Feeding the “Easy Keeper” Horse

Most every horse owner has had, or knows of a friend’s horse, which could “live on air”. Sadly, air has no nutritional value. So, what do we do with these horses that look at a bag of feed and start to pack on the pounds? Care must be taken to ensure that they receive nutrients needed to stay healthy, while keeping calorie count under control.

As always, start by taking a Body Condition Score and determining the current weight of the horse, and tracking those two elements over time, so you can know for sure if you are making progress or not. It’s easy to fall in to the trap of trying to remember what the horse was like a couple months ago, so a tracking program will help give a fact basis to your feeding program.

Ensure that the easy keeper is receiving sufficient forage – maintaining gut health through plenty of long-stemmed fiber intake is key. Then, evaluate what else to feed – often times, access to high quality hay or pasture that contains ALL of the nutrition a horse needs is limited, and the need exists to get more protein, vitamins and minerals in to the horse. There are a number of low-inclusion horse feed products on the market that provide needed nutrition without extra calories.

Finally, evaluate the exercise program. Just like humans, exercise goes hand-in-hand with diet in a weight loss or weight control program. Even a daily walking program can help some of those easier keepers maintain a trimmer profile.

Horse-Life Balance

Like many of you, I am fortunate to have my horses in my life. But having horses often means giving up time for other parts of my life, such as going out with friends, cleaning the house (oh darn) or other hobbies.  Horse people have a saying: if your house is clean, you’re not spending enough time in the barn.

I was fortunate enough to grow up on a small hobby farm with horses.  My parent’s told me that if I wanted to have horses as a ‘grown up’ that I needed good grades in school, to get through college and get a good job.  Horses are not exactly a low investment hobby, so I followed their advice.  Now that I have the degree, career and horses, time seems to be the biggest constraint.

There is a certain amount of irony to this; the job that pays for the horses is the biggest thing that keeps me from spending time with them.  I don’t believe that I am alone; countless other professionals or college students must have this same struggle. 

During the week, I get home after a long commute (I live out in the country so my horses can be with me), feed the horses, clean the barn and check fences.  If anything has been broken, it gets fixed.  Add in time to feed and care for the dogs, myself and it’s already late in the evening, nearly time to go to bed just to get up early for the long commute to work the next morning.

My solution so far has been to ‘schedule’ my saddle time.  Weather permitting I designate an evening during the week after work to be ‘horse night’.  If I’m too tired from work, I will only do grooming or ground work.  So instead of cleaning the house, walking the dog or weeding the garden, the horses get their much deserved attention.  This is a sacrifice I’m willing to make; I’m sure the weeds will be there tomorrow.

What do you do to strike the balance in your life?

Feeding Horses that are Hard Keepers

Much like teenage boys, some horses seem to be able to devour every bit of feed in sight, and still not gain weight. Unlike the teenage boys, however, and unfortunately for the owners of these hard keepers, this generally isn’t just a stage that the horse is going through. So, what is the best way to feed a horse to increase weight gain to the desired level, and then maintain it there?

First, start by taking a Body Condition Score and determining the current weight of the horse, and tracking those two elements over time, so you can know for sure if you are making progress or not. It’s easy to fall in to the trap of trying to remember what the horse was like a couple months ago, so a tracking program will help give a fact basis to your feeding program.

Second, weigh both the hay and any grain you are feeding your horse. A bathroom scale can do the trick, or especially handy is a fish or luggage scale that you can hang a bucket from. Every barn has a different scoop, from the old reliable coffee can to a plastic scoop purchased at the feed store. Weighing the scoop, then weighing it with the feed in it, allows you to mark your scoop so you can see where to fill it to for various feeds & weights of that feed. Note that not all feeds weigh the same, either, so measure each one independently.

Third, ensure that the horse is receiving enough forage in the diet. This is the base of any feeding program, and a good target is to be feeding 1.5% of body weight in forages. For a 1000 lb horse, that means at least 15 lbs of hay. Weigh a few flakes of hay and see just what a flake is from your supplier. Not all small square bales are created equally!

