Equine Nutrition FAQ’s – Weight Management
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My vet told me that one horse needs to lose weight and the other horse needs to gain weight. They are on pasture 24/7 but now the horse that needs to lose weight only is out there 3 hours each day. My vet told me to count calories and feed 1,360 calories per day. What are your thoughts?
Perhaps there’s some confusion on the calorie count, but a 1,000 lb. maintenance fed horse requires approximately 13,000 – 15,500 calories per day (same as 13 – 15.5 Mcal Digestible Energy/day). An average west coast grass hay is approximately 825 – 900 calories per lb. (same as 0.825 – 0.9 Mcal Digestible Energy/lb.). 1,360 calories are a little more than 1.5 lb. of hay or a ¼ of a hay flake. Perhaps the vet meant 13,600 calories per day or a slip inputting another 0 to the 1360.
Pasture consumption varies based on pasture growth/health relative to time in pasture so there is no practical approach to determine calories consumed with pasture.
The best weight management tool is the body condition scoring system (BCS). In Dr Bray’s Corner there is information on BCS; there are also a plethora of other websites on the topic. The average horse consumes hay at 1.5% of body weight; for a 1,000 lb. horse that’s 15 lbs. per day. Activity level will influence that amount. An average BCS for a horse is 5 – 6; if the horse needs to gain weight then hay is increased, if weight reduction is needed then hay is reduced. For horses on an all forage diet, I usually suggest for losing weight, feed at 1.4% BW to start and monitor BCS for adjustments; If need to gain weight then feed at 1.6% BW.
I just adopted my first horse, a 15 year old Quarter Horse. During the vet exam they gave her a body score of “5”, so I definitely don’t want her losing any more weight. She is in a fairly large paddock with a few other horses so I can’t really control exactly how much hay she gets and the stables don’t really weigh the hay. She is on a flake of alfalfa in the morning and a flake of Bermuda in the afternoon, but not sure how much she gets compared to her herd-mates. I bought Integrity Lite a couple of weeks ago and am feeding her 4 cups (1 lb) per day along with an omega supplement as a little bit extra, but I think I need to increase the amount. She has lost a tiny bit of weight since moving to this new location, and I really want her to gain a little. Another issue is that in spite of her age, she is very forward and I really don’t want to give her something that makes her at all hot! She is in light work, a couple 1.5-2 hour trail rides a week, a couple times in the arena for an hour, and some ground/liberty work a few days per week. Here’s my question: when you say she can have up to 6 pounds of Integrity Lite per day, I’m not clear on if that is with the amount of hay she is likely eating? Would you recommend increasing the amount of Integrity Lite I give her or would you add something like Integrity Stabilized Rice Bran to the mix? I could also move her to Integrity Senior, but would that be more likely to make her hot?
Boarding does create some challenges in managing a horse’s feeding program. Forage is the primary food source and a general rule for adult horses is to feed hay (bale) at 1.5% of BW (body weight). I do not know your horse’s body weight but if the BW is 1000 lb then the combined forage from hay and hay pellets would be 15 lb per day.
Forage provides fiber and fiber is critical to gut health, that is, nourishing a healthy bacteria population in the gut. If you discover that the hay being fed by the facility is less than 1.5% BW then you should supplement with additional hay or with a hay pellet. Integrity Lite is high fiber with beet pulp and soy hulls as the first two ingredients. There is a fact sheet on Feeding Guidelines for Horses in Dr. Bray’s Corner that may be helpful.
Assuming your horse is 1000 lbs, with the workload you described, hay fed per day should approximate 15 – 16 lbs and Integrity Lite 1 ½ – 3 lbs per day. Add an extra ½ lb of Lite to the meal on the days you trail ride.
However, feeding horses is not an absolute science. There are a plethora of factors that influence the lbs fed from a balanced formula, such as work intensity, horse’s conditioning, energy sources in feeds, health management, training level, rider’s balance seat ability, etc. For example, think about running a 5K around a track verses a wooded trail and in addition add the weather influence of a cool, slightly cloudy day verses a hot humid day. Working conditions are different, thus energy demands will be different. There are lots of factors that cannot be mathematically determined thus the importance of monitoring/recording body condition score (BCS) every two weeks and making dietary adjustment when needed.
