What to do when your horse won’t eat

There is nothing more frustrating or worrying than a horse that won’t eat. Horses go off their feed for a variety of reasons which can include illness, unpalatable feeds or gastrointestinal disturbances such as hindgut acidosis. Thankfully though, there are some things you can do to get a horse eating again. Here are some useful tips for maintaining your horse’s appetite.

Step 1: identify why your horse won’t eat

The first step to getting a horse to eat again is to identify what caused the lack of appetite in the first place. Some possibilities include:

  • Disease: if the horse is sick or has a problem like gastric ulcers it is likely that its appetite will be poor.
  • Pain: if a horse is in pain it can dramatically reduce its appetite. Pain can include lameness, general muscle soreness from a hard workout and mild forms of colic.
  • Vitamin B1 deficiency: some plant species including bracken fern, nardoo, rock ferns and horsetails all contain an enzyme called thiaminase which destroys vitamin B1 (also called Thiamine) in the gastrointestinal tract before it can be absorbed by the horse. This, over time will cause a
    vitamin B1 deficiency. A deficiency of B1 is well recognised as causing loss of appetite in many animal species including horses. Also, if your horse is being fed uncooked grains like corn or barley there is a good chance the lack of appetite is due to grain fermentation and the resulting acidosis in the hindgut. During hindgut acidosis, thiaminase is produced by the hindgut bacteria and can lead to a vitamin B1 deficiency and the resulting loss of appetite.
  • Mycotoxin poisoning: many feeds including hay, chaff and grains can be contaminated with fungi (mould) and given the right conditions these fungi can produce mycotoxins. One of the early symptoms of mycotoxin poisoning in horses is loss of appetite. I often suspect mycotoxins when a change in source of hay, chaff or grain suddenly causes a horse to go off its feed. Wondering if mycotoxins are to blame? Click here to read our blog post ‘What should you do if you think your horse has a mycotoxin problem?’
  • Unpalatable feeds: feeds and forages that are mouldy, stale, rancid or too salty will stop a horse from eating. Some feed ingredients like soybean meal can also be not very tasty and may make the more finicky eaters lose their appetite.
  • Over-supplementing: feeding supplements in excess of your horse’s requirements can also make a feed unpalatable and stop a horse from eating. This is particularly the case with concentrated vitamin/mineral preparations and electrolyte supplements.
  • Medications: putting medications like Bute into a feed can make it unpalatable and put a horse off its feed.
  • Stress: if a horse is stressed by a change in routine, or the loss of a pasture buddy can lead to reduction of appetite

Step 2: remove or treat the cause

Once you have identified the cause of loss of appetite, remove the cause or work with your veterinarian to treat the cause.

  • Disease: work with your veterinarian to treat any illness that may be putting your horse off its feed.
  • Pain: again, work with your veterinarian to identify and treat any pain that may be preventing the horse from eating. It may also be wise to have a dentist thoroughly examine your horse’s teeth and mouth for any issues that may be causing pain.
  • Vitamin B1 deficiency: if your horse is eating plants that contain thiaminase, remove the horse from the pasture, supplement the horse with oral vitamin B1, and provide plenty of good quality hay. If your horse was being fed whole or uncooked grains, remove them from the diet and replace them with cooked grains (i.e. grains that have been micronised, extruded, steam flaked or thoroughly boiled) or high energy fibres like sugarbeet pulp or soybean hulls. Also provide the horse as much hay as it wants to eat. When loss of appetite is caused by hindgut acidosis the horse will often maintain its appetite for forage. An oral vitamin B1 supplement will also help to replenish depleted vitamin B1 supplies and return appetite to normal.
  • Mycotoxin poisoning: if you suspect mycotoxins, try to locate the source of mycotoxin contamination. You can look for visible signs of mould (which doesn’t always indicate the presence of mycotoxin) or send the feeds off for a mycotoxin analysis. Equi-Analytical offer a mycotoxin screening service. Once you have located the source, remove it from your horse’s diet and replace it with a clean alternative. If mycotoxins are an ongoing concern you can look at using products like Mycosorb® that trap the mycotoxins and prevent them from being absorbed by your horse. Keep in mind that hay and chaff are common sources of mycotoxin poisoning. For more detailed info, click here to read our full article on mycotoxin binders.
  • Unpalatable feeds: locate which feed is unpalatable for your horse and replace it with a palatable alternative. If you are unsure what is unpalatable, simplify your diet back to one or two ingredients that you think your horse will eat and then as his appetite returns gradually add any additional ingredients one at a time (leaving a few days between the addition of each new ingredient). If your horse stops eating again after you add a particular ingredient, remove it immediately and find a suitable alternative. In the case of it being salt, provide the horse with a salt lick and don’t add salt to its feed. If you are adding salt to your horse’s feed you can also just try removing the salt, as salt is one ingredient that will turn a horse off its feed very quickly.
  • Over-supplementing: use FeedXL to carefully adjust your horse’s diet so that its requirements are being met without being exceeded. Pay extra attention to the amount of sodium in your horse’s
    diet as oversupplying sodium (a component of salt) will make a horse’s feed very unpalatable.
  • Medications: don’t put medication in a fussy horse’s feed. If you need to administer medication, try mixing it up with apple sauce in a large syringe or clean worm paste tube and administering it directly into your horse’s mouth after he/she has eaten their feed. Don’t do it before you feed as this will also stop them from eating in many cases. If you suspect a vitamin B1 deficiency is causing the loss of appetite you should administer the vitamin B1 in this way until your horse’s appetite has returned.
  • Stress: if your horse gets upset by changes in routine try to keep things as consistent as possible and always have a buddy close by your horse. They are herd animals and don’t feel comfortable or safe when alone in most cases.

