Winter can be particularly cruel to older horses, so Dengie senior nutritionist Katie Williams provides some timely advice to help keep them hale and hearty over the coming months.
Older horses feel the cold more keenly than their younger stable mates and, when the temperatures begin to plummet, so can their weight. As horses burn up greater amounts of energy trying to keep warm, they need an increase in calories if they are to avoid shedding those valuable pounds. This energy should come from fibre, particularly if a horse is at risk from laminitis.
When the fibre is fermented by bacteria in the hindgut, it generates heat, which acts as the horse’s own internal central-heating system.
A high level of fibre in diet is essential for digestive health and all horses and ponies should be fed at least 1.5 per cent of their body weight each day. This can be in the form of grass, hay or haylage – but, as the goodness of grass dips over the winter months and forage might be in short supply, short-chop feeds such as Dengie Hi-Fi Senior can be given.
Horses’ teeth are often seen as the cause of weight loss and poor condition, so they should be checked and rasped at least once a year by your vet or equine dentist. Many older horses will struggle to manage hay’s long fibres because of the deteriorating condition of their teeth, so chopped Dengie Hi-Fi Senior can be used in these circumstances. It contains a blend of high-temperature-dried grasses and alfalfa, and has a similar calorie and protein level as good-quality hay – and the short-chop length makes it much easier to chew.
Older horses that still struggle to chew even short-chopped fibre can be given a soaked fibre feed such as Alfa-Beet or Alfalfa Pellets, which can be made into a mash or gruel.
As a horse gets older, the efficiency of the gut begins to decline, a fact that should be taken into consideration when considering an appropriate diet. Alfalfa is a perfect basis for a veteran diet because it is a great source of fibre and higher levels of protein required by the older horse. Care should be taken, however, to ensure that the protein is of good quality rather than concentrating on quantity alone.
Alfalfa and full-fat soya are rich in lysine and methionine, which are essential amino acids that help to maintain muscle tone and topline.
Using a feed that includes digestive enhancers such as prebiotics, probiotics or yeast cultures can help to boost digestive efficiency by creating a healthy environment for the microbial population in the gut. This is particularly beneficial for improving fibre digestion and can have a significant impact on body weight and condition.
Horses spend longer periods of time in the stable, so there is an increased risk of respiratory conditions caused by dusty hay, bedding and ammonia build-up. Dengie fibre feeds are all dried at high temperatures to create a dust-free, clean source of fibre.
Balancers and supplements are widely given to a wide range of horses, but there are some ranges specifically designed to suit golden oldies. These include a good all-round vitamin and mineral supplement such as Dengie Senior Vits & Mins, which will provide a balanced diet and support digestive health, joints and the respiratory system. Look out for supplements containing glucosamine for joints, prebiotics for gut health and Vitamin C for respiratory problems.
For more information, log on to www.dengie.com or telephone the Dengie Feedline on 0845 345 5115.