In part 3 we consider grazing and what our options are for the good doer.

While it is obvious when we look at a field of lush, rich, green grass that this is unlikely to be suitable for good doers, is the alternative of very short cropped grass the best alternative, or perhaps something in between?
Firstly, it’s important to understand that there are a couple of factors here that we are aiming to control, the first being overall quantity and the second being sugar levels and subsequently the potential for more calories. When managing the good doer, both factors should be considered.
While we can strive to do the best by our equine friends when it comes to grass intake, it is very rarely completely black and white, although there are some fundamental scientific facts we can base our management on, grey areas still exist which can muddy the waters. Management must not only consider the facts below but also the individual horse or pony involved.

In order to understand the reasons behind suitability of different grass lengths, we need to consider where the nutrients are stored within grass and how we can gauge grass intake.


How much grass does a horse eat?

Research suggests that horses and ponies can eat anywhere between 1.5 – 5.2% dry matter of their bodyweight per day. As a rough guide, using an average of 3% bodyweight, a 500kg horse could consume 15kg dry matter of grass in a 24 hour period (on good grass), this is just over 0.6kg per hour. This highlights the very real danger of horses consuming excess calories from grass alone. As a general rule, grass will always provide more nutrients than hay or haylage so, if the grass is good it’s likely that the horse’s energy demands will be partially, if not fully, satisfied (or exceeded) by what he grazes each day.

During the process of photosynthesis, grass creates sugar (sucrose, glucose and fructose), required for growth, and any excess is converted into storage carbohydrate. This sugar can be referred to in a number of ways: one being non-structural carbohydrates (NSC), which is the simple sugars, fructan and starch fraction of the plant. A term more commonly used in pasture analysis, is the term water soluble carbohydrate (WSC), which encompasses simple sugars and fructans.
UK grass species store excess sugar (produced by photosynthesis) as fructan, while those adapted to more tropical climes store the majority as starch. UK grass species must have the genetic potential to produce high levels of WSC in order to be productive throughout a long grazing season and a cold winter.
When it comes to where sugars are stored, WSCs are generally more abundant in the stem and leaf sheaths than in the blades of grass; levels tending to increase with plant maturity, peaking during flowering and thereafter declining. Over 30% of fructans can occur in the tops of mature plants, especially at flowering (going to head), but levels remain lower if the plant is not allowed to head.
Unsurprisingly, we notice a preference in grazing behaviour that can be linked to sugar storage, selection for grazing being closely linked with WSC content, making reducing WSC intake arguably even more challenging!
In some conditions, WSC levels in grass can reach up to 50% (dry matter)! This is significantly more than grass hay or haylage which can reach ~20%. Having knowledge of when these sugar levels are likely to be at their peak may help to inform better management for good doers and those prone to problems such as laminitis.

While these figures can sound scarily high, it is important to remember that while undesirable for some, sugar is by no means unnatural for horses. In fact, many working horses, of healthy body condition, tolerate sugar well. However, for those requiring a low sugar and ultimately low calorie diet, management of grazing is essential, although it is important to note that a completely sugar- free diet is an almost impossible goal. The best that can be achieved is to minimise sugar intake from forage (grass, hay, haylage), which is typically the largest contributor of sugar in the diet.
Sugar levels can vary between seasons. In the UK, there is increased potential for a rise in horses WSC intake during spring when soil temperatures reach 5°C, and again in the autumn. While there is an increase in the level of WSC during this period, the potential for increased intake is more likely linked to an increased potential intake of grass overall. When it comes to considering WSC levels, while certain species can accumulate more than others and certain times of year may see a peak in level, WSC concentrations are more closely associated with environmental conditions.


What impacts the WSC level in grass?

There are many factors that influence the level of WSCs in grass and the same grass pasture can vary from year to year and even at different points throughout the day! While there are no absolute guarantees, considering the following factors, which increase WSC levels may help to identify times of greatest potential intake. It is important to note that a lot of these factors have a common theme running through them – stress. When grass is under stress of any kind, WSC levels accumulate.