Step 3: simplify the diet

If your horse has stopped eating its normal ration for a period of time, even after you remove or treat the cause of loss of appetite, it is likely your horse will take some time for its appetite to return to normal. During this time feed as simple a diet as possible. Start with access to as much good quality hay or pasture the horse wants to eat. Then gradually add ingredients one at a time, starting with the ones your horse likes the most. Remember to leave at least 2 days between adding new ingredients.

With the exception of providing vitamin B1 where a B1 deficiency is suspected as the cause of loss of appetite, remove all supplements from the diet until the horse has a healthy appetite again. When you do reintroduce supplements, do so one at a time so you know if your horse doesn’t like the taste of one.

Step 4: make their feed taste good

If removing or treating the cause of your horse’s loss of appetite and simplifying the diet hasn’t worked to return appetite to normal, try adding ingredients that smell and taste good to a horse to help get them eating normally again. A few ingredients you can try include:

    • Bran
    • Honey
    • Molasses
    • Applesauce
    • Grated carrot or apple
    • Brewers yeast; or
    • Lucerne chaff

Final few bits and pieces

Hopefully the tips above will help you to identify and remove or treat whatever it is causing your horse to
go off its feed. A few other things that you should also keep in mind are:

  • Make sure the horse’s feed bin is in a comfortable position. For example, if your horse is lame in one of its forelegs, put the feed bin at chest height to allow the horse to eat without putting a lot of pressure on its front legs.
  • A horse will almost always eat fresh pasture, so if you have it available, let the horse graze and don’t try to force it to eat hay or hard feed.
  • Feed in frequent small meals and remove uneaten feed every 2 hours to keep it fresh and palatable.
  • Keep a close eye on how much feed and water your horse is eating and drinking. If it is eating or drinking very little the risk of colic is high. If you are getting concerned about your horse, call your vet immediately to discuss a suitable management plan to keep the horse hydrated and nourished until its appetite returns.

 

Dr. Nerida Richards is FeedXL’s resident equine nutrition specialist. With a degree in Rural Science, a doctorate degree in equine nutrition and nearly 20 years of full time, on the ground experience in feeding all types of horses Nerida is able to help FeedXL members solve any problem they may come up against with feeding their horses. To learn more about Nerida and to ‘meet’ the rest of the FeedXL team, check out our About Us page here.

This newsletter by Dr. Nerida Richards was originally posted to the FeedXL user forums for FeedXL subscribers in November, 2009. If you would like be among the first to receive our newsletters then please consider subscribing to our email list.

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Feeding the ‘off-the-track’ thoroughbred

I think we all know of a few ‘amazing’ stories about thoroughbreds rescued from the brink of going to slaughter and going on to be amazingly talented horses performing to Olympic level. I am also sure there are thousands of stories where thoroughbreds have been re-homed and re-educated to be dependable, talented riding horses.