If the amounts suggested does not maintain body weight then I would consider adding ½ lb of Rice Bran on the day of trail ridding instead of ½ lb added Lite.
A short note on the “hot” syndrome. In my personal experiences with horses and as a professor/researcher and as a nutritional consultant, I have never had a hot horse that resulted from feeding. I know the conversation still exist but the science is not there to support the claim in any species, including children.
One more suggestion: the omega fatty acid supplement is most likely not providing any benefit. Integrity products already contain whole ground flaxseed, a source of the only plant omega-3 fatty acid, ALA. There is no evidence that supplemental omega 3 fatty acids are beneficial to horses because they are not omnivores or carnivores. The only time there may be benefits would be with horses that are fed high fat diets that work at very-heavy levels. Then that omega fatty acid supplemented should be sources of DHA and EPA.
I have an 11-year-old Thoroughbred, he is definitely built like a warm blood. I’m working him in dressage 3-4 times per week and my trainer says I need to feed more Integrity and maybe start to wean him off rice bran. I am currently giving him 2 cups of Integrity Adult/Senior and 2 quarts rice bran pellet. He dropped some weight because he has colic. I think he lost muscle, but my trainer thinks I should add weight to him. I do water his food down and let it soak for a while because he has been known to colic and doesn't drink enough. I've had him for two years and every year on the dot he has colic and due to weather change he runs hot. For a 1300 lb. animal, how much Integrity should I be feeding him?
Usually muscle is the first-to-go during illness and the lay-up period. I would need to know more about his work intensity (level?), but assuming moderate for dressage and the 1300 lb. body weight type you provided, 20-22 lbs of grass forage per day and 5-8 lbs Integrity Adult/Senior per day would be about right. Rice bran is a fat source and a useful feedstuff for horses working at moderate levels. And remember, changes in feed should only be 1/4 lb per day.
I have a 16 y.o. ½ Arabian, ½ Saddlebred gelding. I moved him to a new boarding barn in May and started him on Integrity Lite. About 2 months after that, I started him on psyllium as a preventative for sand colic, but 5 days into his course he had "choke" that required hospitalization, so I no longer give him psyllium. In the last couple of months I noticed that he is a bit thin, so I switched him from Integrity Lite to Integrity Adult/Senior and added a 3rd flake of hay (80/20 mix of grass and alfalfa). I increased his Integrity Senior to 2 ½ of the "Integrity scoops" given to me by the feed store. I've attached pictures of him. I'm still not comfortable with his overall condition and wondered if you have a suggestion for me. He's always been an easy keeper until now. I ride him lightly at least one time a week. He is wormed and up to date on shots. I blanket him.
He is thin and the photos would suggest a BCS 4. What is the flake weight of the 80/20 hay? I am assuming the hay is 80% grass and the remaining alfalfa. Usually these bale-mixes are not by design for a mix grass-alfalfa but the result of Bermuda grass taking over an alfalfa field. Nevertheless, based on the photos let’s assume an ideal body weight of 1050 lbs. You did not mention how he is used but hay fed should approximate 18 – 19 lbs per day. Integrity Adult/Senior is the correct feed and given his current BCS, feed 3 ½ lbs per day and for extra calories add one 1 lb of Integrity Rice Bran. You should notice improvement within 2-3 weeks and if not let me know.
The first two ingredients in Lite and Adult/Senior are beet pulp and soy hulls which have properties that promote the gut muscles to contract, thus move content through the intestine with consistency. I have never been an advocate of psyllium except in clinical acute cases. There is a fact sheet on psyllium in Dr. Bray’s Corner. The photos were very helpful with the assessment, thank you.