  • Temperature: Cold nights and bright sunny days. The risk of WSC accumulation increases during spring when grass is growing, when the night time temperature drops below 5°C and during the winter months, immediately after a hard frost or when grass is snow covered. In these conditions the plant is unable to use the WSCs for growth, which can lead to accumulation. The risk increases further when these colder nights are coupled with bright sunny days.
  • Reduced soil fertility
  • Water stress e.g. drought
  • Sub-lethal herbicide application
  • Presence of heavy metals in soil
  • Time of day (afternoon/early evening): when the right environmental conditions allow,WSC levels will rise during the day (sugars accumulating as a product of photosynthesis)peaking late afternoon and decreasing once the sun sets. The plant then uses these sugarsovernight for growth, and as such, levels tend to be at their lowest first thing in the morning(typically 3am to 10am). Where grass has undergone ‘stress’ e.g. drought or night frost, thisprocess of converting sugar to fibre cannot occur, meaning the grass may still be high in sugar come the morning.· High WSC accumulating species: e.g. Ryegrasses
  • Stage of growth: flower/development
  • Light intensity: Sunlight and bright days! High light intensity is thought to increase WSC levels in pasture, low light intensity is thought to do the opposite.
  • Over-grazing and under-grazing: Over-grazing and exposing the crown of the grass causes ‘stress’ to the plant resulting in increased WSC levels. However, under-grazing and allowing grass to ‘go to head’ also results in potential for higher WSC intake.

Management tips for reducing WSC intake:
– Avoid turnout on frosty bright mornings during the winter months or bright days in the spring/autumn where overnight temperatures have dropped below 5°C.
– When daytime temperature rises above 30°C, respiration increases faster than photosynthesis and subsequently WSC content is reduced. As such these periods of increased growth may present opportunities for reduced WSC turnout.
– Turn-out early morning or late evening (bearing in mind exceptions noted above).
– Turn-out on cloudy days or in shady paddocks where there is less photosynthesis, so sugars do not accumulate as quickly. It is for this very reason, that wooded areas (excluding trees which can pose risk such as sycamores and oak) can be very effective turnout areas where calorie/WSC intake is trying to be reduced.
– Don’t be too focused on grass species. Cultivating a pasture comprising of low WSC- accumulating grass species is harder than it might seem and even then, environmental conditions and management are likely to have a larger bearing on actual WSC intake. The additional challenge is that lower accumulating WSC species are often associated with lower productivity, so choosing a grass species that is well adapted to the growing area and seeking the right advice on seed mix is crucial. Management practises to minimise WSC intake would still apply if a lower WSC accumulating species is achieved, while avoiding plant stress by enhancing soil fertility and moisture level, will also help.

So what is the problem with short grass?

We know that when grass is under stress it is higher in WSCs. So, where grass is grazed close but importantly not to the point where the grass is permanently damaged, the horse is repeatedly taking the newest growth (which is under stress) and therefore likely to be high in WSCs and ultimately calories (and low in fibre). However, this is less likely to be the case where the area grazed is so small that the horse is grazing faster than the grass is growing, which will result in permanent damage to the sward and ultimately degraded bare pasture.

So is longer grass the answer?

In short, no. While longer, older grass is typically higher in fibre and lower in WSC (providing it has not gone to head), the horse is able to take larger mouthfuls and therefore a much greater quantity overall as compared to the shorter grass. Therefore, it is completely conceivable that the same amount of calories/energy (and WSC) could be consumed, therefore potentially presenting a similar risk. In fact, it could be argued that this type of grazing actually presents more risk in terms of overall calorie consumption due to the likely larger quantity.

So what is the answer?!

It is really down to the individual. We know that turning out for a shorter period of time can lead to compensatory grazing (the horse/pony eating more grass in less time!) and is therefore ineffective, so what are our options?

One option would be to graze close but not to the point of sward damage. This can reduce overall intake through reducing bite size (essentially like a grazing muzzle) BUT this could come at the risk of not meeting minimum fibre requirements and crucially not satisfying the horse’s appetite (which is linked to dry matter intake rather than number of calories) – resulting in a hungry horse! Long term grazing in this manner can also compromise dentition (causing excessive wear to the front teeth). If you decide to keep your horses under this management (or have little choice in the matter) ensure that you supplement this with a high fibre (late cut hay/haylage potentially alongside straw, (at a maximum 30% of the forage ration)) to help meet requirements and satisfy appetite.

Another option is to remove grazing from the picture altogether. Arguably the easiest way to control intake, by removing the main factor which is difficult to regulate. You can then pair turnout on a bare or woodchip paddock with a suitable low calorie forage source such as late cut forage, ideally soaked and or steamed.

In both of the above management scenarios, Trickle Nets can be used to increase chew time and mimic grazing.

A grazing muzzle is another alternative and despite not quite conforming to that picturesque idea of ponies grazing naturally in the field, can achieve something close to what we are after – opportunity to burn some calories by promoting movement and a trickle feeding of food through the system enabled through essentially restricting bite size. Be sure to introduce these gradually and adhere to best practise regarding appropriate length of grass for use and maximum duration of wear.

