In cold weather the best thing to feed horses is fiber as much as they will eat. Good quality hay is the best answer. Horses digest the fiber in the Hindgut (Cecum and colons), where there is a huge population of bacteria which ferment the fiber. They give off short chain fatty acids as a by product of fermentation, the horse can absorb these through the gut walls and use them as an energy source. The bacteria also generate heat as they ferment which can be a valuable source of warmth for the horse. So there is a two fold benefit from feeding the hay.
The hay is best fed in a sheltered place protected as much as possible from wind. Wind reduces the effectiveness of the hair coat in preventing heat loss.
The other important thing is access to liquid water, this can be the most challenging aspect of cold weather care. Horses can and do eat snow, but they won’t consume enough to meet their water needs. They also do not like really cold water and may not drink enough putting them at risk of dehydration and colic.
Most horses grow enough coat to insulate themselves from cold, but thin coated horses may need a waterproof and windproof blanket to help them retain body heat. Blankets should be checked twice daily in case of slippage, binding and entanglement.
In short, when the temperatures drop, your horse will need: Hay and more hay, liquid water and some kind of windbreak. Make sure there is room enough for all the horses to get access to hay, the ones lower on the totem pole may not be able to get close enough to eat what they need if the access is limited.
If you have questions about feeding your horse in the winter, contact us directly for free consultation and advice.