How to Put Weight on a Horse
“How do I put weight on my horse?” is a question that’s frequently asked. The uncomplicated response is to feed more – that is, feed more calories. Nevertheless, depending on experience and acquired skills, it’s not always that simple.
WHAT TO DO CHECKLIST
The choices to add calories are fiber, fat, and/or sugar & starch. Protein should NOT be an energy choice selection. Fiber is broken down by the microbial population primarily in the hindgut and at the end of the small intestine. Sugar, starch and fat are enzymatically broken down in the foregut. Energetically, fiber is the least efficient and fat the most efficient. All feed changes must be gradual.
✔ FEED MORE HAY
- Start with 5 – 10% more (if feeding 16 lbs./day, add 1 – 1½ lbs.)
- If feeding only grass hay, add 1 – 1½ lbs. alfalfa/day (instead of just more grass hay)
- Add hay pellets (if feeding 16 lbs. of hay, add 1 lb. hay pellets)
- Hay quality an issue? Select a less mature hay or a different grass hay
- If feeding only alfalfa, transition so that alfalfa is not more than 50% of the total forage fed
- Alfalfa is higher in calories than grass hay but usually less is fed thus possible inadequate fiber intake
- In addition, alfalfa’s excess protein has an energetic cost to metabolize the protein and eliminated the excess nitrogen via the urine
- Add digestible fibers (beet pulp, soy hulls) which add calories but also because they are the type of fiber can promote gut health
✔ FEEDING ONLY HAY & MORE THAN 2% OF BODY WEIGHT?
- Add 1 – 1½ lbs. of a balance formula that is high fiber, high digestible fiber (beet pulp & soy hulls), no grain, moderate protein (12%), moderate fat (6%) such as Integrity Lite
✔ IF FEEDING A BALANCED FORMULA, ADD MORE
- If feeding 2 lbs./day, add ¼ – ½ lbs./day
- Select a balanced formula that in addition to the digestible fiber sources also contains yeast culture, probiotic & prebiotic that promotes gut health such as the Integrity balanced formulas
✔ ADD FAT AS AN ALTERNATIVE TO FEEDING MORE OF A BALANCED FORMULA
- Start with ¼ to 1/3 cup/day vegetable oil or ¼ lb. stabilized rice bran; oil provides only fat and no other nutrients; rice bran is less calorie dense than oil and contains other nutrients including starch
✔ DIFFICULTY WITH CHEWING PELLETS?
- Mix with water to soften and if few grinding teeth (molars), then mix to oatmeal consistency
✔ SHARED FEEDING AREA WITH DOMINANT STABLE MATE?
- Remove dominant horse during feeding
✔ SUSPECT METABOLIC OR OTHER MEDICAL DISORDER?
- Consult your veterinarian
✔ IF UNSUCCESSFUL OR UNCERTAIN WITH YOUR STRATEGY
- Seek guidance from an expert in equine nutrition
Solutions require patience! Changes may include any combination of feeding management, balancing what is fed, shifting sources of feed/energy, shifting/adding fiber sources including digestible fiber, adding fat, feeding a variety of energy sources, supplementing with a yeast culture, or simply feeding more of what is fed.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
1) What’s their Body Condition Score (BCS)?
- The Body Condition Score is not difficult to learn and there’s a plethora of educational sites as a resource
- Easy system to observe changes and apply a score
2) What are their fiber sources?
- Feeding alfalfa, grass, cereal grain hay or a combination?
- How much is being fed? Feeding 1.5% of body weight?
- Is hay being wasted? Need a different delivery system to minimize waste?
3) How’s the horse used?
- Inactive, pleasure, work intensity, pregnant, lactating, health recovery?
4) Are there any health issues?
- Metabolic, ulcer, or colic? Consult with your veterinarian.
- Gum or teeth issues? Is there difficulty with chewing? Difficulty with chewing hay? Pellets? Shredded beet pulp?
- Internal parasites? How often dewormed? Medication type? Rotation routine? Frequency? Depends on management (pasture, boarding facility, shared turnouts, stabled with others, etc.) Consult with your veterinarian.
5) What’s their physical environment and/or behavior challenges?
- Bored, cribbing, weaving, stall walking?
- Shared feeding area?