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Feeding Overweight Horses: Drylot ManagementBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · June 15, 2016

Full-out access to good-quality pasture sets the stage for obesity in many horse and ponies, especially easy keepers, and can spell serious trouble for those predisposed to laminitis. A drylot is one management tool that helps keep weight in check. Like all enclosures designed for horses, drylots should, first and foremost, provide a safe environment for horses, but also foster a healthier diet.

Weed control. By its definition, drylots have little or no nutritious vegetation, but weeds tend to sprout and spread in these barren zones, sometimes with alarming zeal. When horses are hungry, they will munch on plants that are otherwise unappetizing to them, and some weeds could be troublesome for horses. To keep a drylot weed-free, consider consultation with a pasture specialist. Larger feed stores might have an expert on hand, and this individual will likely be well versed on local weeds and how best to eradicate them. A university or extension service may offer similar services, sometimes free of charge.

Forage. Horses maintained in drylots will need something to eat, especially if they are kept there for longer than an hour or two. Appropriate forage can be fed in a multitude of ways, but it is best to keep it as contained as possible. Slow-feed haynets or deep tubs are two tried-and-true methods, as are larger feeders made specifically for horses, such as those designed for round bales. Some owners will place a rubber mat under a haynet to catch fallen hay and to keep horses from ingesting soil, which is especially important in sandy regions.

Water. An appropriate water source will ensure drylot-kept horses are hydrated at all times. Because these horses usually consume dried forages, they do not benefit from the moisture found in pasture grasses. Check automatic waterers every day to make sure they’re functioning properly. All waterers, including buckets and troughs, should be kept clean. Any stagnant water should be removed to discourage insect breeding, which can increase disease transmission.

Shelter. Horses maintained in drylots should have access to shelter, whether it is a run-in shed, a stall, or some other safe structure. Shelter is particularly important during extreme weather, such as during the height of summer and winter. Though horses with a slow metabolism tend to maintain their weight more easily in wintertime than their more metabolically normal or challenged peers, it is comforting for many owners to know their horses can find relief from cold rain, sleet, or ice.

Fencing. Because mouthwatering forage often lies on the opposite side of the fence, drylot inhabitants will sometimes find inventive ways to reach the succulence. Many horses and ponies will even contort their bodies in unusual poses to get that blade of grass. Instilling respect for fences often must come in the form of an electric wire or polytape, which usually provides sufficient deterrence. A hot wire also comes in handy for horses that relieve boredom by wood-chewing or cribbing on fences.

Trees. Though they provide shade and some protection from the weather, trees in or near a drylot should be monitored closely. Like fencing and other wooden structures, bored horses will often debark trees. If debarking is severe enough and complete girdling occurs, trees may eventually die. In addition to providing a gnawing surface, trees and their leaves are sometimes toxic to horses, including those of several common trees like red maple and black walnut. Keep horses away from trees by cordoning off access to those within the paddock and by clearing away creeping vegetation along the perimeter fenceline. Fallen leaves, twigs, and branches should be removed from the drylot immediately.

Manure management. Manure should be removed from the drylot every day or so and ferried as far away from the drylot as possible. By keeping manure picked up, the lifecycles of internal parasites are interrupted, and flying insects are more likely to swarm elsewhere.

Are you looking for diet recommendations for your resident roly-poly? No problem! A nutrition advisor can help you today!