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Women & Horses by Mary D. Midkiff - horseback riding fitness techniques for women

Women & Horses, knowledge for the female equestrian; female equestrian fitness training and riding tips

The Women & Horses Newsletter - April 2005

Clarification on Feeding
By Mary D. Midkiff

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I received a letter with concerns that I was misleading on my advice for feeding grain during the winter months. Even though my instructions were in reference to horses in work and training only, I have quoted the feeding instructions from the "Horse Owner's Veterinary HandBook" to clarify and explain the best approach for all horses.

"Dietary energy is the principal dietary concern in cold weather. Protein, vitamin, and mineral needs are increased slightly. In winter, it is important to feed a ration that gives off a lot of heat. High-quality hay is best for this purpose and is preferred over grain. This is because roughages are digested by bacterial fermentation in the cecum and colon, which produes a great deal of heat. If high-quality roughage is available and the horse has unlimited access to it, it is unlikely that you will need to feed concentrates. However, if high-quality roughage is not available, or the horse loses body weight and condition, then feed some grain.

All grains are satisfactory, but corn has certain advantages. Corn generates twice as much energy as an equal volume of oats. Accordingly, less volume needs to be fed in order to produce the same amount of energy. This leaves more room in the digestive tract for hay. This is the main reason why corn is preferred by many horsemen as a winter feed. (For more information, see "More Thoughts on Feeding")

If the proportions of grain in the ration exceeds 40 percent, consider feeding a fat supplement also.

Water requirements for horses in cold weather are often overlooked. Water sources can feeze over. Occasionally the water is too cold for the horse to drink, especially if the horse has bad teeth. A drop in water consumption results in a drop in food consumption and therefore in energy. It will then be difficult for the horse to keep up its weight and body temperature. Inadequate water consumption may cause the stool to become hard and difficult to pass. This is why constipation and rectal impactions are much more common in freezing weather.

Water heaters should be placed in outdoor tanks to keep the temperature in the trough above 45 degrees F. It is important to insure that the water heater is functioning properly by checking the trough daily.

If the water heater shorts out, the shock may not be severe enough to injure the horse, but it will keep him from drinking. In extremely cold weather, remove ice several times a day. Horses have been known to live on snow for limited periods. This is not ideal and should not be relied upon to supply water needs."


More Thoughts on Feeding
from Susan Gordon

Hi Mary,

Just a quick note concerning your recommendation for corn as a preferred winter feed... We have Spanish-Norman horses, which are Percheron/Andalusian crosses, and it's been documented that this type of horse, as well as several other draft, WB, and *rounder* type horses, can have big time problems with corn, and/or other high carb feeds. Dr. Beth Valentine ( did extensive studies in conjunction with Cornell University regarding this, and it's been found that many horses, if not most, do much better on a low carb diet. Consequently, even though your advice that feeding more hay than grain is right on the money, suggesting corn might not be. Horses who have sensitivity (and there seems to be a lot) do best on a diet consisting of more hay than grain, but with higher fat and protein supplementation rather than carbs if they need to be fed *grain*. The benefits are great. In addition to reducing or eliminating many health and behavior problems, a low carb diet will also eventually reduce the amount of your feed bill.

We feed our horses the best quality grass hay we can get, basically as much as they can eat, and a VERY SMALL amount (<2 lbs. per day for mature draft mares) of *grain*, which is a combination of 1 part Purina Senior, 1 part Black Oil Sunflower Seeds, 1 part Buckeye Ultimate Finish and 2 parts Beet Pulp, amounts adjusted accordingly for each horse. Some might get a little more, some a little less. We have some of the healthiest, slickest, bright eyed and best conditioned horses I've seen. And I've seen a lot in the 35+ years I've had horses.

Please know that in writing to you that I'm not trying to sound like some kind of know-it-all. It's just that I've experienced first hand the kind of problems that can be caused by feeding a high carb diet, the least of which are horses who might get too hot. Considering that Warmbloods and many other sporthorse types which are draft crosses have become so popular, and also taking into consideration that this type of horse is most likely to develop problems from a high carb diet, I would really like to think you might reconsider recommending corn as a preferred feed.

Sincerely, Susan Gordon

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