Recently I wrote this on Facebook:

“Discussions of blanketing in cold weather are rather moot if you aren’t feeding your horse enough hay. The gut is the horse’s furnace. You can cover the furnace all you want, but if you aren’t stoking it with fuel, the horse burns calories and weight drops quickly — just to keep the body functioning in cold weather. Blankets help thin coated horses the most but FEED helps all horses no matter whether you blanket or not.”

And holy round bale, did it hit a nerve. I got a lot of shares and comments, and lots of likes. Some of the comments:

Plenty of hay and plenty of water

That’s why we make sure the hay feeder is never empty

We were JUST talking to someone about this today. Less grain tons of hay!

Horses are grazing animals so their bodies are built to have food at all times

Why can’t some people understand this?

Hay, hay, hay!!!

I know as soon as we really get a few cold days, running out and putting a blanket on your horse seems like a nice thing to do, but honestly, he’d rather have a few more flakes of hay, or perhaps to be brought into a stall and allowed to munch privately rather than fight for a slot at the feeder.

Here’s the dollar signs: A waterproof new blanket, medium weight, $100 to $200 – will last about eight months if you are lucky. (Two four-month periods). Hay, $100-$200 – depends upon where you live in the world, but in our neck of it, that’s half a truckload, perhaps 15 to 25 bales of nothing-special hay, enough to feed one horse for about two months or so if on pasture or supplemented with some grain. That is a pretty big generalization, but an average horse will need about 25 lbs. of roughage a day, just for maintenance.  That’s NEED (not optional) and just for MAINTENANCE – to stay alive.

Hay is the biggest source of that in winter, and moreover, because the grass is dead, even what they browse on has little nutritional value during winter months,  in the more northward portions of North America. Maintenance is not work, it’s not riding a little bit, it’s certainly not showing, foxhunting or competing. It’s sitting in the field doing nothing. That’s the part that scares all of us who see, drive past, or have as neighbors people who do not understand that grass in a field is dead and the horses get little to no nutritional value from it, but they have no other choice but to keep eating somehow hoping to derive some energy to prevent starvation.

Here’s the good news; there are now great new alternatives to hay. Purina is selling compressed hay that can be reconstituted with water, and there are bagged hay pellets sold by companies like Standlee, which are available almost nationwide through chain stores like Tractor Supply. These are simple and easy to feed, do not take the storage or handling that baled hay does, and can be fed to horses in group situations — just follow the directions and start slow. I have found old horses and stressed horses as well as overweight horses, who do not need grain, do very well on these new products, which are still roughages, but designed for pallatability and portability. They’re not grain but they are concentrated.

Standlee has a cool app right on their webpage to help you figure out what to feed (http://standleeforage.com/nutrition/feed-calc). And here’s what they say about feeding hay: “Standlee strongly recommends feeding high quality forage at a minimum rate of 1.5% to 2.5% of body weight per day. For your horse, this equals to 16.5 lbs. to 27.5 lbs. of forage per day.” Almost 30 lbs. a day! Per horse!

So if you are worried about blanketing, or feeding — I’d say come down on the feeding side first, and then blanket when you can afford it.