Many of us will have reduced our horse’s exercise regime in the early stages of COVID-19 and now that riding is being actively encouraged again, we may be confronted with fresh and potentially excitable behaviour!
To help curtail this, a combination of management and feeding changes may help.
Because we are now well into Spring, the grass in our pastures will have increased in energy content. This upswing in calorie intake can cause undesirable behavioural effects in even our quietest of horses. If you need an immediate fix, consider lunging before riding. We have safe lunging tips available on our social channels from Brand Ambassador Yazmin Pinchen and we encourage seeking these and other resources out if you’ll be lunging for the first time.
If you have slightly more time available before you plan to jump on for your first training session or hack, please consider reviewing and potentially altering your feeding programme to suit your horse’s energy needs at the current moment in time. Check their body condition score and ensure it hasn’t crept up whilst their riding hours have decreased. This is an early indicator that a change may need to take place.
Bear in mind that horses can gain weight even if they are not consuming a balanced diet; therefore, it is worth considering their dietary energy sources (fat, carbohydrates, and protein) separately to their vitamin and mineral needs. Unfortunately, UK pastures do not supply all the needed vitamins and minerals to balance a diet, and therefore, if your horse has been turned out without a vitamin and mineral lick or another source of daily vitamins and minerals (i.e. a Balancer or Daily Vitamins & Minerals supplement), introducing one into their diet now may be particularly beneficial in order to best support their return to work.
There are several laboratories that can offer testing services to give owners an indication of the exact nutrient contributions of their dietary components. Dodson & Horrell for example can offer forage, feed, and grass testing through their onsite laboratory, arrangeable through their Nutritional Helpline. Upon receipt of these nutrient values after testing, the team of nutritionists available through the Helpline can also provide bespoke feeding recommendations to either help guide or cross check your horse’s current diet. Services such as these help nutritionists, vets, and owners calculate whether horses are receiving energy in excess of their needs, which may potentially lead to excitable behaviour.
If you are confident that your horse is receiving the appropriate amount of total energy in their diet per day, a second important influencer on behaviour is the source of energy provided. As previously mentioned, energy comes from three sources: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
On label, these nutrients of interest are heavily indicated by starch, oil, and protein. Highly soluble forms of starch are readily broken down in the intestines, providing “quick” release energy. Although this is necessary in some situations (i.e. a jump off or polo match), your first hack after a period of rest isn’t usually a choice time. Selecting feed and forage sources that have a greater proportion of energy coming from oil and other “slow” release sources, will help promote a cool head in your horse.
One of Team D&H’s Five Star Eventing riders, Richard Jones, was asked how he promotes calm behaviour and an even temperament, and he responded, “Primarily, make sure you are feeding the correct type and amount of food for your horse, try to keep to a good routine in your horses management to help keep them feeling relaxed and secure. Try to increase your turnout as much as possible and for those that are still a little fresh, try lunging a few times a week, but don’t overdo this as remember your horse is not in full training.”
If you’re looking for specific support products following on from the sound approach implemented by Richard on his yard, Dodson & Horrell has several available and specifically formulated to help promote calm behaviour. Our Be Calm Balancer is a low calorie, fully balanced, pelleted feed that includes additional herbal inclusions that have all been described as having a calming effect. If you would rather use a product that can be easily added onto an existing feeding regime, consider Placid, Stroppy Mare, and Perfect Gentleman, all available in our Herbs & Supplements range.
To learn more about the above mentioned products and the nutritional and analytic services offered by Dodson & Horrell, please be encouraged to get in touch with the fantastic nutrition team contactable through the Helpline (01832 737300 option 3) or via our website live chat www.dodsonandhorrell.com
Dr. Courtney Miller BS BVetMed MRCVS
Dodson & Horrell’s Head of Technical Department