High-Fat Horse Diets: Performance Horses

A high-performing horse can have up to twice the calorie requirement as the same horse in a maintenance stage. Owners and trainers of performance horses often give more feed to meet that calorie need. Because horses can use fat as a calorie source efficiently, and fat contains more than double the calories of starch, high-fat horse feeds make perfect sense to increase the energy intake without greatly increasing the quantity of feed needed. 

Feeding higher-fat, controlled starch level feeds can play a role in lowering the chance of colic and laminitis by reducing the amount of starch (carbohydrates) in the ration.  Here’s why: 

  • Horses with a very high grain ration are often at risk because high levels of grain feeding can cause a starch overload in the small intestine and cecum.
  • Overloading the small intestine with starch allows that extra starch to pass in to the cecum and large colon, which is where forage is digested.
  • Fiber digestion is accomplished by the bacterial and protozoal populations residing in these organs. When starch enters the cecum the pH drops and this bacterial population dies.
  • This can result in a cascade of events that may include colic, laminitis and death.

Keep in mind that starch is still a crucial part of a horse’s diet, and is required for proper muscle function.  As horse owners, it is best to work towards an optimal balance of all nutrients in the diet, not the use of one to replace another.   A proper balance of controlled starch levels, along with increased fat levels in the horse feed, will help deliver a horse that is ready to go and has the fuel in the tank to keep on going.

8 Replies to “High-Fat Horse Diets: Performance Horses”

  1. I just wanted to comment on your new “Safe Choice Perform” feed. I rescued a mare last Sept. & started her on “Safe Choice” and as my pasture came on in the spring I switched to “Stock & Stable” pellet. She did O.K. but she would take all day to clean up her feed & wasn’t gaining like she should. When my feed store offered the “Safe Choice Perform”, I tried her on that & Wow what a difference!! She loves it & cleans up every bite! I recomend it to all me “equine” friends. I’ve always been happy with your products & we’ve always fed our mares & babies Safe Choice. Thanks, Barbara Huff, Jackson, Ohio.

    1. I had been feeding Safe Choice Senior to my horses and decided to switch to Safe Choice Perform for the extra fat. After purchasing 8 bags over a 2 month period that were moldy, I switched back to Senior and have had no issues at all with mold.

      1. I had some mold in my Safe Choice Original too. Most of the time it is good but one batch this spring it wasn’t.

  2. I have a two year old that is hard to get weight on. He gets free choice grass and I also give alfalfa. Can you suggest a feed that might help me get weight on him safely?

    1. Hello Kathy, Thanks for checking in! You are on a great start with the free choice roughage. We’d suggest a product like SafeChoice Original as a starting point. Feed that to him, according to the directions for his bodyweight and activity level, for 1-2 months and see how that does for him. If you are starting to see the difference you want, stick with it until he gets where you want him, then adjust the total amount fed until you find the spot where he maintains his weight for you. If you feel like he should still be gaining faster, try bumping up the feeding rate to one activity level higher than what he is actually doing – this will help get more calories in than he is using up each day, and get that weight gain in motion.
      Hope this helps! Thank you ~ Gina T.

  3. I have a 23yr old TB gelding. In 2013, I relocated from New England to Florida for personal reasons. On the trailer ride down, my boy lost approx. 150-200lbs. His body condition had changed so much that the farm thought the were being delivered the wrong horse as I had sent photos of him right before he got on the trailer. I have been struggling to put the weight back on him ever since. Suggestions???

    1. Hello Alicia, As a horse owner that is never a good feeling to have your horse arrive in sub-par condition. Sorry to hear you had to experience that.

      Many times what we see when horses move south is a dramatic change in caloric content and digestibility of the forages offered in that part of the country. Even if moving from “grass” hay to “grass” hay, the maturity when cut and species can vary greatly. So the first thing I would suggest is to talk with your hay supplier to see if you can’t get something that would be higher in caloric content, less mature, more digestible.

      Secondly, increase the amount your gelding is being offered.

      Thirdly, choose a very high calorie feed and ensure you are feeding it to his target bodyweight. For example, if he weighs 1000# currently, but he should ideally weigh 1200#, then feed basis the 1200#. We have a lot of success feeding aging horses that need to gain weight either the ProForce Senior or ProForce Fuel. If his target bodyweight is 1200#, then start at .75-1.0% bwt (1200#*.75% = 9-12#/day of ProForce Senior along with free choice hay) and adjust as needed basis how his body condition score changes (being sure not to go below .75% bwt/day).

      Best of luck, and let us know if you have further questions!
      Thank you ~ Gina T.

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