Horse Feeding in Winter: Species-Appropriate Nutrition

There are a few things to consider when feeding horses in winter. Horses spend a lot of time outdoors all year round and are – depending on how they are kept – more or less exposed to weather conditions. You can read here how your horses get through the winter in good health.

Increased Nutritional Needs in Winter

When winter approaches, a lot changes for our four-legged friends: Not only does the grass in the pasture become lower in sugar, protein, and vitamins, the four-legged friends are also exposed to colder temperatures around the clock – which means an increased energy requirement. In addition, they go through the change of coat. This also leads to an increased need for energy, minerals, and vitamins.

The amount of additional energy sources is linked to factors such as breed, coat condition, state of health, and fat reserves. Of course, you can also cover your horse and put it in the significantly warmer stable. Nevertheless, it still needs a different diet in winter than in summer. As a responsible horse owner, you have to ensure that all nutrient deficiencies are compensated for by targeted supplementary feeding so that your darling can get through the winter happily and be healthy.

Roughage: Hay and Straw for Healthy Horses

No other feed category is as important for the horse as roughage, which includes hay and straw, among other things. Hay is particularly important in winter as fresh pasture grass is not on the menu. Make sure that the roughage is of the highest possible quality. Because poor-quality hay contains fewer nutrients and does not stimulate digestion sufficiently. It can also be the trigger for serious, protracted illnesses that sometimes only show up months later.

To ensure an adequate supply of roughage, your horse should have permanent and unrestricted access to high-quality hay. As a basic rule, an average hay consumption per day for a fully grown horse is calculated as approx. 1.5 kg of hay plus straw per 100 kg of horse weight. If there is not enough good hay to cover the daily need for roughage, you can also use high-quality forage straw. This provides low-protein energy and makes you feel full. In addition, it provides valuable minerals and is used as padding for horses, as it warms them comfortably when they sleep on cold, damp nights.

In order to compensate for a one-sided supply of hay or a lack of nutrients due to a lack of nutrients in the roughage, it is worth using separately fed herbs and vitamins.

Juice Feed: Source of Essential Vitamins

Since you cannot find fresh, juicy grass on paddocks and pastures in winter, you should compensate for this deficiency with juice feed. The main aim here is to provide essential vitamins that are found in fruits and vegetables. For example, carrots, beet pulp, apples or even beetroot or bananas are well suited. Make sure that you add variety to the juice feed. This not only prevents a lack of vitamins but also ensures that eating is never boring.

Concentrated Feed: Pellets, Muesli, and Oats as Energy Suppliers

Depending on the physical condition of your horse or how you work with your four-legged friend, it needs concentrating feed in winter to replenish its energy reserves again and again. If you neglect this additional feeding, it can lead to emaciation and the appearance of weakness symptoms.

Pellets, mueslis, and oats are particularly popular as well-tolerated sources of energy. You should think carefully beforehand about how much of it you offer your horse every day. Because individual factors play a decisive role here. For example, if you don’t do a lot of work with the horse in winter, it will use less energy than an animal that walks under the saddle every day. It is also important that you pay attention to the crude fiber and starch content of the concentrate because both have a direct effect on the organism. Basically, energy suppliers rich in crude fiber are to be preferred to suppliers rich in starch, since starch (e.g. from corn) is difficult to digest and therefore costs additional energy.

A popular alternative in winter is sugar beet preparations that soak in moisture for a certain period of time before feeding. If you add a little wheat bran before feeding and round off the feed mixture with salt, mineral feed, or herbs, the result is a delicious, fiber-rich, starch-free meal that provides a lot of energy. Incidentally, there are also various oils that can be used to enrich a portion of feed with energy.

Mash: Easily Digestible Horse Meal

Mash is ideal for offering the horse a warm meal in winter. This mix of wheat bran – depending on the variety – is supplemented with grape sugar, linseed, apple pomace, rasped carrots, oat flakes or beetroot and prepared with warm water. Mash is easy to digest and stimulates digestion. However, this is not a complete horse feed, but rather a delicious, warm snack. This shouldn’t be offered more than two or three times a week.

Vitamin Supply for Horses in Winter

Of course, vitamins do not represent a separate feed category, but a few things should still be explained here, as the vitamin supply is an important point in winter. Basically, the horse takes most of the vitamins with the consumption of grass and its roots ─ which is of course not available in winter. Although some vitamins can be compensated for by the increased intake of roughage, some cannot be covered in this way.

In such a case – especially if the horse is also being trained in winter – you should feed supplementary feed. This ensures that the need for vitamins and minerals is adequately covered. There are a large number of products on the market that contain different mixtures and cater to individual needs. The form of the feed supplement also differs from product to product. Because they are available in pellets, powder, or liquid form. Your vet or other experienced horse owners can help you choose the right nutritional supplement for your horse.

Horse Feeding in Winter Must Be Appropriate to the Species

Your pet’s diet should always be species-appropriate, varied, and healthy. Especially in winter, the four-legged friends are dependent on your help and need wholesome and invigorating food. If you take our tips to heart, your animals will surely get through the winter fit and lively and can look forward to spring, lush green meadows, and the first rays of sunshine again.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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