Other methods of restriction such as strip grazing and mixed grazing are available but don’t work for all, a lot of these systems still enabling intakes which far exceed requirements of many leisure horses and ponies.
If using any management that incorporates grazing, try and also consider the environmental
conditions and let these inform your day to day management. Also consider compensatory grazing. If grass intake is restricted using a grazing muzzle, for example, which cannot be used for more than 12 hours, the remaining 12 hours will need to be spent in a stable/dry lot to avoid compensatory grazing.

Pasture and/or forage is likely to be the main source of sugar in most horses’ diets and while some can tolerate this, others may need their intake restricting whether for specific health concerns or to moderate behaviour or energy levels. Grass pasture is undoubtedly one of the most natural feed sources for horses however it is important to consider how it has changed since the horse’s evolution and therefore, should be constantly reassessed as part of the horse’s diet.


Briony Witherow MSc RNutr. FHEA
Practical Equine Nutrition
Consultancy in Equine Nutrition
Tel. 07908 984 034

A four-part series on the tale behind the good doer.

Part two:

In part one we explored how our native breeds have evolved and some of the challenges that modern management presents. In this blog we discuss different pasture types and how these compare to what our native breeds require.

Within modern management, it is increasingly common for horses to graze monoculture (single grass species) pastures, more suited to dairy cows and production livestock. This is a major factor suspected to contribute to obesity levels, as ponies would naturally have grazed meadows which featured a variety of grasses and browse, rather than single species pastures.

Broadly speaking, pasture type can be divided into four main categories, knowledge of which can help us to appreciate some of the differences between what horses have evolved to thrive on and what they are presented with in domestication.

Improved grassland has been managed to increase its productivity. These pastures are dominated by productive species such as ryegrass, and white clover. These species are designed to be more competitive and provide more calories per mouthful.

Semi-improved grassland has had some agricultural improvement (such as drainage or fertilisation) and is dominated by species such as ryegrass and cocksfoot.

Semi-natural (or unimproved) grassland is where grazing, cutting or burning prevents scrub and trees from becoming established but is otherwise not altered by human intervention. This type of grassland is species-rich and is usually dominated by less productive species such as fescues, along with sedges, rushes and mosses. Unfortunately, species-rich grassland is now relatively uncommon, however some good examples still exist, in places such as Exmoor and Dartmoor.

Degraded grassland is exactly as it sounds – grassland that has been mismanaged and become poached, over-grazed or under-grazed, dominated by weeds such as thistles, nettles and docks. This is an all too common sight with horse pastures and is undesirable, even for the good doer.

The majority of grassland grazed by domesticated horses in the UK would be classed as improved or semi-improved, containing more productive species such as ryegrass. Ryegrass is an example of a species that has been continually ‘improved’ to be more productive for farm animals such as cows and sheep and as such can be one of the least suitable swards (area of grass) for meeting the needs of the native pony, the species specifically bred for high energy (high sugar) values.

Less productive species such as fescues and timothy are better for the native horse or pony. These species accumulate lower levels of sugar and therefore tend to be lower in calories than their more productive counterparts. These grass species would be more similar to what ponies have adapted to thrive on – a larger quantity of lower quality fibre alongside other roughages.

Unfortunately it is not as straight forward as just seeding different grass species and letting them grow! These lower productivity (lower sugar) grasses – being less competitive – can struggle to thrive if not well adapted to the growing area. As such, seeking the right advice on a seed mix is crucial. Alternatively, management practices, such a turning out at certain times of day or making use of shady pastures and cloudy days can be employed to reduce sugar intake, thereby making it more suitable for our natives (see part 4 of this series for more details).

Join me in part 3 where we look at the potential impact of over-rugging on our good doers.


Briony Witherow MSc RNutr. FHEA
Practical Equine Nutrition
Consultancy in Equine Nutrition
Tel. 07908 984 034

February has been a busy month weather wise, here in Wiltshire we were snowed in earlier in the month, and a few weeks later we’ve had some lovely warm sunny days. Now we are into March and Spring is around the corner. This is the ideal time to think think about laminitis, and assess your horse’s risk levels. There are plenty of actions you can take to help your horse, and I am going to outline these in this article.

If your horse suffers with laminitis you are probably on ‘lami- alert’ all year round, it can be a very difficult condition to manage. However so many owners think of laminitis as a disease that occurs just in the Springtime, and only affects a fat ‘Thelwell’ type pony. Sadly this is not the case. Laminitis is now thought to be the biggest cause of lameness, and an increasing number of horses are euthanized each year due to the unbearable pain of this condition.


So with this in mind here are five steps you can take to reduce your horse’s risk of suffering from laminitis.

