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June 6, 2011


The optimal way to feed your horse – Part 4: “Winter vs. Summer Feeding Programs”

by DePaolo Equine Concepts

Horses’ dietary requirements vary with the seasons. Cold temperatures affect horse’s calorie requirements and warm weather increases the need for adequate salt and water intake. In addition, stabled horses have different needs than horses that live turned out all year.  An essential part of any seasonal feeding plan is a hay analysis or a pasture analysis which will give you valuable information about your feeding program.


Horses actually tolerate extremes in cold temperatures better than they do extremes in hot weather.  Horses stay healthy in winter if they are free of parasites, in good weight and immunized.  While the best blanket for horses that live outside is their own winter coat, old horses and the young may need to be covered with a water-proof blanket to help them maintain their body temperature.  Horses with shelter during the winter will lose 20-30% less body heat than those without.  It is recommended that horses who live outside year round be allowed shelter for optimal health.  A good way to test if a horse that is kept outside is cold or not is to feel the ears.  Cold ears mean cold horse.[1]

A good rule of thumb for when to increase hay rations is if there is a sudden cold snap or if the temperature remains below 5 degrees Fahrenheit consistently. For horses who live outside, offering hay free choice under these conditions can be a good option.  It is necessary to provide plenty of water that is not frozen over for horses to be able to drink during these kind of cold conditions to avoid impaction colic.  Salt is a primary component of winter management and can be provided in block form to pastured horses.  For horses that have difficulty maintaining weight in winter, top dressing concentrates with oil or feeding rice bran can help add fat to the diet.  It is important to note, however, that forages produce a large amount of body heat during digestion while concentrates do not.  Forages will always provide for more body heat production in the cold than concentrates.  Beet pulp can be a good alternative feed in cold weather because it will impart a large amount of water as well as a fair amount of fiber without imparting unnecessary sugars.[2]


The heat of summer is when many horses suffer from dehydration and related conditions such as tying up.  Horses exercised in hot weather may need to increase their water intake by up to 300%.  Horses who are required to work under these conditions need access to trace mineral salts and clean water at all times.  In addition, summer temperatures may require that horses have fans placed in their stalls to help them cool down more efficiently.  Horses who are overheated can lose appetite and become victim to electrolyte imbalances that can cause colic.  Electrolytes can be given to horses in their water or as a top dressing in their feed to help keep them hydrated.

In summer it is best to make sure that horses are not fed concentrates in the heat of the day.  It is also best to feed forages like grass hays that are not as high in proteins which can lead to tying up in horses that are dehydrated.  Feeds should be stored out of the sun because heat can cause sweet feeds to become unfit for consumption and can bleach nutrients from hay.[3]

If you feel your horse is lacking nutrition or not getting the most from your feed program, you might want to think about Horse Hair Analysis®.  HHA, part of DePaolo Equine Concepts’ holistic equine health care approach, is a cutting edge process for evaluating the cause of puzzling health problems and horse nutrition deficiencies, culminating with a customized horse supplement.

DePaolo Equine Concepts is passionate about our equine health care products — we offer the best horse joint supplements, digestive aides for horse ulcers, comprehensive equine vitamin and mineral supplements, as well as nutraceutical supplements for horses with Endocrine, Neurologic and Mental issues.

For more on equine nutrition, please visit the health library on the DePaolo Equine Concepts website.

[1] Winter Care for Your Horse

[2] Horse feeding Myths and Misconceptions

[3] A world of pet care.Summer feeding of horses

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Kim
    Aug 7 2012

    My 24 year old mare is on 12% sweet feed. Is that ok to keep feeding her in the hot Texas heat?

    • Hi Kim,
      Dr. DePaolo is at the Arabian Canadian Nationals this week but I will email him and get back to you.

  2. Shay
    Nov 27 2013

    What about feeding sweet feed to a slightly dehydrated but fit horse in the winter?

    • Dr. Mark says that it is never a good idea to feed sweet feed. Long stem fiber such as grass hay is best to produce heat during digestion in the winter. He also recommends electrolytes if you feel your horse is dehydrated. A comprehensive vitamin and mineral supplement wouldn’t hurt either.


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