1. You’re feeding too much for his workload
Calorie-counting is the same with horses as it is with humans — if they take in more calories than they burn off, they’ll put on weight. A 500 kilo horse in hard work will burn nearly twice as many calories a day as his mate who weighs the same, but is ridden lightly twice a week — 34,500 calories as opposed to 20,000. So make sure your horse is receiving the right amount of feed for his weight and workload and no more, or he’ll gain weight.
2. You’re feeding incorrectly for his breed
Native breeds have evolved to be good doers, making the most of poor quality grazing. They generally require feeds of a lower calorie level as they maintain their weight easily, but they still need lots of fibre to maintain digestive and behavioural health rather than being starved to keep weight down.
While native types don’t tend to require additional concentrate feeds to provide calories, what they do need is a balanced diet. So a quality feed balancer such as one from Fibregenix, with a small amount of low calorie fibre feed is really all they need in addition to grazing and hay.
3. You’re feeding incorrectly for his age
Feeding young horses correctly is important to ensure they grow at an appropriate rate. The most important thing is to ensure that the diet is completely balanced at all times. The majority of growth and development problems occur when there is too much energy/calories going into the diet and not sufficient levels of vitamins, minerals and quality protein. Ideally you would want to keep youngsters in relatively light condition (4-4.5 out of 9) as this reduces the amount of pressure and strain on growing joints and limbs.
Veterans conversely, may need more calories to maintain condition as their ability to chew hard feed may be impaired by dental issues. The digestive system of the older horse tends to be less efficient at processing feed. However, not all horses need a ‘veteran’ mix, so monitor their condition and speak to a nutritionist if you need advice on what best to feed your older horse.
4. You’re feeding too much for the time of year
In spring and summer, grass is richer; in winter, it’s poorer and sparser. In winter, your horse will use up to 80% of his feed energy to keep warm, and his weight may drop accordingly. However, most horse owners prefer their horses to maintain a steady weight throughout the year. Condition score your horse regularly so you know whether he needs more or less feed, as the level required will fluctuate with the seasons.
5. You don’t know what he weighs
Horses in light/medium work need to consume 2% of their body weight in mainly forage (70-100% of their food intake) a day, and if you don’t know how much he weighs, how do you know if he’s getting that, too much, or too little? Invest in a good weigh tape or take advantage of the weigh bridge services that some feed companies offer.
6. You’re not weighing his feed
If you have a horse that’s prone to piling on the pounds, it’s not good enough just to fling some feed into a bucket and hope for the best. You need to be strict with him — and yourself — and weigh his feed. A 500 kilo horse needs 20,000 calories a day in order to maintain his weight. There are approximately 7-8 MJ (or 2,000 calories) in a kilo of good quality hay, so if you’re stuffing his haynet with 10 kilos of hay each night, he’s already receiving all the calories he needs just for maintenance — and that’s before you include any grass or hard feed. If you’re worried about him scoffing his hay ration in under an hour and standing with an empty net for the rest of the night, then invest in a trickle net to encourage him to eat more slowly.
7. You’re feeding too much hard feed
Research conducted in recent years suggests that many diseases including laminitis, colic, gastric ulcers, Developmental Orthopaedic Disease (DOD), Equine Rhabdomyolysis Sydrome (ERS) and Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (PSSM) are linked to high starch diets. We’ve been telling you this for quite a while now!
8. You’re buying the wrong hard feed
Once you’ve worked out how many calories your horse needs for his weight, breed, age and level of work, then check the calorie intake he’ll receive from his hard feed and consider honestly whether or not he really needs hard feeding at all.
9. Your grass is too good
Grass can contain a lot of sugar and calories, particularly in Spring and Autumn. Consider feeding a Fibregenix balancer instead, such as Prime Original OR Lami Low-Cal, to ensure your horse still gets all he needs to remain healthy.
10. You’re buying the wrong hay
If you have a good doer, you need to choose the most suitable forage possible — a late cut, coarser hay will typically be less nutritious than an early cut forage. Good doers don’t need cereal or legume hays – look for simple grassy hay instead. If you can’t find a more suitable forage, you can soak the hay for 14-16 hours to leach some of the goodness.
11. You’re trying to starve him into being skinny
Horses can’t do ‘crash diets’ any more than humans can. They’re designed to trickle feed, which means they need an almost constant supply of forage for their digestive system to work correctly. If you withhold food from them, they may develop ulcers, and may also gorge quickly on food when presented with it. All dietary changes need to be introduced gradually and over a significant period of time to be effective.
12. He’s a good doer
Some horses just seem to get fat on thin air. If your horse seems to be putting on weight despite taking all the precautions above, then speak to us, as he may need to have a special feeding programme devised for him. Being a good doer can also present a problem in competition horses, as feeding them for their level of activity can provide too many calories and cause them to gain weight. One solution is to feed less hard feed and a good balancer instead such as one from the Fibregenix range.