1. Open your eyes to your horse’s true weight

Laminitis can affect horses of all ages, shapes and sizes but the overweight animal is at significantly greater risk of suffering from laminitis. Whilst a hairy cob or Shetland pony can’t be magically morphed into a lean Thoroughbred it is possible to have your horse at a healthy weight whatever their type.

So firstly it is essential to realistically assess your horse’s weight and body condition score. I say realistically because I hear so many owners give such an array of ‘excuses’ for their horse being overweight. Establishing your horse’s weight using a weighbridge is a very useful exercise, partly to help you create a weight loss plan but also to give you an accurate weight for medication and worming dosing. Assessing your horse’s body condition score, as well as establishing weight is the best way to determine if your horse is overweight, and if so to what extent.

Body condition scoring involves assessing the amount of fat coverage over specific bony landmarks and scoring this on a one to five, or one to nine scale. Just like humans horses and ponies lay down fat in different areas, so it is important to assess the whole horse. I use a nine point scale, and an overall score of 4 or 5 would be ideal. Again there is a need for owners to be realistic and objective when completing this assessment. We sometimes include this as part of a  practical element to our popular Horse First Aid Courses, and I generally hear remarks like ‘he looks well’ for horses scoring a 6 or 7, and an assessments can be skewed by the conformation of the horse or pony. Many owners would be familiar with feeling for their horse’s ribs, but again it is worth highlighting that light pressure should be used, not the owner virtually pushing the horse over in their attempt to feel it’s ribs.

Did you allow seasonal weight loss to occur over the winter? I have written numerous posts and articles over the winter about the benefits of seasonal weight loss, but I still think owners are reluctant to allow this to happen, and don’t to use this to their advantage. It’s not too late to help your horse lose weight naturally by reducing the number of rugs used, leaving stable windows open and choosing lower calorie feed options.


2. The right forage ingested at the right rate

The aim of feeding an overweight horse, or one prone to laminitis is to provide a reduced calorifc intake, but still with plenty to eat so that digestive function is not compromised, and natural grazing behaviours can be mimicked. Good options for these horses and ponies are soaked hay, or hay that has been steamed and then soaked. If soaking hay isn’t possible then it is sensible to have your hay analyzed so you know exactly what you are feeding your horse.

To make a comparison with a human needing to lose weight a reduced calorie diet high in fibre, fruit and vegetables results in successful sustainable weight loss. It’s not dissimilar for your horse.

It is well documented that once a horse is overweight metabolic changes can occur, and these horses may also be insulin resistant.  This means that will also be resistant to another hormone called leptin. Leptin is a useful hormone which tells the brain that the horse has had enough to eat. The overweight horse effectively doesn’t have this ‘off- switch’ so it will continue to eat. Slowing down their rate of ingestion is probably one of the easiest steps you can take to help your horse maintain or reach the correct weight. Trickle Net products are an ideal way to slow your horse down, and many owners have noted how much slower their horse is eating, and that their hay is lasting longer. Trickle Nets will help to reduce weight, and maintain a healthy weight. 


3. Limiting the grass

At this time of year the grass is already starting to grow, particularly given the lovely warm days we have experienced recently. Unlike hay it can be difficult to assess how many calories your horse is receiving from the grass, and  it is estimated that ponies who are only turned out for a few hours a day can ingested the same amount of grass as those turned out for a whole day.

Providing your horse with less grass, but still giving your horse adequate turn out time is a real challenge. I saw a great set up at a yard last week where three ponies, who have previously suffered with laminitis, had an enriched ‘low grass’ turnout area, and looked very well and happy. They had access to a hard standing covered area with soaked hay, they had some safe ‘scrub-area’ with very poor patchy grass, and access to a little arena as well which they were clearly enjoying for rolling. This was a so much better than stabling these ponies, or giving them a ‘starvation paddock’. They had a lot of space to move around, they had to search out the hay and were able to satisfy their natural behaviours.

Whilst this might be not possible to do at every livery yard a grazing muzzle is a useful way to limit grass intake, without compromising on turnout time. I find that owners are very reluctant to use a muzzle, but in my experience horses and ponies do get used to these very quickly. I suggest to owners that they start off with several different muzzles to find which one suits there horse or pony best, and swapping between different designs will help prevent rubs over the first few days.

Another option which is becoming increasingly more popular is the use of a ‘track’ grazing system, where the centre of a field is fenced off leaving the horses a large walkway round the outside. Hay can be provided if required but this limits grass intake, and encourages more movement which is ideal.


4. Establishing an underlying cause

Around 90% of laminitis cases actually have an underlying hormonal cause, and grazing is a trigger for laminitis to occur. Working with your vet to establish the cause, and then working out a sensible treatment plan will help keep laminitis at bay.

