Many horse owners worldwide are facing uncertain times with the spread of COVID-19 and ever-changing regulations on their ability to leave their homes. Some of us that keep our horses at boarding facilities are facing the reality that we either are already unable to see our horses or may not be able to see them in the near future—potentially for an unspecified length of time. Barns in some locations are having to limit boarder access, allowing only vital staff on-site. While we have been preparing for the possibility of a 14-day quarantine if we get infected or exposed and unable to leave our homes during that period, it wasn’t until a few days ago that many of us realized we might not be able to visit our horses even if we are totally healthy and have not knowingly been exposed to the disease. This possibility brings with it a different set of realities.
States are starting to regulate nonessential movements, which means you might not be able to visit your horse for longer than the 14-day quarantine. Even if you can visit your horse because you keep him at home or are not on some form of lockdown, you might not choose to (or in some cases be allowed) to ride due to concerns that riding-related injuries might be untreatable as a result of all vital resources being consumed by critically ill COVID-19 patients.
What does this mean as far as feeding your horse? The reality is that many horses, instead of ramping up their workloads for spring/summer activities, as would typically be happening at this time of year, are having their workloads reduced as events are canceled and riders are quarantined or prohibited from premises. You might, therefore, need to make feeding changes to limit calorie intake, especially if you are feeding higher-calorie performance feeds. Reduced workloads mean less need for calories.
If cutting your higher-calorie feed to amounts lower than the manufacturer’s recommendation for your horse’s body weight, consider switching to a feed that has lower calories but is more fortified, such as a ration balancer. Remove or reduce starch sources. If your horse is a hard keeper and requires higher calories, try to rely more on fermentable fiber and fat for calories than starch. Research suggests that horses fed calories coming from fat may be calmer than those fed calories from starch, which is an important consideration for horses entering a period of reduced work.
If you are unable to pre-weigh out feed and will be leaving your barn manger/staff to feed for you, be sure to leave very clear directions on how you wish your horse to be fed. Label all scoops with your horse’s name and the feed the scoop is to be used for, and mark a line at the point to which it needs to be filled so whoever is feeding is not left to guess.
Consider how stressful the situation will be for the person taking over the feeding if they’re not used to having to deal with the details involved with managing a lot of horses. They might be used to feeding hay and mucking stalls, but they might not typically give daily grain. So, try to make it as easy on them as possible. Not only is this considerate, but it also gives the best chance of your horse being fed correctly. With this in mind, consider whether any items you feed are nonessential. Could you remove those for a period of time to make the overall feeding process easier without detriment to your horse?
In an ideal world, your horse’s supplements and feed would stay as similar to normal as possible. However, remember that at the end of the day, as long as horses have access to clean water, salt, and ample clean forage, they tend to do just fine. Focus on forage, and feed according to work being done, so your horse will have the best chance of staying sane and healthy while working less.