My horse is declining, especially the past two weeks. After reviewing the blood test results, the vet recommended that I only feed Bermuda. My horse is 16 years old, Arabian, 14.1 hands, body conditioning score of 2; top line, hind quarters are sunken and has low energy. His diet before the blood test was wet Bermuda Hay, about 8 lbs per feeding, rice bran, beet pulp and a commercial feed. The horse stresses with needles and the pathologist thought some test results were due to ‘vet stress’. What feed is best for him at this time?
I need to know more to provide useful feeding guidelines.
Other than weight loss, was he ill? What were the specific blood test results that raised concerns? Was the blood test for allergies (side note: I lack confidence in blood test for allergies)? Has anything changed with management? How often is he dewormed? When was the last time his teeth were checked? Was he checked for loose teeth, inflammation/swelling of gums, or abscesses? What do you observe with his eating—shifting of head, food dropping, excess mouthing of food, or any sign of discomfort? Has he been tested for Cushing (blood and symptomatic evaluation)? How often is he ridden and at what intensity? How much rice bran, beet pulp, and commercial feed are being fed? Was the hay weighed or estimated by the number of flakes?
California Bermuda varies by source, but can have low energy and protein. I would not expect a BCS 2 from 16 lbs for a 14.1 H horse that is fed for maintenance. I will need to have a better understanding of his challenges in order to provide some useful feeding guidelines.
I have a 28 year old Arabian mare who eats poorly and has lost a lot of weight. She won't touch alfalfa hay or pellets, but picks at other types of hay and likes to eat the crab grass growing around the barn. What should I feed her to get her weight back up? How about chopped hay with molasses? I don't know if all that molasses would be good for an older horse. She also has diarrhea which our vet has given us Bio-Sponge to treat her.
When was the last time her teeth were checked? I would have her evaluated for loose molars, redness in gums, etc. An animal with an irritated mouth will avoid chewing. Grass is approximately 80% moisture so easier to mouth and swallow. Hay and hay pellets are dry, approximately 10% moisture, which requires the horse to chew more, thus producing saliva so that the food will be moist to swallow.
Chopped hay and molasses will contain as much as 10 – 20% molasses. So if 10 lbs. are fed, 1 – 4 lbs. would be molasses. Excess molasses can compound the diarrhea problem.
The issue with diarrhea could be related to an unhealthy bacteria population in the gut (not eating adequate forage can precipitate that problem) so I would suggest feeding a probiotic to encourage a population of the “good” bacteria. Integrity products contain probiotics, prebiotics and soluble fiber sources (beet pulp & soy hulls). The Integrity product line, in addition to complementing the forage portion of the diet, is intended to promote a healthy gut. However, first you should work with your vet to stabilize the diarrhea with treatment and adequate forage intake.
Once she is stabilized, I would suggest Integrity Lite No Molasses which is high in soluble fiber and modest in fat (4%). Additional calories can be added with a fat source such as rice bran or oil. Depending on the size of your mare and forage intake, the amount would probably not be more than 2 to 2.5 lbs. per day (assuming she is not being worked).
Keep in mind that changes in feeds and feed amount will influence the bacteria of the gut which is why feed transitions must be gradual.
My 10 yr. old Andalusian was a stallion until he was 8 years old. I have had him a year and started him on Integrity Lite when he arrived from Spain. He is fed 1-1/4 cups 3 times per day along with Timothy. He is in good condition but could have more energy. His blood test recently was normal. Any suggestions?
I assume by “could have more energy” you are suggesting he needs more energy during exercise. 3 ¾ cups of a balanced formula per day for an average sized Andalusian is not a lot for a working horse. There is more information that would be helpful in providing a feeding recommendation and I would suggest you review the fact sheet on “What to Feed Your Horse”.
You need to add “groceries” so there are two reasonable options for your horse to gain weight. You can increase the current amount of Integrity Lite or you can add Integrity Rice Bran. The Integrity Rice Bran is a new Integrity product that is balanced for calcium and phosphorus and has added probiotic and prebiotic for gut health and integrity. Depending on workload you may be better feeding Integrity Adult/Senior.