The two conditions linked to laminitis are Cushings Disease, correctly termed Pituitary Pars Intermedius Disfunction (PPID), and Equine Metabolic Syndrome. PPID is a hormonal disease caused by changes in the pituitary gland in the brain, it is often a consequence of aging, although it can affect younger horses, and depending on your horse’s age it may be a sensible step to get your horse tested for this disease. It can often be well controlled with medication, and treating this condition will lessen the symptoms of the disease as well as reduce their risk of suffering with laminitis. EMS is likened to a ‘pre-diabetic condition’ in humans and these animals are typically overweight, with abnormal fat distribution and may be insulin resistant putting them at increased risk of laminitis. Working together with your vet to help your horse become a healthy weight will help you manage this condition.


5. Know the early signs

If you asked a room full of horse owners to name the signs of laminitis most would describe the classic ‘laminitis stance’, with the horse or pony rocked back on its heels. Research has highlighted many sub-clinical signs of laminitis, which if noted in time allow for treatment and management changes before the condition worsens.

Horses may change their behaviour in the stable, banking up bedding under their hooves to take pressure of the front of the hoof. The appearance of hoof rings on the outside of the hoof, is likely to indicate changes in the lamellar cells, and this may allow a window of time for treatment before the condition develops and becomes increasingly more painful

The horses digital pulse can often give you a good indication that something is happening within the foot, so it’s a great idea to get familiar with what the ‘normal’ pulse feels like with your horse. When the pulse feels stronger, more ‘bounding’ this can be a warning sign.

Your horses gait may change in the early stages of laminitis. It’s common for horse owners to report their horses as moving with shorter steps, slightly ‘pottery.’ If caught and treated correctly at this stage, recovery can be much swifter and more simple. Don’t ignore any changes in gait. Always seek advice if you suspect something is not quite right.

One study noted that the ‘Horse Grimace Scale’, a method of facial pain recognition scoring was a more accurate way to note pain associated with laminitis, and that these facial expressions were more common in laminitic horses and ponies than the classic laminitis stance. There are certainly many signs to look out for before the horse is lame with hot painful hooves.       

    Horse Grimace scale research


I hope that you have found this article helpful, and this you feel empowered to take some positive steps in the fight against laminitis. Remember this condition can affect horses and ponies of all ages and sizes, but that there is lots that owners can do to prevent this happening.


If you’d like to learn more about laminitis, and how to manage this condition why don’t you take part in the first ‘National Laminitis Awareness Day’ which I am running on 10th July 2019. You can take part in webinars, Q+A sessions with our vets and there will be lots of free fact sheets to download. You’ll even be able to get a discount code to use on your next purchase at Trickle Net, it’s going to be an action packed day.

You can register for more details at the link below


Visit the website for details of my courses at

Nicola Kinnard-Comedie MSc, BHSAI Int. SM

So it’s 2019, and January is typically a time that us humans go on a bit of a health kick. I don’t know about you but I’m certainly trying to add in some more exercise and steering myself towards more fruit and vegetables.

But what about your horse?

Why not make 2019 the year to give your horse a health kick…..

Here are some simple steps you can follow to help your horse be healthier and happier in 2019.


  1. Is your horse the correct weight?

Horses carrying excess weight are prone to a variety of health problems (just like humans), including an increased risk of laminitis, equine metabolic syndrome, joint disease and reduced performance.

Knowing how much your horse weighs is very helpful, as this will ensure that you are providing the correct dosage of wormer and that you aren’t overloading a lorry or trailer when travelling your horse. In conjunction with body condition scoring your horse this will help you establish if your horse is overweight or not.

How to weigh your horse

You can use a weight tape, but this is generally quite inaccurate method as the calculations that weightapes are based on are taken from a 500kg Thoroughbred type of horse. It is a convenient, and low cost method and it is a useful way to monitor your horse’s weight on an ongoing basis, and it is certainly better than nothing.

The most accurate method is to use a weighbridge, which is basically a giant set of bathroom scales for your horse. Most veterinary practices have these at the clinic, or you can arrange for a set to be brought to your yard either via a feed company or some independent nutritionists have these as well.


Body Conditioning Scoring

Body Condition Scoring is simply assessing the amount of fat covering in specific bony landmarks on the horse. You work your way along the horse assessing the crest, the side of the neck, behind the shoulder, the ribs, the rump and above the tail and give each site a score out of 9, with an ideal score being 5.

If your horse is consistently scoring 6 or 7, or even 8 in some of these areas then it becomes very clear that your horse needs to lose some weight. Just like humans horses will lay down fat in different areas, and as an owner it is easy to be fooled into thinking that your horse isn’t overweight because you can feel it’s ribs. In some horses the rib area might score a 5 but the other areas might be a 7. This just means that the horse is still overweight, but that they are carrying this excess weight in different areas.

