Schild Desirai


Fall is usually the time when horses are required to transition from pasture to hay.

Local vets say the change in diet may result in colic and impaction if not done slowly and carefully.

“It’s best to transition from grass to hay gradually,” said Dr. Rex Gillespie, DVM, Cottonwood Veterinary Clinic, Blackfoot. “Pay attention to how your horses are reacting to the feed.”

Pasture grass is up to 90 percent moisture. Hay is about 10 percent. Switching too swiftly from one type of feed to another can cause serious and even life-threatening complications.

I supplement my horses’ green feed with a low-carb pellet. I pour a little corn oil on the ration when I am moving the horses from pasture to hay. They like the flavor and I think it lubricates their systems a little bit.

All equine experts will tell you that your great big horse is actually quite fragile when it comes to the digestive tract. Too much dry feed can cause an impaction that can be serious and maybe fatal. Watch for signs of discomfort that can ranges from looking at or kicking at their stomachs or trying to lay down.

If your horse displays any of these signs, call your vet. Colic and impaction can be fatal and causes horrible pain for the horse. The sooner the horse is treated, the better its chance for survival.

It’s very important to offer clean, fresh water to horses at all times but especially when their usual food changes from wet to dry. A readily available mineral block also encourages more water consumption. In addition to the corn oil, I like to add a bit of soaked bran and a sprinkle of salt to the daily ration during transition. The bran adds bulk and retains liquid while the salt encourages the horses to drink more water.

The horse’s physical condition and amount of use determines how much or what type of hay it needs for the winter. For example, my little fatties, known as easy keepers, can almost survive on air and water alone. I seek out the purest grass-only hay I can find because they make such excellent use of their feed. Also, they don’t get out much in the winter because I’m a warm-weather rider.

I know other folks who are active with their horses all winter from barrel racing to team roping. Horses that are more active obviously burn a lot more calories than those hanging out in the barn. The owner must evaluate physical activity to decide how much and what type of hay to feed. People who are using their horses all winter may feed an alfalfa mix. Some horses, such as those bred for the track, may need to consume straight alfalfa hay to maintain their weight and energy level.

Your vet would happily discuss the body condition your horse should have. The normal rule is that you should not be able to see the ribs but should be able to feel them.

But, remember, horses put on a winter coat and that can hide protruding ribs. I regularly run my hands over my horses to assure they are getting the appropriate amount of feed.

Every vet I know is more than willing to offer advice about transitioning horses from pasture to grass and to offer insight on what type and amount of foods each horse needs. They all sat they’d much rather prevent a colic or impaction than treat one.

Desirai Schild has been involved in raising, breeding and showing gaited horses in eastern Idaho for more than 20 years. She may be reached at