Every spring, we are inundated with a single question from horse owners: “My horse lost some weight over the winter, but I didn’t notice until he shed out his winter coat and I saw his ribs. What do I do now?”
Winter conditions, particularly in locations further north in the country, can definitely take a toll on horses. Bitter cold temperatures, biting winds, combined with the dampness of snow, sleet, and rain, can all cause the horse to require more energy than normal to maintain condition. Cover the body with a fluffy winter coat, and perhaps a warm blanket, and head out to the barn a little less often to ride, and it’s easy to miss the early signs that the cold is causing problems.
So now your horse is in tough shape – what do you do to bring him back to condition safely? Follow a few simple steps, and you’ll have him ready to ride in no time.
- Get an accurate weight and body condition score, and write them down. Keep track over the coming weeks, to have an objective measurement of progress. Consider keeping this going over the life of the horse, too!
- Check to make sure your feeding program is designed to do what you want it to do.
- Offer as much hay as you can.
- Use caution on lush spring pasture growth, to avoid metabolic issues.
- Select the proper feed for your horse’s life stage and activity level. If this involves a change in product, change over to the new product gradually over a period of 5-7 days to avoid digestive upset.
- Feed the selected product according to the directions on the tag, so they receive the full benefit of the nutritional package.
Once the horse has returned to proper condition, check your feeding program again, and adjust as necessary. A program designed to gain weight and condition, may be too rich for long term maintenance, unless the activity level of the horse offsets the calorie intake.
Finally, get out on the trails or the show circuit, and enjoy the ride!