The fact it can be done though doesn’t mean it is an easy task. Many thoroughbreds, and especially those who have raced take a lot of time and patience to re-educate and re-condition to live and work as a pleasure or performance horse. While there is no doubt that good education from a ‘steady hand’ is of utmost importance in a thoroughbred’s ‘transformation’, a large part of their transition from racehorse to riding horse is dependent on good nutrition. In this newsletter we will look at the rather unique situation of feeding an off-the-track thoroughbred and the strategies you might use to get the best results.

THE RACING LIFE

In a survey we conducted in 2001 while I was a student at UNE that was later published in the Australian Veterinary Journal (Richards et al 2006) we found that thoroughbreds in racing stables are fed an average of 7.3 kg of grain based feed per day. Some trainers fed as much as 13 kg of grain per day and feeding just twice a day was the norm.

Oats was the most commonly fed grain while corn, barley and commercial feed mixes were also popular choices. It was uncommon for trainers to use ‘cooked’ grains. As a result of these high grain diets fed in large meals where much of the starch would be considered indigestible in the small intestine we found that around 25% of horses were experiencing hindgut acidosis.

To make things worse for these horses very little forage is fed. Less than 1 kg/day of chaff was fed by a majority of trainers while horses only received hay an average of 1.5 times a day. We didn’t actually weigh the hay but the amount was small (probably around 2 kg/horse/day).

Essentially what you are likely to end up with when you take a thoroughbred directly from the racetrack is a horse whose gut has adapted as best it can to high grain diets and in the process has lost some ability to do well on high forage diets.

PROBLEMS THAT NEED TO BE ‘FIXED’

Some of the problems associated with feeding and nutrition you are likely to encounter in these off-the-track thoroughbreds include:

  • An imbalance of the bacterial species in the hindgut. The horse’s hindgut contains two main ‘families’ of bacteria, those that ferment fibre and those that ferment starch and sugars (there is a 3rd group called lactate utilising bacteria but for the purposes of this topic we shall just focus on the two main families).What you would find if you could ‘see’ these two families of bacteria in the hindgut of a healthy horse fed a largely forage based diet is large populations of the fibre fermenting bacteria and much smaller populations of the starch/sugar fermenting ones. This however would be the opposite in a recently raced thoroughbred. You would see the starch/sugar fermenting bacteria in abundance while the fibre fermenting ones would be only in very small numbers. To make things worse, even though some fibre fermenting bacteria would still be present, the acidic environment the starch/sugar fermenting bacteria create means the fibre fermenting bacteria can’t function very well.What this all means is that fibre fermentation and therefore the horse’s ability to extract digestible energy from pasture, hay, chaff, haylage or high energy fibres like sugarbeet pulp, soybean hulls, lupin hulls or copra meal is severely limited. They might be eating a lot of fibre but will be able to digest very little of it.
  • Gastric Ulcers. It is estimated that as many as 90% of horses in race training have gastric ulcers. Gastric ulcers cause many problems but perhaps the two most relevant in the situation of feeding an off-the-track thoroughbred are the loss of appetite and weight loss. To get these ex-racehorses looking and feeling ‘normal’ they need to eat and they certainly don’t need anything like gastric ulcers to be causing further weight loss.
  • Hoof problems – Shelly, weak hooves that grow slowly are common issues seen in off-the-track thoroughbreds. Horses rely on biotin produced in the hindgut as well as dietary biotin to grow strong, healthy hooves. I believe, that largely due to the imbalance of bacteria in the hindgut, racing horses become biotin deficient and this is why we see so many with horrible hooves.
  • Poor appetites – It is quite common for ex-racehorses to have poor appetites. In many cases this is probably due to gastric ulcers but it may also be due to a vitamin B1 deficiency. As for biotin, horses rely on vitamin B1 being produced by the fibre fermenting bacteria in the hindgut to meet their requirements. When horses have a large amount of starch being fermented in their hindgut very little vitamin B1 is produced. And what is worse is the starch/sugar fermenting bacteria also produce ‘thiaminase’, an enzyme that actually destroys vitamin B1 in the gut. Both factors combine to create a vitamin B1 deficiency that is well known to cause a loss of appetite.

