Finally, the sun has come out and rugs and coats are off which means it’s time to perfect that summer figure…not just for you but your horses and ponies too! This time of year, one of the most common problems I hear about is horses or ponies lacking energy, worn out after just one or two rounds. It is vital to remember however energy = calories, meaning as long as your horse is maintaining a healthy weight, they are receiving sufficient energy from their feed to support their workload. Lack of energy could also be due to other factors including changes in work, weather, routine, temperament and excess weight gain. Although it is tempting to increase feed to achieve a more ‘energetic’ response, this is unlikely to be the solution and you will instead encourage weight gain, leading to a porky, lazy horse! Traditionally adding a high starch mix has been thought to be answer but this often results in an increase in spooky/heated behaviour rather than helping them get to the end of the course any better, as well as causing them to gain additional squashy bits! Feeding a mugful or handful of mix will not cause the pounds to pile on, however in this amount is unlikely to have any affect at all. Finally, for those at risk of, or suffering from conditions such as laminitis/colic/ulcers, high starch feeds need to be avoided altogether.
Forage is the largest source of calories the horses diet so if your horse’s waistline is expanding, you may need to think about restricting his intake. Forage should not be restricted to less than 1.5% of bodyweight per day although depending on how much your horse is currently eating; cutting back so significantly may not be necessary. In fact, ponies turned out at grass un-muzzled have been seen to consume up to 5% of their bodyweight in grass alone! Equally, horse owners don’t have the luxury of being able to measure just how much their horse is eating once they are given access to grazing, so consider speaking to a nutritionist for more practical advice on managing individual horses and ponies. Grazing muzzles have been shown to reduce grass intake by 80% but strip grazing, turnout in bald paddocks or stabling for part of the day may also help. However, be cautious of turning out for short periods un-muzzled. Although turning out for just a few hours per day may seem like a logical way to restrict grass intake, studies have shown that ponies can quickly learn to ‘gorge’ almost 1% of their bodyweight in only 3 hours un-muzzled!
Hard feed will also need a re-think. You may need to reduce or remove the ration you are currently supplying and instead top up or replace with a balancer to provide the correct levels of vitamins, minerals and quality proteins but without the weight gain? So long as you are providing a balanced diet, you could consider adding an energy supplement. There are several available on the market, just be cautious of those containing iron, as providing iron in excess amounts can be toxic. Most horses and ponies will receive sufficient levels of iron from their forage and there is no evidence to suggest that supplementing with additional sources will help improve stamina/energy levels.All in all if your horse or pony is looking a little squishy round the edges, putting them on a summer diet may just help them get that spring back in their step!