Feeding the Hard-Keeper Horse that has Ulcers

My horse is a hard keeper, and is also prone to ulcers.  What should I feed?

Horses vary a great deal in what level of nutrition is required to maintain desired body condition and muscle mass.  Horses have not been selected or bred based on feed efficiency, feed conversion or rate of gain, so there a lot of variation between horses.

A horse that is a hard keeper may require more Calories per day to maintain body condition than an easy keeper doing the same work.  One way to help this horse will be to feed high quality forage that has a high Relative Feed Value (RFV) that is associated with higher Digestible Energy (DE) per pound.  A good choice might be an alfalfa or alfalfa grass mix that was cut at early maturity so it has fine stems and lots of leaves.  This hay could be fed free choice or at least 3-4 times per day at a rate of about 2% or above BW/head/day.

The hard keeper may also benefit from a commercial feed that is high fat (8-9 % or higher) and controlled starch and sugar (so it can be fed at higher levels) with amino acid fortification (lysine, methionine and threonine) to help maintain muscle mass.  This feed can be fed a minimum of 2 times per day, and preferably 3-4 times per day so that the quantity being fed can be increased while controlling risk of starch overload through smaller individual meals.  The quantity can be increased with the desired forage to produce weight gain, and then adjusted to maintain desired weight.

A high fat supplement that is 20+% fat can also be used as a top dress.

This feeding plan may also be useful in reducing the risk of having ulcers redevelop after a horse has been treated with appropriate medication.  Free choice forage or pasture is a good option so the horse’s stomach is not empty for long periods of time.  Alfalfa contains levels of calcium and magnesium that may be useful in buffering acid in the stomach.  High fat, controlled starch feeds fed in small meals at frequent intervals may also be useful in reducing the risk of re-occurrence.   A feed that contains specific metal amino acid complex trace minerals may also help improve gut health and digestive tract tissue integrity in the stomach.

3 thoughts on “Feeding the Hard-Keeper Horse that has Ulcers

    • Hi Sandra,

      Thanks for your question! Muscles are developed and maintained with the aid of quality proteins (amino acids) so double check that your mare is getting a fortified feed with the following guaranteed: lysine, methionine and threonine. These amino acids will help support the maintenance of her top line as well as other muscle groups.

      As far as her hay belly, double check that you are feeding her hay at a rate of 1-1.75% of her body weight. Over feeding hay can contribute to a hay belly. If she is in need of additional calories, consider fortifying her diet with additional fat either in a feed or top dress supplement such as Empower Boost.

      Lastly, at 16 she may be reaching those golden years known as Senior living. Very often the connective tissue, particularly s in the abdomen, tend to loosen from gravity which could be a sign that she is transitioning into senior-hood. We created a handy tool for identifying the signs of a senior horse which you can find here:

      I sure hope this helps. If you have additional questions or concerns, please be sure to let us know!
      All the best,
      Megan C.

  1. We adopted a 19-year old Quarter Horse Stallion that was extremely underweight due to not being feed, parasites, had major problems with his teeth and he has recently been diagnosed with advanced gastric ulcers. We had his teeth done have wormed him several times. After discussing it with the veterinarian, we had him gelded to lower his stress because the Veterinarian suggested it might give him a better chance to survive. We had been able to put some weight on him, but he still needs more. Until we were able to have his teeth fixed we were feeding 4 pounds of Proforce Senior 2 times per day and gradually changed him over to 2 pounds SafeChoice Senior and 2 pounds SafeChoice 2 times per day with unlimited grass hay once he was able to chew normally.
    While he is being treated for ulcers, we are feeding alfalfa pellets 3 times per day with his meds (6:00 AM, 2:00 PM and 10:00 PM), soaked alfalfa cubes in between and unrestricted access to good quality hay. We are hoping to move him to pasture within 45 days after gradually socializing him with other horses. (This horse was isolated from other horses for 10-12 years.) We need a recommendation as to what feed we should gradually change him to following his treatment to help him get to a good weight.

    Do you have any suggestions?

    Priscilla McDearmid
    Windy Hill Ranch

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