Feeding your young horse properly is especially important (older horses need to be fed properly too, but are much more forgiving if you are not feeding them correctly!), as they are growing and maturing – they are laying down new muscle and bone that will shape the way they look for the rest of their life. The process of growing and maturing is a long one, with larger horses such as Friesians not reaching full maturity until they are 6 or 7 years old! It is difficult to know what to feed our young Friesians in winter especially, as they don’t tend to need much hard feed, but still need the correct nutrients to allow them to grow.
Coming into winter, the pasture is starting to lose some of the nutrients it had when it was first becoming green last spring – it may or may not still look green, but the nutritional value has fallen, and the grass is mostly made up of fibre and moisture now. At this time it is important to make sure your weanling or young horse is receiving enough vitamins and minerals in order to appropriately supplement their diet. You can use products such as salt blocks, but these do not necessarily give them everything they need, and it is impossible to tell how much they have consumed, so a powdered or pelleted supplement in their hard feed (or just mixed with a bit of chaff if they are not hard fed) is a better option. Providing the right levels of vitamins and minerals to your weanling ensures that they are not in excess of or deficient in a particular vitamin or mineral, that may be vital for proper growth and maturity.
With such a young horse, you are probably not rugging during winter – our little rascals tend to get rugs caught, ripped, chewed on and generally ruined so there is not much point at this stage. Therefore your weanlings really need appropriate shelter in their paddocks, and plenty of hay and roughage to keep them warm.
Providing horses with roughage and fibre in the form of hay (even your poorest quality grass hay for horses that are getting too fat!), ensures that the big fermentation vat that is their hindgut is always full – having their hindgut full and fermenting away produces heat, thus keeping your horses warm, as well as keeping them hydrated as it holds and retains water.
It is important to monitor your horses body condition – in winter their long coats make it harder to tell whether your horse is getting too fat or perhaps too thin. You can feel for fat over certain areas of the horses body such as the ribcage. By doing this regularly – say, once a week at least – you should be able to notice differences in your horses bodyweight. Friesians tend to get fat really easily, so it is important to make sure you keep on top of their weight – it is so much harder to get that weight back off!
If your horse is getting too fat, a reduction in the amount of hard feed he is getting will remedy this problem, or giving a lower quality hay to take the weight, off (remember that it is very important that your horse is getting at least 1% and ideally 2% of its bodyweight in roughage – pasture or hay per day, so reducing the amount of hay you are giving them can be disastrous, as it is essential to your horses digestive health!). If your horse is getting too thin, increase the hard feed, perhaps by adding fats in the form of oils, soybean meal, rice bran etc. as these are not ‘fizzy’ feeds.
It is vital to remember that each horse is an individual, and each horse will need to be fed differently – some will lose more weight than others in winter, some will put on weight!! So make sure that you check each horse and alter their diet accordingly and you will see a lovely yearling emerging on the other side of winter!