Be honest when body condition scoring your horse, can you really feel the the underlying structures easily or are you applying lots of pressure so that you can?

Once you have assessed the weight and condition for your horse you can see if your horse needs to lose weight, or simply maintain its current weight. If your horse needs to lose weight winter is actually an ideal time to do this. Remember seasonal weight loss is perfectly normal, and in ‘good doer’ types it should be encouraged. Try using less rugs, or no rugs and soaking hay as a great way to get your horse’s weight under control before the calorific Spring grass arrives.

  1. Use it or lose it- does your horse get enough exercise?

Horses are designed to be moving around and ‘trickle feeding’ for around 18 hours a day. Modern management means that they are often kept in small stables for anything from 8- 24 hours a day, and if stabled like this they can only eat what and when they are given.

Keeping your horse moving is so important for their physical health, and their mental wellbeing. Allowing sufficient exercise and turnout time will keep healthy movement of the guts, essential to help prevent winter colic, will reduce stiffness and will also keep your horse more ‘rideable’. Hopping onto a fresh horse who hasn’t left the stable for a few days on a frosty morning can mean that you are in for a bumpy ride!

The Animal Welfare Act of 2006 outlines Five Freedoms which all animals must be offered under British Law. These are:

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst
  2. Freedom from discomfort
  3. Freedom from pain, injury and disease
  4. Freedom to express normal behaviour
  5. Freedom from fear and distress

Horses who don’t receive sufficient turnout are, in my opinion not able to express normal behaviour such as grazing, grooming with other horses and physical play behaviours such as bucking and rearing which we all see our horses do when they are out in the field. Likewise horses who don’t have the opportunity to move around enough, whether that is through exercise or turnout may not be free from pain because they might becoming stiff and uncomfortable when stabled.

During the winter months it can be very difficult to turn your horse out as much you might like to. Livery yard rules might mean that the horses are stabled more, your horse might suffer from mud fever, or very bad weather could all reduce turnout time.

So what can you do to keep your horse moving?

  • Turnout in a school or arena if it isn’t possible to turn your horse out in the field
  • Stable in a larger space such a ‘pen’ in a barn
  • Pole work – simply walking over some ground poles in the arena, or riding over some challenging pole patterns this is a great way to encourage straightness and inject some fun into your schooling. Pole work can be just as useful completed in hand, and working your horse in-hand can be a great time saver.
  • Make your hacking count- working up hills, performing simple lateral movements (when safe to do so) will add extra training to your hacking programs.
  • In-hand work – as well as working over poles in hand lunging and long reining are very useful ways to keep your horse active and mentally engaged.
  • Use of a horse walker can also provide a helpful ‘leg-stretch’ for your horse if turnout is limited.


  1. Have they got a balanced diet?

Deciding what to feed your horse can be really challenging. There are so many products on the market, friends, yard staff and trainers will all have an opinion, and there is a lot of conflicting advice online.

Two key points you might like to consider are;

Does your horse receive all the nutrients he/she requires?

Feeding an overweight horse is difficult as you only want to give a very small amount of feed to limit the calorific intake, but this can mean that the horse is not receiving all the protein and vitamin and minerals it requires.  

Do you feed the recommended amount of the feed? If you look at the back of the bag of feed you will see how much your horse should receive per day to meet it’s recommended daily amount of specific nutrients such as protein and essential vitamins and minerals. This is probably more quantity of feed that most horses actually need however.

To provide a balanced diet, without excessive calories, you might want to consider feeding a ‘balancer’ which is designed to be fed in a small quantity, rather than just providing a handful of a regular mix or cube product for your horse.

  1. Have you got the right horse for the job?

As part of recommendations for having a healthier happier horse in 2019 I think it is also worth highlighting how some horses are just not suited to particular yards, training regimes, equestrian disciplines and even owners.

If you have a horse who seems very stressed, or doesn’t enjoy their work maybe it is worth considering what you can change. Moving yards can be a big upheaval but horses can have such personality changes in different environments. Some horses love the hustle and bustle of a busy yard, others are happier in a small quiet yard. Likewise if your horse is a happy hacker and your ideal is to school most days then perhaps you need to see what you can alter? Maybe schooling on hacks would provide the best of both worlds for you and your horse.