GETTING FIBRE DIGESTION ‘WORKING’

The first critical step in getting a thoroughbred back to ‘normal’ is to restore the balance of bacteria in the hindgut and get fibre digestion working properly again. If you have the time, this is easily done by simply putting the horse on a forage only diet with as much forage available as the horse would like to eat. Over time, the starch/sugar fermenting bacterial populations will fall (because you simply aren’t feeding them their preferred food anymore) and the fibre fermenting bacterial populations will SLOWLY be restored.

The fibre fermenting bacteria are somewhat slow to reproduce so this isn’t something that is going to happen very quickly. You may also find that particular species of fibre fermenting bacteria have almost completely disappeared from the hindgut (something you really can’t test for) so it takes a long time for the population to get back to normal.

Many people ask if probiotics will help. The simple answer is no, the majority of them won’t. Many probiotics are designed to assist with killing or suppressing pathogenic bacteria in the gut and they predominantly contain lactobacillus species of bacteria. Lactobacillus are starch/sugar fermenting bacteria and one of the groups of bacteria you want to reduce numbers of, not increase.

What may help is stomach tubing the horse with a strained slurry of manure taken from a healthy (worm free) horse on a high forage based diet (take the manure from the healthy horse while still very fresh, mix it in a slurry of body temperature clean water, strain the large particles and drench with the remaining watery solution – this must be done by a vet to avoid distending the stomach with too large a volume of fluid). This strategy is used with great results in feedlot cattle affected by acidosis to repopulate the rumen with ‘good’ bacteria. Of course in a horse the bacteria have to survive passage through the gastric stomach and small intestine, but it is likely some will survive and make it to the hindgut. Pre-biotics that help to feed fibre fermenting bacteria (generally yeast based products) may also be useful.

While this process of rebalancing the hindgut takes time it is essential if you want to have a horse that has a gut that functions normally.

THE HOOVES

To a large extent getting the hindgut functioning normally will correct issues the horse may have with its hooves being weak, shelly and/or growing slowly. Once the fibre fermenting bacteria are back and producing biotin again you should see good improvement in hoof quality (assuming requirements for nutrients like copper and zinc are being met). You may however like to use a hoof supplement to provide additional biotin to the horse in the short term. It is recommended that to positively impact hoof growth you should feed 20 mg of biotin per day for a 500 kg horse. If you do wish to feed biotin, use FeedXL to help select your hoof supplement. The amount of biotin in the diet is on the ‘Health’ tab. This will guide you in working out dose rates to meet your horse’s requirement for this nutrient.

APPETITE

Again getting the hindgut rebalanced will go a long way to improving the appetite of off-the-track thoroughbreds as they will be able to correct any vitamin B1 deficiency that may have been present. You can also use one of the many appetite or vitamin B1 supplements on the market to try and improve appetite. But remember that gastric ulcers are likely lurking in the stomach of your new horse and until they are resolved a poor appetite is likely to be present, regardless of what you feed or how you try to tempt the horse.

Gastric ulcers really must be treated so they resolve fully (talk to your vet about the most effective treatment options). There are some good US studies that show alfalafa/lucerne hay will help gastric ulcers to resolve given enough time. Incorporating alfalfa/lucerne into the forage base of the horse’s diet (up to 1 kg/100 kg BW or 1 lb/100 lb BW) may therefore also help to resolve ulcers and then to keep them at bay once treatment ceases. Once the ulcers are gone you should see a marked improvement in the horse’s appetite.

GAINING WEIGHT

Often the biggest priority for the owner of a new off-the-track thoroughbred is to get the horse gaining weight. While you could ‘feed the heck out of them’ and give them large amounts of grain based feed to put weight on them you are going to miss the opportunity in doing this of getting their entire gastrointestinal tract functioning ‘normally’ again. If you force weight gain with grain based feeds many of the problems discussed above will still be present and the horse still won’t be utilising fibre very efficiently. The end result is a horse that will need A LOT of feed to hold its weight long term (which is going to cost you a fortune).