I have a 1,100 lb. Appendix Gelding 16hh and 16 yrs. We have just moved him from Anaheim Hills, CA. to Garner Valley, which is at 4,500 ft. He is recovering from a fracture in his navicular bone. He cannot have alfalfa so he is currently eating 3 flakes of Orchard per day and 4 cups of your Integrity Timothy mixed. He is a little ribby because the vet wants him lean. But I want him to gain just a little and be able to grow a nice winter coat. I would appreciate your advice. Thank You!
You need to add “groceries” so there are two reasonable options for your horse to gain weight. You can increase the current amount of Integrity Lite or you can add Integrity Rice Bran. The Integrity Rice Bran is a new Integrity product that is balanced for calcium and phosphorus and has added probiotic and prebiotic for gut health and integrity. The best method to observe weight change is using the Body Condition Scoring system which is outlined with photographs in Dr. Bray’s Corner. Thank you for using Integrity and feel free to let us know if we can be of any further assistance.
I feed my horse carrots and apples 3 times a week? Is that too much?
Carrots and apples are about 90% water. For comparison the primary feeds that are fed to horses, including baled hays, feed mixes and hay pellets, contain approximately 10% water. You did not indicate how many of each are fed but if you are like most horse owners the amounts fed vary from a couple to several. Bottom line: no worries! I view carrot and apples as treats and an opportunity to bond with your horse. I hear the stories about too much carotene, too much sugar, and horses becoming to aggressive and nipping. The water content of the carrot and apples and the amounts fed make these treats a non-factor relative to nutrition. When I was a kid I would have a peppermint in a work coat with an oversize side pocket. Jody-Grey was the gelding I rode (big ol’ quarter horse) and he would go into that pocket to recover the peppermint. He was conditioned to only look once and only when I turned to him with the pocket side containing the peppermint. I did not always have a sweet for him and if I did not turn for him to look he knew the pocket was empty. He never nipped because of the conditioning he received.
I recently took in a five year old Quarter horse mare. She is about a three on the conditioning scale and has been losing weight. When I first got her she was about a four. She is fed daily four leafs of alfalfa hay and eight lbs. of Integrity Lite. I also give her one apples treat and two carrot treats each day, with 15 gallons of fresh water daily. I take her out to exercise for an hour a couple times a week. She needs to put on weight but I don't want to overfeed her. Any suggestions?
A general check list for horses that are not maintaining body weight includes:
- Deworming active ingredient & frequency
- Teeth & gums checked by your vet
- Eliminate any other health issues that would compromise the horse immunologically
- Relationship of hay weight being fed to the horse’s body weight (minimum of 1.5% for adult horses)
- Relationship of other feeds weight being fed to the horse’s body weight (relative to production level)
f there are no underlining health issues, she needs more calories in her diet which translates to more groceries. Be sure that the feed amounts are based on actual weight measurements and not estimated from flakes of hay and scoops of feed mix. The Integrity Adult/Senior is a better option than the Lite formula because it has lower fiber, higher fat and thus more calories per pound. You should not have to feed more than 4 to 5 lbs. per day to see a difference.
You can also add 2/3 – 1 cup of oil to add calories. Also follow the guides on forage feeding in the Fact Sheet “Feed Guidelines for Horses” in Dr. Bray’s Corner fact sheet section. Another consideration is to use a daily deworming compound with the active ingredient pyrantel tartrate. This low dose daily dewormer appears to provide a continuous and preventive level of the active ingredient and is effective with several parasites.
There are reports that daily dewormers improve feed efficiency. My experiences with horses, specifically older horses, that had difficulty in maintaining body weight includes going through the check list above, incorporating the daily dewormer and adding fat to a balance formula similar to our Integrity Adult/Senior. I like yeast cultures and all the Integrity formulas contain a yeast culture. We also have an Integrity Rice Bran available.
