Having your horse at the right weight and condition is essential for health and well-being. A vital part of achieving this is to manage weight through correct feeding. In our latest blog we focus on the importance of weight management for optimum condition. Equine Nutritionist, Lisa Elliott, MSc of Equine Nutrition Solutions, shares her advice to help your horse achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
The Underweight Horse
The right nutrition will support weight gain if your horse is underweight. Whilst it’s natural for horses to lose weight and be slimmer after winter, if your horse is generally a poor doer, it’s important to maintain a suitable body condition throughout the year for optimum health.
Providing plenty of quality forage is key, so ensure you are feeding the best quality you can find. Fibre provides essential calories for work and condition and spring grass. Ensuring your horse has access to adlib quality forage whether that’s fresh grass in the summer or preserved forage like hay or haylage in winter, will help provide the extra energy needed for weight gain.
Alongside quality forage, Coligone powder or liquid can be extremely beneficial, as it supplies key pro and prebiotics which are scientifically proven to support hindgut microbes and improve fibre fermentation. This improved fermentation will increase the amount of energy your horse gets out of their forage, helping them to gain weight for optimal condition.
Feeds which supply essential micronutrients, and contain sources of highly digestible fibre, Like Coligone Fibre Cubes are an excellent way to boost condition along with sources of oil like ExSelenium Oil to provide extra calories. Both provide easily digestible sources of energy and if the energy released from digestion exceeds the horses’ requirements it will then be laid down as fat and the horse will gain weight.
Protein will help with rebuilding lost muscle tone, so ensure you are feeding a good quality source through forage or with the addition of a nutritious balancer or Multivit Pro to supply key essential amino acids for muscle integrity.
A lack of water can reduce digestive efficiency, compromising condition, so it’s important your horse is fully hydrated. Adding 1-2 tablespoons of salt to feed will help ensure optimum salt levels and encourage drinking for increased hydration.
Additionally, Stress can have a big impact on weight loss so it’s important to ensure your horse is happy and relaxed if you are trying to ensure they gain weight. Science has shown that stable enrichment can reduce stress, so if your horse gets stressed when stabled, think about providing this enrichment in the form of a nutritious lick like Coligone Healthy Lick to help your horse express their natural foraging behaviour, which naturally decreases stress. Coligone healthy licks also contain calcium to support a healthy nervous system and promote calmness for optimum well-being which in turn will help to support improved weight and condition.
The Overweight Horse
At the other end of the scale, the key to managing an overweight horse is to create a calorie deficit so there are more calories going out than going in. A low energy, high fibre, forage-based diet, which reduces calorie intake without compromising on fibre, coupled with an active exercise regime which effectively burns calories and fat is essential to promote weight loss.
In the spring and summer, removing the horse from grass during the day and turning out into a dry paddock when sugar and ultimately energy levels are higher can help reduce calorie intake but ad-lib lower calorie forage such as hay should be offered instead.
An overweight horse should never be starved as this can lead to serious health conditions and restricting forage can be counterproductive and make the horse fatter. For some overweight horses, it may be necessary to consider zero grazing, feeding just hay and/or a low-calorie fibre chop until the horse becomes slimmer.
Getting forage tested for starch, sugar and energy levels is extremely useful. Overweight horses will normally have some degree of insulin dysregulation, so starch and sugar need to be kept low. The higher the starch and sugar, the higher the potential calories the horse consumes too, so forage should be less than 12% starch and sugar or Non-structural Carbohydrates (NSC).
Soaking hay is often recommended to reduce NSC, but results can be variable, take hours and reduce hygiene levels. Instead, consider feeding a specifically produced low NSC hay to keep starch, sugar and calories to a minimum.
Oat straw can provide a useful low-calorie alternative to hay as its energy, starch and sugar levels are typically lower, so will provide essential forage without the calories. However, straw should only be used to replace no more than 25% of hay and should never be the sole source of forage.
If your horse is overweight, the autumn and winter seasons can be the ideal time to try and encourage weight loss when the grass loses its nutrition, and you can base the diet on lower calorie forage like hay. Additionally, you can use the cooler temperatures to your advantage to help you horse or pony drop those pesky lbs. Overweight horses and ponies can really benefit from strategic rugging. Keeping rugs to a minimum to avoid over rugging and leaving horses and ponies unrugged (providing they have a good natural coat), during winter can really help with weight loss management.
Whilst a low-calorie forage based diet is ideal, it won’t provide all essential micronutrients. Balancers are great because they are fed in small amounts, providing micronutrients without excess calories. Look for a balancer which is molasses and cereal free to keep starch and sugar to a minimum, but with a high specification of micronutrients for optimum health and well-being. Coligone also provides essential micronutrients and can be used to support optimal health and vitality whilst trying to reduce calorie intake.
Feeding to maintain weight
Maintaining your horse or pony at a healthy weight is what all owners should aspire to and is all about balance. Put simply – the calories going in should match those going out and this can be achieved by feeding the correct amount of energy for workload, along with regular weight and condition monitoring.
Many horses in maintenance and light work can do well just on forage like grass and hay and a good balancer, or multivitamin supplement, and if this is true of your horse then there is no need to feed anything else. If your horse is working regularly and does need extra feed, then it’s important to ensure you are feeding the right levels of energy for the work they are doing:
As a general guide, horses in light work need lower energy feeds with energy levels around 8 – 10 MJ DE (digestible energy) per kg, those in medium work need feeds around 11 – 12 MJ DE/kg and horses in harder work will need feeds with 12+ MJ DE/Kg.
Alongside this, regular weight taping in conjunction with Body Condition Scoring (BCS) can help gauge your horse’s weight and give an idea of any changes so you can adjust the diet as necessary. You should be looking to maintain your horse throughout the year on a BCS of around 5 on a nine Point Chart. Horses can perform almost every activity at a BCS of 5, and it represents the ideal condition for optimum health and performance.
Essential Tips for Weight Management
- Feed for work done not for what may happen in the future
- Ensure you are feeding the right levels of energy for workload
- If you horse is underweight, increase calorie intake with digestible fibre and oil
- If your horse is overweight, reduce calorie intake with a lower calorie diet and increase calorie output with regular exercise, including active walking and trotting to burn fat.
- Monitor your horse regularly to achieve a healthy weight and condition.
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If you have any questions about creating the best diet for your horse and keeping your horse healthy through the right nutrition, please contact Coligone – 0333 0503785/07986 183616 or firstname.lastname@example.org.