Now that the weather is warming up, horse owners are starting to spend more time with their horses, and are looking forward to even more enjoyable riding weather.
First, as we start working our horses more, we must increase the plane of nutrition to ensure that the horse’s increased requirements are met. Energy is possibly the most important nutrient to consider in a working horse. As a horse works harder, its energy (calorie) requirement increases, and we must supply those additional calories in a form that will not compromise the horse’s digestive health. We can add more calories by increasing the amount of feed offered daily to the horse. However, in general, horses should not be fed meals larger than 0.5 pounds per 100 pounds of body weight, especially when feeding oats or a feed with high grain content. Grains such as oats and corn are high in starch and sugars, and when fed in larger meals may increase the risk of digestive disturbances such as colic and/or laminitis. Alternate energy sources include fat and fermentable fibers. Feeds such as Purina’s Ultium® Competition, Strategy® Professional Formula GX, Strategy® Healthy Edge® and Omolene® #500 horse feeds are higher in fat and fermentable fibers, and lower in starch/sugars than traditional grain mixes and sweet feeds, therefore are excellent feeds to increase the calories in a working horse’s diet. Omolene® #200 horse feed is also an option for these situations, with the calories supplied by a combination of fat and soluble carbohydrates. These performance feeds also contain all the essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals to support the increased demands of the performance horse. Keep in mind that all feeding changes must be made gradually, so it is important to slowly increase the amount of feed as the horse’s work load increases.If you are only planning to work your horse lightly or your horse is naturally an easy keeper, a concentrated feed such as Purina® Enrich Plus® Ration Balancing Feed may be the best way to meet the horse’s nutritional needs without adding many calories. If your horse stays in good body condition (not too fat or too thin) on hay or pasture alone and doesn’t need additional feed for more calories, feeding one to two pounds of Enrich Plus® per day will provide the protein, vitamins and minerals that the horse needs to meet essential nutrient requirements.
Next, we need to keep in mind that the forage portion of the horse’s diet may be changing, and we must be aware that these changes may be problematic for some horses. For many horses, the advent of spring means that the source of forage changes from hay to fresh grass. Most horse owners are well aware that an abrupt change in feed puts a horse at risk for laminitis. However, they don’t always realize that a change from eating dry hay to grazing lush pasture is a very big change in the diet for the horse’s digestive system. This change from hay to pasture should be made gradually to minimize the risk of laminitis as horses are exposed to fresh pastures.
One final consideration when getting back into the saddle is the condition of the horse. On that first warm sunny day, it is very tempting to head out to the barn for a nice, long trail ride to enjoy the great weather. However, if you have not been riding your horse regularly through the winter, your horse is not conditioned for that type of physical activity (and possibly neither are you!). To prevent muscle soreness, and possibly “tying-up”, horses should be gradually reintroduced to work. Start with slow, easy work and short workouts, and gradually increase the intensity and duration of the workouts until your horse is adequately conditioned. This will help decrease the risk of problems and injuries in your horse. It may take up to 90 days to get a horse properly conditioned for strenuous physical workouts.
Once your horse’s nutritional and management considerations are addressed, and your horse is adequately conditioned for the desired workload, you are ready to head out and enjoy the warmer weather and sunshine.