The one thing we can’t predict is the British weather so we can’t always plan for an extended period in the box. Weather conditions, like flooding, can drastically limit or prevent turnout entirely and interrupt your horse’s normal workload so changing and adapting your management and feeding regimes is inevitable.
Changing the Horse's Diet
Abrupt dietary changes are best avoided but it may be necessary to reduce a horse’s concentrate ration if his workload is suddenly reduced. The horse’s gut bacteria take time to adjust to a new feed and any sudden changes can disrupt their populations which could result in loose droppings, colic or even laminitis. When changing a diet quickly, a “digestive enhancer”, such as a probiotic or a prebiotic, like Baileys Digest Plus, can help the bacteria adapt to the new diet, thus reducing the risk of upsets occurring. Horses confined to the box are often susceptible to colic due to inactivity so, even if you are unable to ride, walking out in hand will help to keep the gut healthy.
When a horse is confined to his stable it is important that he has access to plenty of fibre to promote normal gut function and satisfy his psychological need to chew. Fibre is broken down by a population of micro-organisms present in the horse’s hind gut to provide a source of slow release energy. These micro-organisms also have an important role in helping the horse to resist disease and recover from infections, particularly of the digestive tract. Plenty of fibre is therefore important as a source of nutrients and for helping to keep the horse physically and mentally healthy.
Boredom can also become quite a problem for the horse when turnout is restricted so it can be worth introducing both stable toys filled with Fibre Plus Nuggets and alternative forage sources to keep the horse’s mind active and encourage natural foraging behaviour. Chopped fibre sources take as long for the horse to chew as long fibre, like hay or haylage, and can be offered as an alternative to, or alongside, hay. Clean, dust free forage should be used at all times but forages of a lower nutritional value, like Baileys Light Chaff, could be considered if the horse is prone to gaining condition.
The nutritional value of conserved forages, such as hay or haylage, is lower than that of fresh pasture. If the quantity of hard feed is also reduced when the horse is confined to the box, the overall nutrient intake can drop significantly. A balancer, such as Baileys Lo-Cal or Performance Balancer, is ideal in these circumstances as it provides all the vitamins, minerals and quality protein the horse requires, but without the energy that could cause behavioural and digestive upsets. So adjusting a horse’s diet because he’s confined to his box need not mean cutting down on nutrients; reducing calorie intake in response to reduced workload may be essential but maintenance of other nutrients is equally important in order to support well-being and help preserve muscle tone.
Counting the Calories
For a short period in the box, cutting hard feed back by around two thirds (and ideally topping up with a balancer) is recommended but when confinement is prolonged the whole diet may need reviewing. For horses needing help to maintain condition, non-heating Top Line Conditioning Cubes can be fed or, when a lower starch alternative is preferable (those prone to gastric ulcers, tying up or stressy individuals), Baileys Outshine high oil supplement is an excellent source of non-heating calories as are soaked Speedi-Beet or Fibre-Beet.