The recent international challenges around COVID-19 have meant that competition seasons have been cut short around the country and the majority of owners have been forced to give their horses a spell. While disappointing for many, spelling has many physical and psychological benefits for horses. After a spell they can return with increased energy, renewed enthusiasm and any niggling injuries or digestive conditions such as gastric ulcers or hindgut acidosis can be given time to heal.

The majority of horses are given a break over the winter months, and in most areas of New Zealand there is an abundance of winter pasture for a great forage source. However, as most of the country is still in drought stages or recovering from a very dry summer, forage could be in short supply. In this situation, supplementary forage will need to continue during spelling to maintain the horse’s condition as well as ensuring optimum digestive health and assisting in the healing of digestive conditions that could have arisen during the season. However, while additional hay or baleage should be the first option for supplementary fibre when pasture is low, they generally do not contain adequate trace minerals and vitamins to meet the requirements of spelling horses.

Adding fibre through using feeds containing fibre sources such as beet pulp and soy hulls are ideal in this situation. These two ingredients are known as ‘super fibres’ as their high digestibility means that they provide the same amount of energy as oats, just in a low glycaemic form. However most bagged beet pulp and soy hull products also provide little in the way of trace minerals and vitamins.

For a fully formulated fibre feed, McMillan Grain Free is a premium blend of beet pulp and soy hulls which has also been formulated with a premix of organic trace minerals and vitamins. This is an ideal option for meeting nutrient requirements while keeping the horse’s digestive system healthy during this time. The addition of high quality protein and fat through cold pressed canola oil makes Grain Free idela for assisting with weight maintenance also.

Grain Free can be fed on its own or combined with other complete feeds to provide a balanced diet. McMillan Muscle Relieve is another example of a highly effective low starch feed that could be combined with Grain Free to provide a high calorie, slow release diet without grain.

When bringing a horse back into work after their well deserved time in the paddock it is desirable to have their body condition above moderate as they will often lose weight rapidly once work is introduced. Feeds such as Grain Free that provide slow release energy are best used at this time if the horse is feeling particularly fresh after their break!

For further advice on dietary management when spelling, or for a custom-made diet to suit your individual horse’s needs, contact McMillan Equine Feeds.

Luisa Wood - Equine Nutritionist. 

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