So if time is on your side and you can be patient, hold off on pushing for weight gain until your horse has restored the balance of bacteria in its hindgut again and can properly utilise the fibre in its diet. Once it can do this you will find it takes a whole lot less feed to put weight on them. It is also crucial that any problems with ulcers have been resolved and that appetite has been restored before any attempt to put weight on the horse is made.

A note about fence walkers – Separation anxiety and fence walking is a common problem with newly off-the-track thoroughbreds. Given they are raised in groups and are virtually never left alone it is understandable. But if you think about it, a horse walking a fence instead of grazing has a high energy output and a low energy intake … there is no way you are going to put weight on a horse doing this. If you have a fence walker that needs to gain weight you are going to need to find it a buddy who is calm and spends a lot of time grazing and sleeping. The sooner your new horse can learn to do this the better.

Thoroughbreds are certainly capable of gaining and holding a lot of weight. It is just a matter of getting their gut (relatively simple) and their mind (sometimes not so simple … is that diplomatic enough?) sorted out. I see overweight thoroughbred weanlings, yearlings and broodmares all of the time, they are common. So with some patience and strategy you will be able to get weight on and keep weight on your horse.

PROBLEMS WITH TEMPERAMENT

Thoroughbreds are typically thought of as being quite ‘hot’ – the “react and then think” types. This issue is compounded when you take a horse that only has very basic education, straight off the race track and immediately start trying to ride it at the same time as you are trying to feed it a high energy diet for weight gain.

Again, patience is king here. Give the horse time to adjust to its new environment and in the early stages of its re-education feed a very basic (but still balanced diet, be sure to use FeedXL to make sure all nutrient requirements are met), high forage, moderate energy diet with no grain. The more education you can give a horse before you really start feeding it ‘the good stuff’ for weight gain the better.

FEEDING ‘TIMELINE’

Here is a guideline for how you might approach feeding a thoroughbred that has come directly out of a racing stable:

Month 1 – Put the horse out to pasture or give it access to ad lib good quality grass hay and feed 1 kg/100 kg BW of alfalfa/lucerne per day. Use FeedXL to balance the diet correctly using a pasture balancer pellet or low dose vitamin and mineral supplement. If possible just let the horse be a horse without any pressure to be ridden or trained (other than to have good ground manners if these are lacking).

You should treat the horse for ulcers where applicable, have a faecal egg count done and worm appropriately and have teeth/hooves etc attended to by qualified professionals during this first month.

Months 2 to 4 – Depending on the how the horse is going and how well its hindgut is functioning by the second month you may be seeing an improvement in condition or a worsening of condition. If the horse’s condition is dropping away check for issues like ulcers (they could still be present), general anxiousness (is the horse pacing the fence constantly) or pain, for example a back injury that is making it uncomfortable for the horse to graze/eat properly.

During these months you may begin to add some high energy feeds but if the horse’s hindgut still doesn’t appear to be functioning correctly (eg its manure consistency is still not right or it is still really struggling to hold weight on a high quality pasture/hay diet) I would try to stay away from grains and grain based feeds. Use ingredients like grain free complete feeds (FeedXL will help you find truly grain free feeds), lupins, sugarbeet pulp, soybean or lupin hulls, full fat soybean and copra meal. If you are going to start riding the horse during this time these feeds might also help to keep your horse a little more level headed. Just mind you don’t give it a very high energy diet before you start riding it – for some horses that is just asking for trouble.

Months 5 to 12 – I would hope that by the 5th month the horse’s hindgut is back to normal or at least close to normal and by this time the horse will have semi-adjusted to its ‘new’ life. At this point in time you can consider other feeds including those based on grain. But PLEASE be sure to use cooked grain based feeds because the last thing you want to do at this point in time is put any sort of starch back into the hindgut.

The horse’s temperament and need for weight gain at this stage will determine how much feed you can feed. Still use forage as the major component of the diet and try to avoid feeding more than 800 grams of feed (approx. 1 lb) per 100 kg BW per day, being sure to split it into as many feeds as practical during the day.

You might also consider starting to add some high fat feeds like rice bran or straight vegetable oils to the diet for extra energy to help with body condition. At this point in time you need to be very careful to distinguish between condition/fat and muscle. Many thoroughbreds will look very thin when they are actually in good body condition, while they lack topline and general muscle. So be sure to use our Body Condition Scoring newsletter (#1) to help you determine if your horse needs more condition or needs to build muscle. The former can be done with feed alone. The latter needs a combination of high quality feed and the right work (as well as a horse that is fully sound with no back or other pain that will stop it from using its muscles correctly).