Two days ago I got a year old horse that is a 1.5 on the BCS. I am trying to figure out a way to safely put weight back on him. I feed him Integrity Senior and Alfalfa Hay and he eats every scrap. I’ve read that horses below 3 BCS should only be fed alfalfa until they reach at least a 3 because they need the extra protein because their bodies have been breaking down protein due to the lack of food. I don’t like feeding straight alfalfa, but I am unsure of switching at this time. I plan on adding oil to his diet but I am trying to introduce everything slowly as I don't know how they were fed prior to them coming to me. I am feeding four times a day currently. How long until I can start to see a difference in him?
The California study on feeding very low body condition score (BCS) horses concluded that recovery was better with feeding an alfalfa forage diet. The authors concluded that higher protein forage was a factor in the improved performance. I do not agree with the recommendations of the study.
As you will recall when evaluating a study, one must considered the experimental design relative to the outcome, and one must always consider that important question, “Does it make biological sense?” Horses that have low body condition scores 1 – 3 have usually been ignored in more than the lack of groceries. The primary goal is for the horse’s general health to be clinically evaluated and stabilized and introduced to grass forage. Keep in mind that the microbial population of the gut has been compromised and that microbial population must be populated and stabilized slowly. An alfalfa forage diet in the early stages introduces protein at a level that raises concerns with further compromising the microbial population by a rapid change in the type and number of microbes. I also do not recommend alfalfa as an only source of forage anyway (See the fact sheet, Feeding Guidelines for Horses, in Dr Bray’s Corner.)
I usually recommend feeding average quality grass hay in small amounts 6 times per day along with a daily probiotic supplement and a lot of observation. The microbes in the gut need time to acclimate to the energy and nutrients supplied by the forage, the gut needs time to acclimate to accommodating the volume of feed, and the horse needs time to acclimate to a feeding schedule and a routine that he will be fed. Intestinal microbes do need and depend on protein as a fuel and nutrient source but that protein source needs to be introduced gradually to allow the intestinal microbes to acclimate.
Horses that have been neglected will gain weight fairly quickly with a methodical feeding approach and that body condition score will elevate from a 1.5 to a 3 faster than you think. Once the horse reaches a 3 BSC then I would slowly reduce the feeding frequency to 3- 4 times per day, but not the amount of feed of course, then introduce a balanced formula that provides a protein source.
I have an 8 yr. old mustang, 13 hands, very low-key temperament, and fed about 5 pounds of Bermuda and 2 pounds of Bermuda pellets. He gets about 1/2 cup of Integrity along with salt (about 1 teaspoon) to increase his salt intake during the summer. He should weigh about 800 pounds, but looks obese. I am hesitant to reduce his forage because I do not want him to colic. What would you recommend I do for him?
Some of the numbers do not add up, even if the horse is truly an “easy keeper” (although in all my years working with horses I can only truly identify a couple of horses that were truly “easy or hard keepers”) 7 pounds of total hay and ½ cup Integrity is a ration more suited for a 450 to 525 lb. pony. Have you used a weight tape to estimate the body weight? In Dr. Bray’s Corner there is a fact sheet on estimating body weight. Is the 800 lbs. body weight an “eye” estimate? 800 lbs. is a heavy body weight for a 13.2 hands pony even if he is obese. So, in order for me to provide you more useful guidance, we need to double check the body weight and hay weight. The hay amount being fed may be underestimated.
Dr. Bray’s Note: The emailer responded that she did the weight tape measurement on the mustang and weighed the hay and let me know graciously that the mustang’s weight tape measurement was 405 pounds and that a large kitchen scale suggested the hay was 25 pounds. Although there may be some error in these weights as well, the bottom line emphasizes the importance of the body condition scoring system and weighing the feed fed to your horse.
I recently got a 5 year old Arabian who has trouble gaining weight. I have fed him over 10 lbs. of hay, along with pellets and a senior feed. Since we have been in training, he has no problem with energy, but hasn't put on any muscle. My vet recommended an extruded feed, and when I took your class at Cal Poly, you were just coming out with Integrity. Is this feed an extruded feed? Will it make my young guy "hot"? Will it help him put on more weight, even in training?
You did not indicate the amount of senior feed that is being fed or your horse’s body weight. If your Arabian is average height and weight, then 10 pounds of hay is inadequate. Visit the fact sheet section in Dr. Bray’s Corner on Feeding Guidelines. You should be feeding a minimum of 1.5% of his body weight in hay.
