What can I do to help my hard keeper stay plump this winter?
This boils down to a few things - calories in, and calories out. You may also need to play detective and determine why your horse is a hard keeper - then you do some targeted care to help him out. I’m only going to say a few things about the calories IN part, mainly because I’m not a Vet or an Equine Nutritionist. Please work with your Vet and/or Equine Nutritionist to create the best diet for your hard keeper. So, with respect to calories IN, here goes:
-Add more calories via forage (this also creates heat as your horse digests it, thus helping him stay warm and conserving his energy instead of shivering or using reserves to heat himself). Adding more calories via a complete feed is also an option. I will always suggest talking with your Veterinarian and Equine Nutritionist with any diet changes, you run the risk of adding too much of some nutrients and not having enough of others. This is where an Equine Nutritionist can help you obtain the best high calorie balanced diet for your horse.
You may not have round bales available, square bales are just as good and sometimes better for adding more forage! It’s common to give your horse more forage during the night to heat him from the inside out. Maybe you want to consider a slow feeder to keep the process going longer, or give him flakes of forage late at night.
Some more ideas that can help your hard keeper:
-Have your Veterinarian out for a check up. Check out your horse’s chompers, and pull some blood for a basic panel and maybe even a metabolic panel to alert you to anything that may become suspect.
-Consider using blankets. Even if you keep your horse unclipped, he will spend energy staying warm, especially if he’s on the thin side and doesn’t have that nice layer of extra fat. Add some more forage to heat his oven on the inside, and use blankets to keep it there! This will also help him conserve energy during the night when he’s not eating. Many horses do fine during the chilly nights, but when it gets "extra cold", blankets can help. You will need to decide at what temperature is too cold, taking into account the thickness of your horse's coat.
Blankets help the hard keeper, and give you a little less dirt and mud to groom away!
-Make warm water available for drinking if you can. It’s been documented that horses prefer to drink cool or cold water, but when given warm water as the only source, they drink MORE of it. Keeping your horse hydrated will keep him using his energy wisely and more likely to eat. It’s also common that when a horse stops drinking, such as when his water is frozen, he will stop eating. There are lots of products to prevent his water from freezing, and some of the bucket insulating wraps on the market can keep warm water heated for hours.
-Make it easy for him to eat his mashes, grain, and rations. Adding warm water to his bucket is a great way to increase his water intake and also warm his belly.
-Can you add hand grazing into his routine? Or leave him in the pasture a bit longer? This also keeps the calories going in and the digestion working and warming. It’s also a great way to let your horse move around, and decrease any cold weather stiffness he may be experiencing.
-You may want to alter his exercise routine as well. Of course, talk with your Veterinarian about this. If you can ride in the warmest part of the day, this may be easier for him to dry from any sweat marks. You may also want to cut back on the amount of time in the saddle, or reduce the level of training. Many folks simply give their horses some time off in the winter and do no exercise at all. This may work for some horses, but often times a light exercise routine is better than none at all. Movement helps keep muscle tone, reduces stocking up, works out the kinks in stiff joints, and creates an engaged horse. You may also find that increasing his exercise a bit helps boost his appetite!
Measure these lines to get an accurate idea of how much your horse weighs!
-Have and use a measuring tape to record changes in your horse’s weight. Eyeballing is great for lots of things with horses, but definitely not noticing 50 or 100 lb weight fluctuations. Weekly tape sessions (which take about one minute) can let you know if your hard keeper is gaining or losing weight. Detailed instructions can be found in this amazing article here!
How do you help your hard keeper in the winter?