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Heatwaves and droughts in the summer pose a significant challenge for humans and animals, but also for the plant life. Many have already closed their pastures as nothing has regrown due to the drought. Those who have ample pastures are left with very little forage available.
Most grasses and numerous herbaceous plants have already blossomed. As they produce seeds, the nutrients are directed towards the seeds, resulting in a considerable decline in the plant’s nutritional value. Their purpose has been fulfilled: ensuring reproduction for the following year.

Therefore, even if the horses manage to find sufficient grazing, the nutritional value is rather limited in many areas. Good news for owners of good-doers, as they need to monitor their calorie intake diligently to prevent excessive weight gain. On the other hand, owners of hard keepers, hot-blooded horses, and older equines struggling to maintain weight are growing concerned. Their horses often lose weight faster than they can be fed.

Natural cycle

Normally, healthy horses follow a natural cycle where they accumulate some reserves during the summer’s grazing period and then exit the pasture with a few extra kilos. Over the winter, they naturally shed this excess weight due to increased energy expenditure caused by lower temperatures. The relatively inferior quality of hay compared to fresh pasture grass also contributes to it.
However, the weight loss during winter, which pleases owners of easy keepers , often causes great concern for owners of hard keepers.

Therefore, it is advisable to initiate feeding these horses in a timely manner. Waiting until the horse becomes too thin is counterproductive as it takes longer to regain the lost weight. In the case of hard keepers, it has proven beneficial to increase the protein content in their diet when they can still maintain their weight, even when the pastures have lost their green and lush appearance.

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No concentrate feed!

This does not mean that you should provide them with huge quantities of concentrated feed. Concentrated feeds typically have a high starch and/or sugar content.
This fast-release form of energy needs to be utilised through physical activity. If the horse is not sufficiently exercised in relation to its sugar/starch intake, it can lead to disruptions in the blood sugar balance and/or the accumulation of impure byproducts in the connective tissue, resulting in lymph buildup. (Note that not all horses with a distubred blood sugar balance, aka insulin resistance, are overweight! Some are extremely thin.)

This may visually make the horses appear “rounded”. However, once the feed is cut out, the lymph accumulations subside, and the horses often end up thinner than before, with all the lymphatic swellings gone.

Protein for horses

Protein is not primarily utilised by horses as an energy source, unlike sugar and starch. It plays a crucial role in maintaining or gaining a healthy weight though. It can be derived from various sources, and its quality varies accordingly.
For instance, the protein composition in soy is unbalanced for horses and mainly contributes to kidney strain and lymph accumulation. Conversely, legumes like alfalfa or sainfoin have a much more suitable protein composition for horses due to their high content of essential amino acids such as lysine, methionine, and threonine. In comparison to alfalfa, sainfoin (OKAPI Sainfoin) has an additional advantage as it contains tannins. They help stabilise the intestinal environment, resulting in better overall utilisation of the feed ration.
Thus, supplementing the diet with sainfoin has proven to be highly beneficial for hard keepers, particularly towards the end of the grazing season. This includes those with dental issues, horses of hot-blooded types, horses experiencing significant internal stress, older horses, etc. The increased protein content compensates for what is no longer present in dried grass, and the tannins facilitate the transition from pasture to hay feeding in autumn and winter, ensuring the horse optimally obtains its necessary nutrients.

Alfalfa (OKAPI Luzerne Fix & Fertig) also boasts a high protein content and a favourable amino acid profile, and most horses find it quite palatable, especially since it lacks the bitterness of sainfoin, for example.
However, during the summer when there is ample sunlight, it is advisable not to feed alfalfa to horses with significant white markings on their faces (prominent blazes, Perlino, Cremello, Paints, Appaloosas, Tinkers, Pintos, and leopard horses, all horses with pink skin around the nostrils or eyes). Instead, it is recommended to feed them sainfoin to avoid the risk of sunburn on the nose, as alfalfa is suspected to increase photosensitivity, thereby raising the susceptibility to sunburn.

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