Over the years I have met many lovely horses who were not thriving due to the wrong job or an environment that didn’t suit them. Some horses love living out, many enjoy the comfort of their stable. Yes of course you can train and condition a horse to accept a particular environment or work pattern, but ultimately knowing what suits your horse is key to having a happy horse


Wishing you every success and happiness with your horse in 2019. You can learn more about keeping your horse healthy and happy at one of our Horse First Aid Courses just sign up at the link below for more details of a course near you


Nicola Kinnard-Comedie MSc, BHSAI Int. SM

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So as I write this there’s only a few days to go until Christmas, and excitement in our house is pretty high. Most of the presents are organised, and many of you will be thinking about getting a gift for your horse. Christmas is a great excuse to over indulge and splash out, but what does your horse actually need over the festive period?

  1. Less rugs not more

Hands up if a new rug is on your Christmas wish list, or perhaps it will be a ‘self gift’ dressed up a present for your horse? Rugs are great, they keep your horse clean and dry perfect when you want to fit in a quick winter ride. There is literally a rug for every occasion, and picking up any horsey magazine you are bombarded with choice. Keeping your horse warm and cozy with several rugs in the winter is sensible for an older horse, a horse that is clipped and in regular work, or any horse who doesn’t hold condition so easily.

However many equines simply don’t need a rug, never mind several duvets layers, and for a horse who is overweight providing less rugs can be the easiest way to promote some weight loss. Native and cob type horses are after all designed to exist on limited calories and harsh weather conditions during the winter, without the luxury of stables, feed and rugs. Horses are well documented to be able to tolerate changes in temperature well, and a healthy horse can cope to at least minus ten degrees without a rug.

Seasonal weight loss is perfectly normal, and should be encouraged in any overweight, or ‘good doer’ horses. Losing weight during the winter months is Nature’s way of re-programming the body after the horse gains weight during the Spring and Summer months. However as horse owners we expect our horses to look exactly the same all year round, and without seasonal weight loss over the Winter, horses are getting fatter year on year.

So why not think about how much your horse actually needs that thick rug or rugs, could your horse benefit from less rugs, or perhaps even no rug at all? Allowing your horse to get slimmer over the festive period will really help your horse to be healthier in 2019.

  1. Exercise

Christmas is a hectic time, and it’s a whirlwind of of parties, drinks and entertaining. It can be hard to fit in riding during the winter months, and the darkness wind and rain don’t always inspire you to tack up your horse. Keeping your horse exercised over the festive period is so important, particularly when horses are often stabled more.

Many yards will keep horses stabled during Christmas, and this can be a sudden change if your horse is normally turned out for most of the day. Veterinary practices often report a rise in colic cases in colder weather, and over Christmas and one reason for this is lack of movement.

Try and keep your horse exercised as much as possible over the holiday period, whether that is turn out, ridden work, long reining or other work in hand.

Not only will this be beneficial to your horse’s digestive system, encouraging regular gut movements but you will also be helping to prevent your horse gain weight over the festive weeks.



  1. The right amount of forage

As noted horses are often stabled more over Christmas, and this might be a decision that you can’t control. If you have a house full of guests it can be harder to get to the yard as often (although needing to feed your horse is a great way to escape the relations!). As a consequence horses are either given too much hay or haylage, or simply run out leaving them with nothing to eat for hours.

So what can you do?

Firstly it’s essential to work out how much hay your horse actually needs, rather than just throwing a few slices over the door.

Your horse should be receiving 1.5%-2.5% of its body weight in hay, and weighing out the hay out in advance will certainly make stable duties on Christmas Day easier.

Secondly look for ways that you can make your horse’s hay allowance last longer. Can you team up with a yard friend so one of you gives the horse’s hay at 3pm say and the other at 7pm? Using a robust small holed hay net, such as the Trickle Net is another great way to prevent your horse running out of hay.

  1. Less of the extras

Over Christmas us humans do tend to over-do the eating, there’s mince pies, cocktails, biscuit and chocolate selection boxes everywhere, not to mention the turkey plus all the trimmings. Quite why we do this every year, swiftly followed by a January health kick, I’m not totally sure, but there’s no need for our horses to match our significant increase in calories.

The horse world is awash with treats, supplements and ‘extras’ that you can feed your horse, but do they really need these? It’s natural to want to buy your horse a gift, most owners would see their horse as one of the family, but why not make this ‘gift’ a training plan, or a lesson rather than sugar laden treats.

I hope this post gives you some ideas about what your horse does and doesn’t need over the festive period. You can learn more about keeping your horse healthy over Christmas by downloading my free Winter Horsey Survival Guide at the link below:


Wishing you a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year



Nicola Kinnard-Comedie MSc, BHSAI Int. SM

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You’ve heard it before, or perhaps you even do it. Feeding ad lib hay is often thought to be the most natural way to feed forage. Well that depends entirely on the horse you’re feeding. Feeding ad lib hay can be a big mistake for some horses and ponies. Especially our Native breeds.

