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.

4 Replies to “Feeding the “Easy Keeper” Horse”

  1. Hi Gina,

    thanks for all the info provided in your blog.

    I have two Icelandic horses (27 and 13 years) and one TB/Percheron cross (5 years). Since we live close to the Rockies in Alberta and have some alfalfa in the hay, the calcium and iron levels in both hay and water are very high.
    I’m trying to balance their ration, but find it hard to do so due to the high calcium. My current hay has .54% calcium and .18% phosphorus. It is low on zinc (22 ppm) and manganese (27 ppm).

    My 13yr old Icelandic is unfortunately getting a bit fat due to the hay being a bit high in carbs. I feed him 200g of SafeChoice every evening with some extra magnesium added.
    I think the SafeChoice is too high in NSC for my very easy keeper horses that could become IR if not watched. So I thought of changing to LiteBalance.

    What do you think?

    1. Hi Marina,
      Great question, and I’m glad to see you paying such close attention to your horse’s diet! I think LiteBalance is definitely something you need to look at, but my first reason is a little different than what you are asking about – you need to switch because the amount of SafeChoice you are feeding your horse isn’t enough SafeChoice to deliver the nutrition it is intended to deliver.

      At 200grams (a little under 1/2 a lb for our US readers) you are not feeding anywhere near the recommended dose – you don’t mention weights of your horses, but from the breeds, they would likely be in the 4-6 lbs ranges, the Icelandics at the lower/middle and the TB/Percheron at the higher. So, even though you are concerned about the SafeChoice NSC, you are feeding such a small amount that the “NSC per meal” would have little affect on blood glucose – and when it comes to IR and Cushing’s horses, that is what you need to be manage first, before total NSC in the diet.

      So, yes, a switch to LiteBalance would be good for your horses. Not only does it the lower the starch level you are worried about, it is designed to be fed at a much lower rate than SafeChoice and packs a lot more vitamins/minerals in the smaller amount, because it isn’t delivering much in the way of calories.

      Also, when it comes to balancing calcium, horses can actually tolerate a fair amount of calcium in their diet, so long as the Calcium:Phosphorus ratio stays at 1.2:1 or higher. Studies have shown horses can tolerate up to 6:1 and possibly higher. Your hay is at 3:1, and LiteBalance is at 1.8:1. Use this formula to figure out the total amounts (and then the ratio) of calcium and phosphorus in your horses’ diet and make sure they stay in a correct ratio:

      ((Pounds of hay x percent potassium in hay) + (Pounds of grain x percent potassium in grain)) / Total pounds of feed

      Hope that helps – let us know if you have more questions! Thanks~ Gina T.

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