Horse feeding during the winter season

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In some places the winter months become very harsh, the ambient temperature sometimes becomes very low, causing the grass to be lost due to frost. On some occasions horse owners are concerned about keeping the horses warm and in this way help them not to suffer so much inclement weather. By making small adjustments to the horse diet, it can help to avoid losses of body condition

When proposing to increase the energy or caloric density of horses’ diet, most people immediately think of adding corn. However, there are better options to improve energy in a ration, specifically for what we are going to discuss in this article, the ideal is to increase the amount of forage in the diet.

The term “critical temperature” is used to determine the temperature at which it is necessary to make adjustments in the nutritional requirements of the horses so that they can maintain their body temperature. For many researchers and veterinarians 4 – 5° C is the critical temperature. In regions where these are the usual temperatures during winter, nutritional programs should be implemented to help horses maintain their body temperature and thus avoid loss of body condition.


It is an important nutrient to consider during the winter season, since it helps to avoid colic problems due to the impact of the forage and food ingested by the horse. It must ensure that the buckets are kept free of ice and prevent them from freezing. Naturally the horse tends to decrease its consumption when temperatures are low.

The horse must consume 40 – 45 liters of water per day. The researchers have not agreed on the temperature that the water must have to stimulate consumption in the horse. Temperatures ranging from 7 – 18° C are mentioned ideally and keep the water ice-free and prevent it from freezing.

Some owners add water to the feed to ensure minimal consumption by the horse. Sometimes there are horses that are not accustomed to this practice and reject the feed. Some others add bran to the diet to offer a portion in “mash”. There are also those who recommend adding a fist of grain salt mixed with food to stimulate water consumption.

Some people heat the water (electric heaters) or warm the buckets to avoid cold water. You can implement the practice that best suits you. The important thing is that the horse consumes water.


Forage is a fundamental part of the horse’s diet at all times, but during the winter time it takes on greater relevance. This because the fermentation of the fiber in the large intestine is the main source of heat to keep the horse comfortable. During the colder months, it is essential to offer forage bales constantly, even when they can be in pastures and graze.The forage offered as bales will be the main source of consumption. The type and amount of forage to offer depend on the size of the horse, its metabolism, workload, environmental conditions, etc. The minimum forage you should offer can range from 6 – 9 kg for a 450 kg horse, that is, approximately 1.5 – 2% of your live weight, and can be increased as required if temperatures continue to decrease.

If the horses consume all the fodder offered, it is advisable to increase the amount offered a little, avoiding waste. It is very important to monitor the body condition and evaluate the weight of the horse with a tape to calculate it and touch the horse to avoid that the thick hair typical of this time hides the loss of the superficial fat layer. When the horses reject or leave some portion of the forage, it should always be reviewed since we may be facing some situations such as the fact that too much forage is being offered or, it is forage contaminated with toxic plants, foreign materials or with the presence of fungi.

In the case of horses that are in pasture or grazing, it is important to ensure that all are consuming the adequate amount of forage. Broodmares, stallions, growing foals, horses in recovery for disease or surgery, adult horses (geriatric) are favored with a mix of forages that includes legumes.

Complementary forage feeds recommended by Royal Horse. 

Concentrates and / or Supplements

Supplements should not be forgotten in winter diets for two important reasons: nutrients and energy. Forages are generally deficient in many nutrients (protein, energy, minerals, etc.). For this reason, balanced foods and supplements should always be included to correct these deficiencies. There are many options on the market, consult a Veterinary Doctor or the Technical Service of your feed supplier to receive the best recommendation for your horses.

The forages offered during winter are generally forages that were harvested and packaged in milder times, that is, in the summer or early autumn. In such a way that in the best of cases they have few months of being stored, but the nutrient losses in these forages can be very fast. It is recommended that a dose of vitamins A, D, E be applied, which can be obtained commercially and by injection to avoid deficiencies, since green forages are the main source of these vitamins for horses.

Do not forget

  • Winter temperatures can be very low and it is necessary to provide extra nutrition so that horses can maintain their temperature and body condition.
  • Avoid that the water offered for consumption by horses is too cold or frozen and monitor their consumption to prevent digestive problems.
  • Offer sufficient and quality forage free of toxic plants, fungi or contaminating material.
  • Get periodic evaluation of weight and body condition.
  • Follow a preventive medicine program (oral cavity chseck, deworming, vaccines, etc.).
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