Our Guest blogger Nicola Kinnard-Comedie from NKC Equestrian Training talks about when ad lib works well, and how and why it often doesn’t.

When is ad lib hay just too much?

Many horse owners will be aware that it’s essential to provide your horse with sufficient forage (hay or haylage), but how much do they actually need? It is popular with some owners to feed ‘ad-lib’ hay, but what does this mean and is this the best option for your horse?


Why would I want to give my horse ad-lib hay?

We know that the horse is a ‘trickle feeder’ designed to be eating for around 18 hours in a 24 hour period. The horse needs to chew to produce saliva and this has a healthy effect on the digestive system, buffering the naturally acid areas of the stomach where gastric ulcers can occur. Life is quite different for the domesticated horse which may be turned out in a small paddock and stabled for 12-18 hours a day. It is well documented that feeding restricted amounts of hay can raise cortisol levels, increase incidences of gastric ulcers and induce stress related behaviour such as crib biting.

In an attempt to replicate more natural feeding behaviour lots of owners want to give their horse a large quantity of hay, so that it doesn’t run out and the horse can be constantly eating. This sounds ideal, and many argue that the horse will only eat as much as it needs so that it will maintain a healthy weight. But is this true for all horses?

I have a good-doer… can he have ad-lib hay?

This is where feeding ad-lib hay becomes problematic, and for a horse that is overweight allowing free access to hay is not recommended.

It is important to note that each horse will have individual requirements for how many calories they need in a day, just like people. Whilst forage should make up the majority of any horse’s diet, providing an all day ‘hay buffet’ is just not suitable for a good doer or an overweight horse or pony. This includes your native types who are more inclined to hold on to extra weight, and are not designed to metabolise the amount of calories provided by ad lib hay.

There are many reason ad lib may not work for your horse, but we will look at two big ones.

Firstly hay significantly differs in nutritional value and unless you have each batch of hay analysed you don’t really know how much sugar, starch and calories you might be providing. Hay made earlier in the season will be more calorific, hay made from predominantly ryegrass will contain a lot more sugar than hay made from a meadow grass mix. It’s worth remembering that hay is a farmed crop. It is fertilised and tended to provide maximum nutrition. This is a long way from the natural forage (gorse, bark, moss, different grasses, reeds weeds and scrub) that our native breeds thrive on in their natural environment.

Secondly your horse may not be able to regulate thier intake as well as owners assume. Horses are meant to have ‘nutritional wisdom’, selecting the nutrients and quantities that they need, but there isn’t actually much empirical evidence to support this idea. Horses which are overweight, or good-doers, may also be insulin resistant, which means that will also be resistant to another hormone called Leptin. Leptin is a useful hormone which tells the brain that the horse has had enough to eat. The overweight horse effectively doesn’t have this ‘off- switch’ so it will continue to eat….and eat…and eat!


Which horses can have ad-lib hay?

For horses that are the correct body weight and in regular exercise, or have increased nutritional requirements providing free access to hay can work well. For example horses living out may have access to a large round bale of hay in the winter months, and provided they aren’t overweight they will regulate their intake reasonably well. For those living out they will also be moving around more, inevitably spend time away from the hay and will have increased energy requirements from the cold.

Horses which are stabled can either guzzle their hay too quickly, or waste it turning it into a bed if providing with excess. The best way to provide continual access to forage for a stabled horse if to divide the hay up into smaller quantities, (feeding some at 4pm and more at 8pm), and to use a system designed to slow the horse down, such as a Trickle Net. This allows the benefit of much longer time to access forage but prevents the horse eating it too quickly.

How much hay does my horse need?

Your horse needs 1.5%-2.5% of their ideal body weight as food intake. Depending on your horse, it’s health status and your pasture grazing alone may provide sufficient intake for the Spring and Summer months.

For the rest of the year, and for horses who have restricted access to grass, you will need to provide this as hay.

If your horse is overweight, it is recommended to feed 1.5% of his/her body weight. So for a 650kg horse, that’s 9.75kg per day. Many owners have no idea how much hay they actually feed- do you weigh hay out?



I hope you have found this blog useful in helping you decide how much hay your horse should receive. Please remember to consider how much hay your horse actually needs, the type of hay you are feeding, and don’t forget ways to provide more access to forage without allowing your horse to overeat and become obese.

Nicola Kinnard-Comedie MSc, BHSAI Int. SM
NKC Equestrian Training run Horse First Aid and Horse Anatomy courses across the UK together with qualified vets
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