For those who hunt, the approaching autumn is welcome, with meets starting up after cereal crops are harvested in late August. Although killing foxes with hounds become illegal in 2005, hunts still meet to exercise the hounds, often following pre-laid scent trails.
Hunters will have been on a fittening regime over the late summer, in preparation for the beginning of the season. Hunts tend to start in the autumn with shorter, easier days to accustom the horse and hounds to the exercise. Hunters need to be fit with good stamina in order to gallop and jump without getting fatigued early, which will increase the risk of injury.
Feeding hunters is equivalent to feeding a sports horse with a similar workload, and they do need special care if they are out hunting more than once weekly, and especially if they are ridden over a long day, because the rider has only one horse. These hunters will need to be fed carefully to ensure they recover efficiently and their risk of colic is reduced.
Good nutritional quality hay or haylage is necessary for stabled hunters (> 9MJ digestible energy per kg), ideally with a good protein content (>9%) to avoid having to feed large quantities of compound feed. Compounds with controlled starch levels (20% or less) and containing high digestible fibre and high levels of oil are healthier and less risky for the highly variable daily work levels a typical hunter may undertake. Split the daily ration into enough feeds that no more than 1.5 kg (about 3lb) is fed in one meal.
The once-weekly bran mash probably helped gut motility due to disturbance and the handful of Epsom salts (which draws water into the gut and causes loose droppings) it contained. Much healthier is to feed bran every day – carefully balanced – if you wish to use a bran mash (with Epsom salts) as a palatable aid to helping avoid impactions in a tired, dehydrated horse.
Electrolytes are a must due to the salts lost in sweat, and these should be added every day to the feed. Joint supplements are wise to help the musculoskeletal system cope with hard work, sometimes on less than ideal surfaces. Hunters with muscle soreness or tightness, or those who tie up should be fed extra vitamin E and selenium.
A weekly rice bran mash is a traditional in feeding hunters, but it should be given every day or not at all to avoid gut disturbance.
Do reduce the ration – even a low starch compound – if weather interrupts regular work, and increase the forage. There is no need to limit forage unless the horse is overweight or very greedy. Forage holds water in the gut and will aid hydration during a long day’s hunting.
Offer clean fresh water at all times and add a jug of boiling water to water buckets during very cold periods to encourage water intake. Offer an isotonic salt solution after hunting along with fresh water. Adding molasses to the water can tempt a horse to drink, but ensuring a good salt intake will also encourage the thirst response.