Best Feed For Condition
There is no one-size-fits-all formula for achieving ‘perfect’ condition for your horse, just as there is no best feed for conditioning. However, there are certain areas of your horse you can look at when trying to monitor their condition:
- The neck and shoulders
- The middle
- The quarters
Horses may carry their weight, fat and muscle unevenly, which is why you should learn to identify how each area feels under your touch when trying to maintain a good condition. 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. Our guide looks at how to feed for perfect condition, giving advice on the best feed for condition, taking certain factors into consideration to help ensure your horse is healthy.
Understanding Your Horse’s Condition & Topline
A common complaint from horse owners is that their horse hasn’t got enough top line. Firstly it is important to understand that nutrition isn’t the only piece of puzzle when it comes to building muscle and you will also need to focus on fitness and training to build your horse’s strength.
When it comes to feeding, the main building block for building muscle is protein. Your horse will obtain protein from a variety of sources in the diet including grass, forage and the bucket feed. Some ingredients such as alfalfa are particularly abundant sources of protein. It is not only the amount of protein that is important to your horse; protein is made up of amino acids some of which need to be taken in the diet. These are called essential amino acids. Of these, lysine is particularly important as it is a limiting amino acid – if the horse has insufficient lysine then protein synthesis and therefore muscle development would be limited.
Grazing and forage can go a long way to meeting a horse’s protein requirements, but to top up your horse’s lysine intake, make sure you are using a feed appropriate for your horse’s workload at the recommended quantity. Feed balancers are an excellent way to top up on the best conditioning horse feed with vitamins, minerals and essential amino acids including lysine.
It is also important to ensure that sufficient energy is provided in the ration to ensure your horse isn’t diverting protein away from muscle development to fuel work. The best way to determine whether your horse has sufficient energy for the work that they are doing is their condition – use a body condition scoring system regularly and aim to keep your horse around a 3 on the 5 point scale.
What Causes Weight Loss In Horses?
Weight loss can be caused by a number of factors, some of which can be managed with feed or are feed-related conditions. This is why there is not a clear, best conditioning horse feed, as some rations are more suited to some horses than others and certain conditions, such as laminitis or colic-prone horses, will need to be taken into consideration. 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. Worm burden due to poor worming regimes can also cause weight loss regardless of what is being fed. Stressful environments where the horse is constantly being disturbed or kept out of sight of other horses might also cause loss of condition. If weight loss or being a poor do-er is out of character for your horse, then this issue should always be discussed with your vet to try and determine the underlying cause. 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 recipes which will be some of the best conditioning horse feeds to help combat general weight loss.
Best Conditioning Horse Feed 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.
Ad lib forage is one way to provide the best feed for condition and weight gain. This means that your horse should have unlimited access to fibre, such as hay and haylage, or a quality hay replacer such as Dengie Hi-Fi Senior or Pure Grass. When looking for the best conditioning horse feed, you should be aware that the quality of your forage will make a lot of difference. This is because there will be more nutrients available in quality forage, and thus contribute more energy which means less concentrates will be required. This is better for the health of the horse and their 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. Dengie 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, which can work at a detriment to any attempts to improve condition or gain weight.
Conditioning & Weight Gain 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 is one of the best feeds for condition & weight gain in horses that are prone to laminitis but need a little extra help to maintain their weight all year, as the sugar content is still very low. Dengie Alfa-Beet is also convenient to use as a non-heating horse feed for weight gain, as you can opt for a two-hour cold soak or 15-minute hot soak time, and is suitable for almost any horse or pony.
Best Feed For Condition Tips
- Feed your horse little and often: choose high-fibre, non-heating horse feeds for weight gain.
- Ensure hay or haylage is of good quality – sweet-smelling, free from dust and 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 or balancer. Please note, that all balancers are non-heating horse feed for weight gain.
As we’ve already mentioned, all rations and diet management will need to be tailored to the individual. For more information about the best conditioning horse feed for your specific circumstances, get in touch with the team here at Dengie on 01621 841188.