Fourth is the grain portion of the diet. A key thing to look at in evaluating feeds for hard keepers is the “Crude Fat” content of a feed. A basic corn/oats/mineral sweet feed mix will likely run around 2.5-3.0% fat, since that is what is naturally present in a lot of grains. These are fine for easier keepers, but many active horses need more – there are a variety of horse feeds on the market today that are in the 6-7% fat range, and a few horse feeds even reach up to the 12% fat range. Remember to feed within the guidelines printed on the tag, so that you get the nutrition portion of the diet correct. Start your horse on a higher fat diet slowly to allow them to adjust to the increased fat, and work up to a level where the weight starts to come on. Once you’ve reached a desirable weight and body condition, you can begin to back off the amount fed until you determine the amount of feed that will help maintain your horse for the long haul.

Horse Feeds & Supplements: What to feed?

Horse owners often wonder if they are providing enough nutrition to their horses.  In today’s world of hundreds of supplement selections available at the local tack shop or on-line, owners can start to feel as if they must be doing something wrong if they aren’t supplementing the normal hay and grain rations provided.  Here’s a few key tips to make sure you are doing everything right for your favorite equine friend – keeping in mind, of course, that quality hay/pasture fed at approximately 1.5% of body weight is the key base to all horse rations.

Feeding a commercially prepared grain:

  1. There are a myriad of choices available on the market today, to fit all types of horses.  Work with your local feed retailer, or contact your feed company of choice, for assistance in selecting what suits your horse best.
  2. Then, make sure you are feeding within the directions on the feed tag or bag.
    1. If you are feeding above the recommended range in order to keep condition on your horse, consider moving up to a higher fat feed that packs more calories per pound.
    2. On the flip side, and much more common, is feeding below the recommended feeding allowance because the horse is an “easy keeper”.  In that case, the concentrate is not providing enough of the nutrients for the horse, and you should look for a lower calorie or lower feeding rate product to ensure your horse is receiving the nutrition it needs.

Feeding supplements:

  1. If you are feeding a quality commercially prepared feed, and you are feeding within the recommended amount for your size horse, then vitamin and mineral supplements are not needed, and often recommended against.
    1. There are a host of nutritional inter-dependencies, such as copper and zinc or calcium and phosphorus working together, that commercial feed companies account for when designing products, and adding a vitamin and/or mineral supplement can interfere with those ratios and potentially cause problems.
  2. Gut health, as well as hoof & hair coat, supplements abound.  Before you buy one, check your feed tag to see what it might already be providing.  Many premium horse feeds today already contain yeast and/or probiotics for gut health, and several contain biotin & methionine – the two key components of a lot of hoof supplements.  Depending on your feeding program, you just might save time & money by not needing to supplement those.
  3. Joint and other supplements – while good joint health starts with proper nutrition from a young age (think “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”) many horses require additional support. However, there are limitations on what feed companies can put in to feeds, so these are often necessary as “extras” in the diet.

Fueling Dreams

Have you ever noticed how passionate a horse owner is about horse feed?  Granted, there are some folks I’ve met who are indifferent, but more often than not, when I ask a horseperson about their choice of horse feed, eyes brighten up and energy increases as they explain why the feed works for their horse.

As a 20+ year horse owner, I can certainly understand!  The connection we have with our horses is unlike any other; the enrichment of having a horse in your life is difficult to put into words; achieving dreams and beyond, teaching us the entire way.

Recently, I read an article about a Miniature Horse stallion named Buckeroo, standing at Little King Farm in Madison, Indiana.  This horse not only changed the business of Little King Farm, he changed the lives of Ed and Marianne and their family by opening up the world of possibilities (literally!) all the while teaching valuable life lessons: “to respect, be loyal, take responsibility, see things through with dedication and (he) taught them with love.”  This stallion created an international business that has fulfilled Marianne and Ed’s dreams and then some.

