Hard Keepers and Weight Maintenance
Written by Miquela Allen on June 26, 2019
The first step to knowing if your horse needs to gain or lose weight is to discern what the ideal is. The Henneke body condition chart, ranging from one to nine, has been developed for this specific reason. Anything between four and six is considered ideal.This range allows for differences in conformation, activity level, discipline, etc. It is important to note that if your horse is suddenly losing weight or refusing to eat, you should seek out veterinary advice as it could be related to a dental issue or other illness. Ensuring the digestive tract is healthy and functioning at top capacity is crucial. Succeed® Digestive Conditioning Program is made up of human food grade ingredients that have been proven to maintain digestive health.
Once health issues have been ruled out as the cause of the weight loss, your horse may simply have a fast metabolism that requires more feed per pound of body weight, also known as hard keepers. These horses are often, but not always, the hotter and more nervous animals, such as thoroughbreds. A horse that is tense and constantly in motion, such as is seen with stall walkers, for example, is utilizing more energy than a horse that is relaxed.
The simplest solution to helping a hard keeper gain weight is to increase the caloric intake. One thing to consider is if the horse has access to enough high quality pasture and/or forage, usually hay. While many horses can maintain weight on forage alone, some may need a bit more. There are a variety of things that can be added or changed in the diet to assist with weight maintenance. It is important to remember that forage should be the main component of the diet, as this is what horses are designed to eat.
Increasing the amount of digestible fiber in the diet is often beneficial for hard keepers. Beet pulp is one of the most popular options as this low sugar feed has a high caloric output along with 80% digestible fiber. It tends to be palatable after soaking and is easy to chew, making it a good option for picky eaters and seniors. Alfalfa pellets or cubes, such as Triple Crown Naturals Premium Alfalfa Forage Cubes, are another common addition, and are made from hay harvested at its peak digestibility. The high percentage of digestible fiber in these feeds provides a higher caloric output than other types of forage.
Another type of feed that can be added to the diet for hard keepers is grain or other forms of starch. Grains supply more energy per pound than most forage, so less will be needed. Starches must be fed with caution, however, as overfeeding can alter the pH of the gut and disrupt the flora, negatively impacting digestion.
Fats are generally thought of in regard to achieving a shiny coat, but they are also a good source of energy that can help with weight gain. Rice bran, linseed, and vegetable oils are some of the most commonly used inclusions. Platinum Performance Healthy Weight oil supplement is made from flax oil and is an easy way to increase healthy fats in a horse’s diet.
For some horses, the issue is not the amount, quality, or type of food; they are simply picky. Some trial and error may be required to discover what each individual prefers. Some common additions that increase palatability are molasses and sweet feed. Some of the previously mentioned fibers, starches, and fats are also appealing to many picky eaters. Triple Crown Alfa-Lox™ Forage combines forage, fat, molasses, and other digestive health supporting ingredients to create a feed that appeals to picky eaters and improves digestion.
Aside from the diet itself, feeding methods also impact weight maintenance. If multiple horses are being fed together, one individual may not have access to an ideal amount of feed. In this case, the horses can be separated at feeding time, which can have the added benefit of reducing stress. Slow feeding systems, such as hay nets, have proven to assist with weight gain as well. Horses are designed for a slow, constant intake of food rather than a few large feeding times with periods of fasting, so feeding in this manner aids in digestion as well as blood sugar regulation.
While forage alone is enough to maintain weight for many horses, some require a little extra care to make sure they stay at an ideal weight. There are a variety of ways to address this, including ruling out stress and illness, altering the diet, and varying the method of feeding. It may take some trial and error to find what works for your particular horse, but establishing a balance is the key to overall health.