatter year on year.
So why not think about how much your horse actually needs that thick rug or rugs, could your horse benefit from less rugs, or perhaps even no rug at all? Allowing your horse to get slimmer over the festive period will really help your horse to be healthier in 2019.
Christmas is a hectic time, and it’s a whirlwind of of parties, drinks and entertaining. It can be hard to fit in riding during the winter months, and the darkness wind and rain don’t always inspire you to tack up your horse. Keeping your horse exercised over the festive period is so important, particularly when horses are often stabled more.
Many yards will keep horses stabled during Christmas, and this can be a sudden change if your horse is normally turned out for most of the day. Veterinary practices often report a rise in colic cases in colder weather, and over Christmas and one reason for this is lack of movement.
Try and keep your horse exercised as much as possible over the holiday period, whether that is turn out, ridden work, long reining or other work in hand.
Not only will this be beneficial to your horse’s digestive system, encouraging regular gut movements but you will also be helping to prevent your horse gain weight over the festive weeks.
- The right amount of forage
As noted horses are often stabled more over Christmas, and this might be a decision that you can’t control. If you have a house full of guests it can be harder to get to the yard as often (although needing to feed your horse is a great way to escape the relations!). As a consequence horses are either given too much hay or haylage, or simply run out leaving them with nothing to eat for hours.
So what can you do?
Firstly it’s essential to work out how much hay your horse actually needs, rather than just throwing a few slices over the door.
Your horse should be receiving 1.5%-2.5% of its body weight in hay, and weighing out the hay out in advance will certainly make stable duties on Christmas Day easier.
Secondly look for ways that you can make your horse’s hay allowance last longer. Can you team up with a yard friend so one of you gives the horse’s hay at 3pm say and the other at 7pm? Using a robust small holed hay net, such as the Trickle Net is another great way to prevent your horse running out of hay.
- Less of the extras
Over Christmas us humans do tend to over-do the eating, there’s mince pies, cocktails, biscuit and chocolate selection boxes everywhere, not to mention the turkey plus all the trimmings. Quite why we do this every year, swiftly followed by a January health kick, I’m not totally sure, but there’s no need for our horses to match our significant increase in calories.
The horse world is awash with treats, supplements and ‘extras’ that you can feed your horse, but do they really need these? It’s natural to want to buy your horse a gift, most owners would see their horse as one of the family, but why not make this ‘gift’ a training plan, or a lesson rather than sugar laden treats.
I hope this post gives you some ideas about what your horse does and doesn’t need over the festive period. You can learn more about keeping your horse healthy over Christmas by downloading my free Winter Horsey Survival Guide at the link below:
Wishing you a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year