SLOW AND STEADY WINS THE RACE!

The more time you allow an off-the-track thoroughbred to readjust to a forage based diet the better the results you will get. A racing thoroughbred’s gut is adapted to eating a high grain diet. Ultimately you want your off-the-track thoroughbred to have a gut well adapted to doing well on a high forage diet. It takes time for the gut to readapt itself, build the right populations of bacteria and to heal problems like ulcers. But it is time well worth spending (unless you want to continue spending a fortune on grain based feeds and still having a horse that is really difficult to put weight on). Taking it slowly in the first few months will mean you are going to get your horse where you want it to be sooner in the end. You will hopefully also be treated to a horse that is more relaxed and trainable than it otherwise would be if you try to put weight on too quickly using high energy feeds too early.

Dr. Nerida Richards is FeedXL’s resident equine nutrition specialist. With a degree in Rural Science, a doctorate degree in equine nutrition and nearly 20 years of full time, on the ground experience in feeding all types of horses Nerida is able to help FeedXL members solve any problem they may come up against with feeding their horses. To learn more about Nerida and to ‘meet’ the rest of the FeedXL team, check out our About Us page here.

This newsletter by Dr. Nerida Richards was originally posted to the FeedXL user forums for FeedXL subscribers in December, 2014. If you would like be among the first to receive our newsletters then please consider subscribing to our email list.

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Feeding on the move

Takeaway anyone? Feeding on the move

Horses in modern day society travel a lot. In fact it is amusing to think that throughout history, a horse’s most basic function was to transport humans from point A to B, and yet now we spend so much time and money transporting them. Transport for horses can be stressful, both physically and mentally. But as with all things, having a well prepared horse at the start of a journey means you have a far better chance of having a healthy horse at the end of the journey. Feeding and nutrition have a big role to play, both in preparing horses for a journey and keeping them healthy and content during the journey. The following article provides help with feeding before and during travel with horses.

Feeding before a journey

If you will be travelling less than 4 to 6 hours there is little need to do anything special before a trip aside from ensuring your horse is healthy and well fed prior to the trip and will have suitable feed and water available as soon as the journey has ended.

If you will be travelling more than 4 to 6 hours some special adjustments to the feeding routine can be made to assist horses during long-haul transport. These include:

  • Increase the forage component of the ration – Forage is valuable to a travelling horse because it holds a large reservoir of water in the gut that can be used to keep the horse well hydrated during a long journey. Forages like hay and haylage are also a wonderful source of potassium and magnesium, two important electrolyte minerals. Feeding additional forage in the 2 to 3 days leading up to a long trip means your horse’s gut will be full of water holding, electrolyte rich fibre to help them get through long haul travel without becoming dehydrated. Additional forage also helps provide extra energy to reduce weight loss during a long trip.
  • Moderate protein intake – Diets high in protein lead to an increased excretion of urea in the urine which is then converted by bacteria to ammonia. When confined in a transport situation, be it road or air transport, this ammonia accumulation in the air can damage the airways and lungs. To avoid large amounts of ammonia in the air, the amount of protein in the diet needs to be moderated. If your horse is on a diet with large amounts of lucerne hay or high protein pasture or feeds it is a good idea to reduce protein intake for 7 to 14 days before a long journey. Swapping some lucerne hay or high protein pasture for oaten or grassy hay and switching to a lower protein feed can help to achieve this. Use FeedXL to calculate your horse’s exact daily protein intake and reduce it where possible without compromising the quality of the diet.
  • Reduce grain intake – High grain diets fed right up until a horse is transported can in some situations cause problems. They may lead to fractious behaviour and unnecessary stress during travel, they can precipitate tying up in susceptible horses and they also reduce gut fill and the amount of fibre a horse will consume. Reducing a horse’s grain intake by half for 2 to 3 days prior to travelling and increasing high energy fibre (see below) and forage intake will help to keep horses calm during travel, reduce the risk of tying up and maintain good gut fill and water storage in the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Add high energy fibres to replace grain – some horses will lose weight if you reduce their grain intake. Many horses travelling long distances are also required to perform at a high level at the end of a journey, so maintaining energy intake is crucial. If you reduce grain intake, consider replacing the amount of grain removed from the diet with a high energy fibre. High energy fibres maintain energy intake, but also assist with water holding and maintaining gut fill.
  • Work out your ‘water strategy’ – horses are notorious for not drinking at the most critical times, and during travel is no exception. Our equine friends often have no hesitation in turning their noses up at a bucket of water offered during travel, especially if it smells or tastes different to their water from home. Getting your horse to drink is critical during a long trip so you need to work out how you are going to achieve that. Taking your own water, using a flavour in the water so it tastes and smells the same regardless of where it comes from or using an electrolyte supplement to stimulate thirst are all possibilities. Whichever you choose, get your horse used to what and how it will be drinking at home prior to travel. If you will be taking your own water, start putting water in the bucket your horse will be drinking from while on the road and have it drink out of that for 4 or 5 days before you leave. If you are going to use a flavour, add it to your horse’s water for several days prior to the trip and again use the bucket you will use during travel. If you are going to use an electrolye, talk to your vet or the product’s manufacturer about the best strategy in administering an electrolyte. Remember, never give an already dehydrated horse an electrolyte. And once you do administer an electrolyte, allow your horse free access to fresh water for at least 1 to 2 hours.

