Top Tips for Feeding Your Horse This Spring

Toby GrazingFeeding your horse during the longer days and warmer temperatures of the spring season can often be different than your chosen winter-feeding program.

Keep the following diet and feeding considerations in mind to help your horse smoothly transition from winter to spring:

Tip 1: Monitor Your Horse’s Body Condition

We all know every horse is different. This means that some horses will have gained winter weight from working less, while other horses will have shed a few pounds keeping warm in the cold. Before even thinking of altering your horse’s spring-feeding regimen, first evaluate his body condition. With the help of your veterinarian or a knowledgeable equine professional, determine if your horse is too skinny, too fat or carrying just the right amount of weight.

To monitor your horse’s weight without using a scale, you can utilize the body condition scoring method. This system will help you estimate the fat present on your horse’s body. Once you have estimated the level of fat cover, you will be able to more accurately determine whether you should increase or decrease your horse’s caloric intake.

It is important to note that each horse will require a different body condition level that is dependent on a number of factors, including: age, level of work, breed, current or past injuries, etc.

Tip 2: Don’t Forget About Concentrates (Grain)
Many horses are fed grain on a daily basis. Throughout winter some horses need extra grain to maintain their ideal body weight, while other horses have their grain reduced, due to inactivity. Adjusting the type and amount of concentrate or grain your horse consumes should be done slowly and carefully. A horse’s internal digestive system is built for slow changes.

With this in mind, monitor his level of work and body condition. If your horse’s work level is increased, he might need to receive more grain. Conversely, if his work level remains the same, and he is able to safely consume spring grasses, then your horse might need to receive fewer concentrates.

Whatever adjustments are made, make sure your horse is still receiving the appropriate level of essential nutrients, such as amino acids, vitamins and minerals. Achieving this may require a change in the feed product being used. Horses requiring additional calories could be bumped up to a higher-calorie performance horse feed, while those needing fewer calories could go down to a ration balancer product.

Tip 3: Horses Tend to Eat A lot of Forage
It is no secret that horses eat a lot of forage. However, what most people don’t know is that a horse’s forage is only as good as the fiber that it contains. Pastures often lay dormant during winter, which can reduce a horse’s natural intake of grass forage. As a result, many equestrians will feed their horses extra forage via hay or beet pulp. This feeding tactic can be great for the cold months, but it should be re-evaluated in spring.

When spring arrives, most pasture paddocks will be filled with new grasses rich in sugar. Monitor your horse’s body condition score as it begins to consume the rich green grasses. Horses that gorge themselves on spring grasses may encounter some serious health issues. For example, overweight horses or those with Cushing’s disease, insulin resistance or laminitis will need to be carefully monitored. High sugar and starch levels of spring grass can aggravate the latter conditions. In these instances, reduced turnout time or a grazing muzzle can help limit pasture intake for certain at-risk horses.

Tip 4: Lots of Fresh Water
This last suggestion holds true in any season: Horses need to have access to plenty of fresh water 24 hours a day. Warmer temperatures and an increase in body sweat can result in dehydration. Make sure that your horse has water access post workout. Some equestrians also add electrolyte supplements to their horse’s feed. These supplements can help replenish essential nutrients during particularly warm or hot weather. Of course, consult your veterinarian if you have further questions.

Spring is a fantastic time of year for horses and equestrians. It is a chance to shed bulky winter clothing and spend time riding to your heart’s content. However, spring is also a time that a horse’s body condition should be properly monitored. If you need to make any changes to your horse’s spring feeding regime, be sure to make the changes slowly and consult a nutritionist or your veterinarian for advice or guidance.

Ashly Snell works at Dover Saddlery and enjoys eventing with and caring for her two Dutch Warmbloods. She has been an avid equestrian for 20 years.

5 Replies to “Top Tips for Feeding Your Horse This Spring”

  1. I couldn’t agree more that it’s important to pay close attention to a horse’s body condition, as the article recommends. Like the article says, all horses are different and thus they have different needs when it comes to nutrition. If you notice a horse isn’t as healthy looking as you might expect, you may need to tweak their diet, even if other horses seem fine with what you’re giving them.

  2. I loved when you talked about how you need to monitor how much activity your horse does in order to know how much grain it needs to consume. We are planning on buying a couple of horses for our ranch and want to make sure we know how to care for them and choose the best horse supplier in the area, so I’m glad I found your post. As I see it, taking the time to know how to take care of your animal from the beginning can help you make sure it stays strong so you have pleasant rides on them.

  3. I’m new at this my pasture isn’t very large my horses are use to eating 2 flakes in the am and 2 at night can I give them 1 flake each in the day and at night

    1. Hi Lucy,
      Thank you for your question. You can start with 1 flake morning and night and see how your horses adjust. Just make sure to monitor their body condition to determine if they are getting too little or too much. And of course, access to fresh water 24 hours a day is vital to keep them healthy and happy.

      Best of luck!
      Robyn A.

  4. I would like Nutrena to please run an article that explains how the pasture grasses sugar content goes up and down and at what times! After I learned about this biological fact, I was better able to manage the grazing rotation and times for my horses with metabolism issues. Everyone should know this! Thanks! ( PS, I used to be a NutrenaFeed Dealer!)

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