Also, feed alone does NOT put on muscle; a misconception that has existed in the horse industry since I can remember. Muscle build-up is influenced by genetic potential and of course an exercise program complemented by a balance diet that supplies the needed energy and nutrients for muscle improvement.
When there are difficulties with a horse gaining weight, there may be one or a combination of factors that contribute to the challenges. Looking at the type of feed or amounts fed is not always the first consideration. The horse’s complete nutritional management and health management needs to be considered. Some considerations will seem simple but as with any problem solving approach, exploring the options are needed to identify a solution. Some factors to consider:
- What is the current body condition score? What changes in the body condition score have occurred over the past 30, 60, and 90 days?
- How often is the horse dewormed? What deworming compounds were used? Is there a rotation in the deworming compounds active ingredients being used? Is a boticide being used? These considerations should be explored with your veterinarian.
- When was the horse’s teeth checked and/or floated?
- What is currently being fed and how often?
- Is the horse fed with other horses or as an individual?
- Have there been changes in last 30 days with types or amounts of feed being fed?
- Who feeds the horse? What is the training facility? What is the boarding facility? If others are feeding, are you ensuring the correct amounts are being fed?
- Have there been changes in the horse’s boarding conditions (i.e. changed in facility or stable mates)?
- What is the current work/training routine (i.e. frequency, intensity, etc.)?
- When did his work/training program begin?
- Have there been any health issues?
Extruded feeds have been cooked at high steam-temperatures and pressure for a short period of time. This extrusion process also allows the cooked product to be pushed through a die which is what provides the uniform and different shapes. The cooking process will partially “break down” or prepare the starches and protein so that in general these components of the feed are better utilized. There are studies that support the better utilization of extruded feeds. The fundamental question is when will an extruded feed best serve the horse relative to the horse’s energy needs? Although extruded feeds are more expensive to make, thus more expensive to the consumer, I have always liked the extrusion process with feeds that contain high level of grains, such as corn, barley and oats. I will recommend extruded feeds that contain high levels of grains when the horse has high energy demands such as race horses, polo ponies, three-day event horses, some working horses (roping, cutting), early lactation, and sometimes selectively during early stages of growth.
If a horse needs to gain weight, the first approach is more calories. More calories can be accomplished by providing more feed or adding fat in the form of oil. Adding fat usually will not “insult” the nutrient – calorie ratio with most formulas and can provide the additional energy needed to gain weight. The amount of oil fed is depended on what is currently being fed, the horse’s body weight, and current work intensity. So I would need additional information to provide a specific amount of oil.
The Integrity Adult/Senior has properties that I like (and formulated) because it does have energy sources via rice bran, canola oil and oats but at the same time has ingredients (beet pulp & soy-hulls) that promote gut integrity. Integrity Adult/Senior is not an extruded feed and is not energy dense but is a low starch feed. Keep in mind that there is more nutritional management required when feeding an energy rich formula that is high in energy and starch. Star Milling’s Equine Age formula is a combination of extrusion and pellet forms and the first 3 ingredients on the label are alfalfa meal, wheat bran, and ground corn.
I have an 18 year old Arabian gelding who is just my pet. He is a little overweight and I want to know if I should feed him Integrity Lite or Integrity Senior?
Since he is not active and is your companion, the Integrity Lite will be ideal. This formula does not have any starch-containing grains so it’s very low starch; Integrity Lite without molasses ESC (ethanol soluble carbohydrates) is 5.9% and the %starch is 1.6%; thus the %starch + %ESC = 7.5%.
Other attributes of Integrity Lite are that the first two ingredients in the formula are beet pulp and soy-hulls, which contribute to gut integrity. It contains 22% crude fiber and is low in energy. Equally important, Integrity Lite is balance for all the required nutrients to compliment the forage portion of his diet. For an average size Arabian gelding that is not active, I would suggest feeding 1 1/2 to 2 pounds per day.