The story of Buckeroo resonated with me as one example of how horses can make our dreams come true. Henry David Thoreau once said ‘Dreams are the touchstones of our character.’  How passionate are you about fueling your dreams?

Welcome to The Feed Room!

Welcome to The Feed Room – a new site brought to you by the Nutrena team, dedicated to providing resources and insights for happy, healthy horses!

We all share a common interest – a love for our horses! We’ll frequently cover a wide range of topics including horse feed, feeding tips, digestive health, training tips and tricks, and fun industry events. We have reached far and wide to bring the best experts to you and will frequently include posts from key industry personalities, leading universities, and champion riders.

Mark this site in your “favorites,” share with your friends on Facebook, or subscribe to our RSS feed to receive instant updates when new information is posted – and please come back frequently and enjoy!

We hope you find this site informative and fun, and don’t hesitate to leave your thoughts and questions in the comments area.

Let the fun begin! Tell us what you want to know! Suggest a topic by leaving a comment below. What would you like to see us cover?

How to track your horse’s Body Condition Score

While knowing your horse’s weight is critical to making sure your horse is receiving the care it needs, tracking your horse’s Body Condition Score over time is an ideal (and easier) way to make sure your horse is doing as well as you want him to.

Developed through extensive research by Texas A&M, the Body Condition Score (BCS) is measured on a scale of 1 to 9, with 1 being “Poor” and 9 being “Extremely Fat”. Click here to download a chart describing each of the scores, along with a tracking form for your use.

You can easily determine your horse’s BCS by looking at the amount of fat deposited in six key areas of your horse’s body:

  1. Along the neck
  2. Along the withers
  3. Crease along the back
  4. Over the ribs
  5. Behind the shoulder
  6. Over the tailhead

As a general rule of thumb, growing and performance horses, as well as general-use horses, should be kept at a BCS of 4-7, with a 5 being “ideal”.  Broodmares should generally be kept at a 5.5-7.5.

Learning how to assign a Body Condition Score may take a little practice, and what you call a 4.5 might be a 5 to your neighbor, but what is most important to your own herd is that you assign scores to each horse, then track them over time to ensure that everyone is receiving all the care they need.

For your reference, here is a quick “how-to” video:

How to weigh your horse without a scale

Knowing the weight of your horse is important for several things, such as feeding properly, administering medications or dewormer paste, and generally tracking the health of your horse.

Unfortunately, we don’t all have access to scales big enough for a horse, so most horse owners end up using a traditional weight tape to measure their horse. While better than nothing, using a weight tape to measure your horse can be somewhat inaccurate at best. So, what’s a horse owner to do?

Try this: Using a seamstress tape, measure the length of your horse, and then around their girth, all in inches. Put those measurements in to this formula:

(Heartgirth x heartgirth x body length) / 330 = Weight of horse

If you have a mature horse, use that “330” number. If you have a yearling, use “301”, and if you have a weanling, use “280.” And last but certainly not least – have a pony?  Use “299” to get the right weight.

To see a demonstration, watch our YouTube video on how to measure your horse without a scale:

To download printable versions of the formula for calculating the weight of your horse without a scale, click here.

“Unwanted” horse does not mean undeserving

The plight of the unwanted horse is something on every horse owner’s mind these days. No matter the opinion on how the horse industry got here, one thing is for sure – these horses need proper care.

If you are fortunate enough to have the resources to take in a neglected horse, but haven’t ever had to rehabilitate one before, it can be a challenging opportunity. Care needs to be taken to bring a starving horse back to health in a slow and steady manner.

To help you in your mission, the Nutrena team partenered with the Unwanted Horse Coalition, as well as Intervet Schering-Plough and the American Farrier’s Association, to develop the Caregiver’s Guide to Rehabilitating a Neglected Horse.

Click here to download your free copy of the “Caregiver’s Guide to Rehabilitating a Neglected Horse”.