Feeding your horse for perfect condition

tracey hammond

by Tracey Hammond

Some horses do not maintain their body weight easily and it can prove a real challenge to keep them at the perfect weight. Ideally, your horse's ribs should not be visible, but they should be easily felt if you run your hand along your their side.

A common complaint from horse owners is that their horse hasn't got enough top line. This is achieved through the horse working correctly and the diet supplying sufficient quality protein to build muscle. When assessing your horse's body weight and condition, you need to be clear exactly what you are aiming for. Feeding extra calories so that the horse stores excess fat along his topline is not the same as achieving a well-toned top line.

Whatever your objectives, monitoring your horse's weight with a weigh tape will allow you to identify any changes to their weight early, thereby enabling you to take remedial action quickly.

What causes weight loss in horses?

Weight loss can be caused by a number of factors, some of which are feed-related. Poor dentition, such as sharp edges or loose teeth, could result in the horse struggling to chew the feed properly and thus being unable to digest it fully. Poor worming regimes can also cause weight loss regardless of what is being fed.

Equally, stressful environments where the horse is constantly being disturbed or kept out of sight of other horses might cause loss of condition. If all these issues can be eliminated and your horse is still not putting on weight, you might need to review your feeding regime and consider introducing high-fibre, low-starch conditioning feeds.

Feeding your horse for weight gain

When feeding your horse for weight gain, it is important to remember that the horse's stomach is only the size of a rugby ball and the digestive system works most efficiently when supplied with an almost continuous supply of high-fibre materials.

For horses that need to gain weight, ad lib forage can be fed. This means that your horse should have unlimited access to fibre, such as hay and haylage, or a quality hay replacer such as Hi-Fi Senior. For underweight horses, it is beneficial to find as good a quality forage as possible because the more nutrients and energy it contributes, the less concentrates will be required, which is better for the health of the horse's digestive system.

If your horse needs help to maintain his weight, extra feed alongside the forage part of the diet will be required. Dengie advocates feeding fibre first and only if fibre is insufficient to meet the horse's requirements should cereal-based feeds be introduced. Alfa-a Oil combines alfalfa with oil to create a cereal-free feed with an energy level equivalent to a conditioning mix. Oil and fibre are both slow-release energy sources, which should help to reduce the risk of over-excitable behaviour.

Maintaining condition in Winter

In colder weather, many people like to include some form of sugar beet in their horse’s feed to increase fibre intake and provide a palatable and economical method of maintaining condition. Dengie Alfa-Beet is particularly good as a conditioning feed because it is a 50:50 blend of alfalfa and sugar beet – all of which is unmolassed. This means that the sugar content is very low, making it suitable for laminitics that need help to maintain condition all year round. Dengie Alfa-Beet is convenient to use, with a two-hour cold soak or 15-minute hot soak time, and is suitable for almost any horse or pony.

Supplements to aid digestion

Dengie Digestive Health Plus can be fed all year round at a maintenance level for increased feed utilisation and to maintain digestive health. Alternatively, it can be fed for 7 to 10 days at a concentrated level during times of high stress, such as with competition and travel, or during and after dietary changes. Research shows that Dengie Digestive Health Plus increases fibre digestion above the effect of yeast alone and is ideal for poor doers or those needing to gain weight.

Top 'feeding for condition' tips

  • Feed your horse little and often: choose high-fibre, non-heating feeds.
  • Ensure hay or haylage is of good quality – sweet-smelling, free from dust/mould spores.
  • Try to allow your horse ad-lib access to a forage source such as. hay or haylage, especially when stabled.
  • Feed your horse a yeast culture to encourage efficient fibre digestion in the hind gut.
  • Make sure vitamin and mineral requirements are being met. If necessary, top up with a broad-spectrum supplement such as Dengie Vits & Mins or a balancer such as Dengie Alfa-A or Hi-Fi Balancer.
Share this