Whilst I am getting fed up with the cold, the wind, not to mention the mud, winter is very useful for regulating the ponies weight. In fact it is an important part of horse management, especially in modern times.
Naturally ponies would find food scarce in winter, and with the cold weather they would lose weight, this would enable them to lose weight gained throughout the affluent summer months and mean they are likely to have fewer problems when the spring abundance appears.
But how many of us, stable and rug our horses against the weather and then stuff them full of hay? Not allowing our ponies to lose weight during winter can increase the likelihood of Laminitis and other weight related problems in the spring. Modern pastures are usually richer than ponies are used to foraging on so it can compound the problem.
I hold my hand up and admit that I took my eye off the ball through from very subtle management changes last winter and ended up with an obese pony, luckily it didn’t develop into anything worse, but it was a wake up call.
So what happened?
The previous two winters the ponies had been out in all weathers with just the hedge for shelter, they had ad-lib meadow hay in round bales in the field. The first change last winter was that the shelter was completed so they had a lovely place to stay dry and out the wind. The second was that as I didn’t want to put round bales out, but had no hay storage, I ended up feeding haylage. They didn’t gain weight, but at the same time they didn’t lose weight either, with the abundance of grass last spring they gained weight, a lot!
It is a good idea to keep an eye on you ponies weight by regularly using a weigh tape, I had taken part in the CARE study a few years ago but when it ended I got out of habit of measuring them monthly so didn’t have that to indicate the weight gain.
I have taken this winter as an opportunity to get their weight back under control, they still have the shelter, but I have regulated their food intake, they are back on hay and given 24 access to a field with mature hedgerow that they can forage on rather than just eating a lot of hay. Apart from natural movement in the field, they are not exercised due to other issues but I am working on that ready for a more active spring. They are weighed monthly and have lost around 40 kg already.
What can you do?
Regulate food and encourage foraging- feed hay in small hole haynets and allow access to other plants and trees if possible.
Make puzzles to increase the time it takes to eat their forage ration – it is important to make sure your pony is not left without food for extended periods as their digestive system is designed to have a pretty much continuous supply of food and without it ulcers can develop.
Ensure food is low sugar – meadow hay in preference to rye hay or haylage.
Promote movement – turn out as much as possible 24/7 would be ideal. If ridden or can be worked in hand, long slow excercise work is great.
Don’t allow then to get too warm – leave unrugged if possible. If rugging is necessary, chose a lighter weight rug, leave off the neck cover.
Monitor your horses weight – use a weigh tape on a monthly basis so you can keep an eye on it.
I feel better about facing this spring and I hope you can too.