Out wintering your Pony – Joanne Hurley M.Agr.Sc.
Grass remains a major component of the diet of most horses and ponies in Ireland and the United Kingdom. Pastures vary in their composition from season to season and also from region to region. Certain geographical areas may have pastures which are deficient in certain trace elements particularly copper, zinc, manganese and/or selenium. Hence it is important to know if the pasture you graze is deficient in any trace elements especially if the pasture is the main source of nutrients. Grassland management can have a major influence on the quality of grass available to your horses and ponies. Good management practices include: pasture rotation, mixed grazing; stocking rates can vary depending on level of supplementation of the diet. The general rule of thumb for stocking rates is 2 acres for the first horses and 1 acre for each subsequent animal. It is important to rest some pasture during the winter months in order to ensure optimal grass growth in early spring. Overstocking of paddocks, particularly on wetter land can lead to poaching and hence reduced growth in the growing season.
Concentrate supplementation is generally required during the winter months in order to meet the nutrient requirements of ponies fed on forage-based diets. As the nutrient requirements increase the level/type of supplementation must change accordingly. A good quality forage (grass/hay/haylage) supplemented with a ‘balancer feed’ such as GAIN Opti-Care cubes (containing all the essential trace mineral and vitamins) would be suited to ponies in light work and easy keepers over the winter period. In contrast ponies in harder work will have an increased energy requirement and GAIN Easy Go cubes would be ideal for such individuals as it is a balanced feed, free from oats, low in starch and contains a comprehensive specification of trace minerals, vitamins and antioxidants ideal for the competitive pony. It is essential to monitor the health and condition of all horses and ponies over the winter months and adapt your feeding programme accordingly.