Winter often takes a toll on our horses and it can be common to see that your horse has lost weight towards the end of Winter. Some horse's are hard keepers all year round and certain breeds will hold their weight better than others. It can be frustrating to see your horse lacking top-line and looking lean, especially when you feel like you are throwing endless amounts of food and therefore money at them.
If you have noticed your horse dropping weight or they came to you thin, there are a few things to rule out first before you start investing in high fat feeds.
A large portion of a horse's diet is made up of fiber coming either from grass or hay. In order for the plant carbohydrates to be digestible, they must first be mechanically broken down by the horse's teeth before entering the digestive tract where they are further broken down by useful microbes. This is one of the many reasons why it is important to have your horse's teeth checked regularly, if they are not able to chew their food effectively then they will not be getting the most energy out of their food.
A well organised worming regime is essential to ensuring good overall health for your horse. Parasites like tapeworms will feed off the food you give to your horse causing your horse to lose weight. A drop in weight and coat condition is often a sign that your horse has worms. Check out our range of wormers here.
Your new horse may come with some preexisting ulcers which is common among ex-racehorses and horses that may have been stabled continuously. If you suspect your horse may have stomach ulcers, it is best to have a vet scope them and follow a course of ulcer treatment. There are products on the shelf that will help with digestion such as Dynavyte and Gastro Go.
If you have ruled out these other factors then it is time to alter your horse's feed. The most important thing to keep in mind is that any changes to their diet should be gradual and done slowly.
Fiber should make up the majority of your horse's diet and they will be consuming most of this in the form of grass or hay. If you notice a sudden loss of condition, consider the quality of your fiber. In the winter months both the quality and quantity of grass can decrease. With regards to hay, horse's that struggle to hold weight will do better on leafy soft hay rather than stalky hay. This is because the compound lignin is the structural compound in these parts of plants and cannot be broken down and digested. It does help the fiber move through the digestive system but does not add to the horse's calorific intake and thus does not aid in weight gain. Hay that is leafy and soft to the touch will contain more digestible fiber and therefore increase the calorific intake.
While it is tempting to just increase the grain proportion of the feed, it is essential to also increase the fiber, you should aim to have a ratio of 70:30 of fiber versus concentrated hard feed. Fiber is important for your horse's gut health and as long as it high quality feed it will also help them stack on the pounds.
Vegetable oils such as; rice bran, corn, flax seed and canola are all calorie dense and are a great additive to your horse's feed. Hard feeds that are advertised as weight gaining often have an oil added to them but you can also buy straight oil. As mentioned before, it is best to add the oil and increase the volume slowly over a period of days. Up to 2 cups a day can be added to your horse's feed but some may find the excessive oil unpalatable and will go off their food, so potentially aim to closer to a cup a day.
The take home message is that before you can help your horse put weight back on you must identify the cause of weight loss in the first place. If your horse is lacking calories then consider increasing both fiber and hard feed equally and adding oil as a calorie dense feed additive.