Feeding the Box Resting Horse this Winter
With snow set to fall in Scotland, northern England and north Wales tonight and through into Tuesday (get me, thinking I’m the weather girl; this is a sure fire way for it to be sunny with a mild breeze) I thought it would be a good idea to take a look in general as to how best to feed our horses and ponies when they are stuck on box rest…
For those who are only confined on box rest for a couple of days, focussing on forage and reducing hard feed as necessary is the main priority whilst maintaining adequate water intake. This helps to keep your horse happy and content but also the digestive tract healthy.
This time of year, most horses are on a predominantly hay/haylage diet as opposed to grass due to reduced grazing. So the good news on the box resting front (I felt you needed some good news as the word snow was uttered) is that the dietary change tends not to be as sudden as if say they were suddenly placed on box rest in spring or summer when the diet is based more so on grass. Nevertheless, there are still some simple steps you can follow to make a short period of confinement as safe as possible for your horse: -
Feed little and often (as always). We always want to feed our horses little and often, and for the box resting horse this must not be forgotten. Providing hay or haylage often will help to maintain their need for trickle feeding which in turn will help to reduce boredom, and also the risk of digestive issues such as gastric ulcers or colic.
Extending eating time will also help with the above. Think of double netting hay nets or using small hole nets. You could also try placing haynets in different locations around the stable to get your horse to move about and encourage foraging behaviour.
Ensure adequate water intake! Impaction colic can be a real risk. In this cold weather watch out for water buckets freezing over, and particularly automatic waterers which may freeze leaving the horse with very little over night. If you have an automatic waterer and it is likely the pipes will freeze please add water buckets to your horse's stable. It is also worth offering warm water as it may help water intake. Feeds such as soaked sugar beet, or simply soaking your hay can also help to support fluid intakes.
For those who were in harder work, possibly on a cereal based hard feed who suddenly can’t be exercised there is a good chance you will need to reduce hard feed. For horses who are to be on box rest for longer than a couple of days you may need to look at changing the hard feed completely to one based around highly digestible fibres and oils. Such feeds help to reduce the risk of excitability and will be kinder on the hind gut. Some horses may just require a balancer to provide them with all of the necessary vitamins and minerals. If in doubt check with an experienced nutritionist. When introducing a new feed please do so gradually.
DO NOT add iron/blood tonics, just because you think you should as default. I have been asked this question a lot recently regarding the box resting horse, just as standard should you add one. NO, is my answer. No and again thrice no! Horses are more likely to receive toxic levels of iron than to have a deficiency. Iron is readily available in their forage.
A probiotic however could be really useful. Stress or a change in diet can cause a disturbance to the friendly bacteria in your horse’s hind gut. A probiotic can help to promote a healthy digestive tract and aid digestion. Look for one with high levels of Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
Play games… Consider adding a treat ball with a small amount of high fibre, low calorie cubes (look for one that says it is suitable as a hay replacer) to entertain your horse, or hide carrots in his haynet for him to seek out.
Spend time with your horse! Remember just because you can’t ride doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy spending time together. A good groom will help to stimulate circulation and again reduce boredom.
Hopefully with any luck we will not be thrown into a snowy kingdom overnight, which as fun as it was as a kid getting a free snow day off school isn’t quite so much fun with horses!! If the snow does arrive, hopefully this will give you a few pointers to keep you on the right track.
If you have any concerns regarding your horse’s health do not hesitate to get in touch with your vet and if you are still unsure as to what best to feed your horse please do get in touch for a fully tailored appointment either remotely or in person via phone 07901 337826 or email firstname.lastname@example.org .