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Oil provides the horse with more energy in winter

Horses utilize dietary fibers, particularly cellulose and hemicellulose, as their primary energy source. When energy demands rise, the horse initially enhances the energy yield from its roughage by improving its utilization in the large intestine.

Additionally, during the winter months, horses tend to consume more hay due to lower temperatures, sometimes requiring 20-25kg per day to meet their energy needs.

When energy from dietary fiber becomes insufficient, horses turn to branched amino acids, which are the fundamental building blocks of proteins, as an additional source of energy. Energy from fats is only utilized as a last resort when no other energy sources are available.

Feeding oils to horses can be problematic as they are poorly digested in the small intestine and can disrupt the intestinal flora if they enter the large intestine.

Including oils in the feed does not provide the horse with additional energy. In fact, it can reduce energy production from roughage.

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During winter, my horse requires a warm meal (mash) and a thermal rug daily to prevent it from getting too cold.

Throughout evolution, horses have evolved in climatically demanding regions, such as steppes, semi-deserts, and tundras. These landscapes are characterized by extreme variations in temperature, ranging from extreme heat to bitter cold. Their temperature comfort range typically spans from approximately -15°C to +25°C.

Thermal blankets significantly interfere with the natural temperature regulation provided by the horse’s coat, leading to a situation where the horse may be consistently either too warm or too cold. Therefore, it’s important to remember that just because I’m cold doesn’t mean my horse is cold. DELETE

Moreover, feeding horses mash, a meal enjoyed by many horses due to its nutrient-rich composition, is not essential for keeping the horse warm. Thermoregulation in horses occurs through their winter coat, seeking shelter from the wind or rain (such as shelter, trees, and bushes), and metabolic adjustments governed by thyroid hormones to regulate heat production.

In other words, if a horse becomes cold, the thyroid hormones ensure that it utilizes more energy to generate heat. In such scenarios, it is essential to ensure an ample provision of high-quality hay as an energy source.

The concern for this situation typically applies to very old horses, as they may encounter challenges in obtaining sufficient energy from hay due to dental problems. Providing soaked hay cobs and sainfoin cobs is essential to ensure that these older horses receive the necessary energy to maintain their “internal heating” during the winter.

During the winter, I supplement my horse’s diet with vitamin C for its immune system by providing a fruit salad.

Fruit salad
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Certain animals have a dietary requirement for vitamin C. These include humans, primates and guinea pigs. Horses are not one of them. They produce vitamin C themselves from sugar – and there is plenty of it in their food. Therefore there is no need to feed horses fruits like oranges, mandarins, kiwis, or other vitamin C-rich foods in their diet. Conversely, all these varieties of fruit significantly disrupt the equilibrium in the large intestine, causing more harm than good. Hence, exercise caution when offering fruits and vegetables, as they can be considered as the equivalent of chocolate bars for horses. They should only be given sparingly and infrequently.

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“Better good haylage than bad hay.”

This comparison is commonly heard, but is it truly analogous to me expressing a preference for a hamburger and fries over a spoiled apple? Certainly, moldy hay is not suitable for equine consumption, and this is widely acknowledged. However, it’s important to note that an unhealthy feed like haylage doesn’t become a healthier option solely because moldy hay is undesirable.

Haylage and other ensiled feeds are typically unsuitable for horses because of the ensiling process. Lactic acid bacteria, which are not naturally present in the intestinal flora, are introduced into the intestine on a large scale.

In the long term, this can lead to health problems such as Cryptopyrroluria, sweet itch, molting, thrush, laminitis, lymph congestion, and various other metabolic issues. Furthermore, dry haylage, in particular, can often develop mold issues during the storage period, as it fails to achieve a pH level below 5 and the necessary “dormancy.”

By mid-winter at the latest, a bale of haylage resembles more of a loaf of bread encased in a plastic bag and stored on a balcony. Regrettably, neither humans nor horses detect the mold in haylage since the moisture content binds the spores (moldy hay, conversely, tends to produce dust), and the sour silage aroma masks the musty odor.

If you remain skeptical, it’s advisable to collect a sample in February and subject it to testing for microbiological contamination. Frequently, the results of supposedly “good” haylage are so alarming that it raises the question of whether moldy hay might have been the “healthier” alternative after all.

We know how difficult it is for the farmer to produce good hay and how difficult it is for the horse owner to get good hay and store it properly under cover. Nonetheless, it remains the most nutritious foundational feed for your horse and cannot be substituted by any haylage, regardless of how “high-quality” it may be.

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“In winter, horses are not allowed in the pasture.”

Currently, there is a prevailing “fructan panic” among horse owners who are extremely critical of winter and transitional period grazing. Wild horses graze on grass year-round as well without experiencing constant fructan-induced laminitis. How does that work?

The difference is mainly due to two factors: Pasture growth and intestinal flora. Over the past few decades, the vegetation on our pastures has shifted significantly from extensive and lean grasses to stress-resistant, high-performance grasses that are more resistant to trampling.

These high-performance grasses have not only been introduced through new seed mixtures on pastures but also due to the input of surrounding high-performance meadows. This has been promoted by nitrogen fertilization and overgrazing, where there are too many horses on too small an area.

These grasses contain significantly more fructan than the extensive grasses that actually belong on a horse pasture. The second factor is the often already disturbed intestinal balance of our domestic horses.

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Fructan is a storage carbohydrate in plants that, unlike starch, cannot be digested in the small intestine of horses. In the large intestine, fructan can be digested by lactic acid bacteria, resulting in lactic acid as a waste product, which can acidify the intestine. This is extremely problematic for the intestinal flora.

This is harmless for wild horses because their intestines have practically no lactic acid bacteria. However, if your horse already has an imbalanced intestinal flora, this becomes a problem.

Lactic acid bacteria are abundant in the large intestine of horses that have been or are being fed haylage or concentrated feed. This is due to the fact that concentrated feed, among other things, leads to excessive multiplication of lactic acid bacteria, which are naturally located in the front part of the stomach. Subsequently, they are carried along with the chyme into the large intestine.

When they find suitable feeding conditions, such as fructan or undigested concentrated feed components that bypass the small intestine, they can establish themselves in the large intestine and significantly disrupt the gut environment. If a horse with an imbalanced gut flora is allowed to graze on high-performance grasses in late autumn or winter when fructan levels are high, these pathogens can multiply excessively.

This results in a sudden drop in the pH value, leading to a mass die-off of the natural intestinal flora. The endotoxins released as a result can then trigger “fructan laminitis.” Hence, caution is advised when allowing many domestic horses access to “winter pasture.” However, this is primarily a problem caused by the owner, resulting from disrupted intestinal homeostasis combined with the over-intensive use of grazing areas.

Conclusion

The most effective preventive measure is to maintain and feed your horse in a manner that aligns with its natural needs, and to implement suitable therapeutic interventions to restore intestinal balance if dietary issues have occurred in the past. This will enable the horse to safely graze on grass during the winter months without adverse consequences.