Feeding during the journey

If you are travelling more than 4 to 6 hours you should plan to stop every 3 to 4 hours to allow horses access to water and feed. Keep your horse’s feed routine on the road as close to what he would be fed at home as possible. So if you feed a hard feed morning and night with forage during the day, stick to this same routine.

Ideally horses should be allowed access to hay or haylage while travelling during these longer trips. If you are feeding hay, it should be thoroughly wet (submerse it in water for 5 to 10 minutes) before being put into the feed manger or hay bag for feeding to reduce dust and mould spore contamination of the air.

Where possible, hang the hay feeder low so the horse has to put its head down to reach the hay, but be sure to attach it to the transport vehicle in such a way that should the horse become entangled it will break free easily.
Any type of hay is suitable for feeding during long trips, though feeding a small amount of lucerne hay at each rest stop may help to provide better buffering of the stomach and reduce the risk of ulcers, which can be a problem for some horses travelling long distances.

If you are travelling over multiple days and your horse needs to perform at the end of the journey, you will need to continue with feeding at least some of its normal high energy ration. As discussed above, current recommendations suggest the amount of grain based feeds fed should be halved during travel days. If weight loss is an issue for your horse during travel you should add high energy fibre to its diet to replace the energy removed from the diet when the grain is reduced.

Other things that will help

There are many other management strategies you can put in place to help your horse stay healthy during long-haul travel, including:

  • Monitor rectal temperature twice daily for 2 days prior to a long trip to establish your horse’s normal rectal temperature patterns and ensure your horse is healthy at the beginning of the trip.
  • Monitor feed and water intake for 2 days prior to travelling to determine your horse’s normal feed and water intake amounts and patterns.
  • Once your journey is complete, again monitor rectal temperatures and feed and water intake for any sign that your horse may be getting sick. The faster you recognise any symptoms and have your horse treated the less likely serious complications will arise.
  • Stop every 4 to 6 hours for at least 15 to 30 minutes to allow your horse’s muscles to relax and have a break from constant movement. If possible, it is ideal to unload horses during these rest stops and allow them to put their head down and feed for 15 to 20 minutes to help clear their airways and reduce the risk of pleuropneumonia or travel sickness.
  • Allow your horse a minimum of 6 to 8 hours of untied rest every 8 to 12 hours of travel and during this time feed your horse from feeders placed at ground level to keep their heads down and facilitate the clearing of inhaled debris and microorganisms from their respiratory system.
  • Allow a minimum of 12 hours of untied rest with as much feeding at ground level as possible at the completion of the journey to allow your horse to completely clear its respiratory system before any sort of strenuous physical activity is undertaken. Working horses before they have a chance to clear their respiratory tract will increase the risk of pleuropneumonia.
  • Be very careful not to overheat your horse during travel. It is our tendency to want to rug horses up and keep them cosy while travelling, but this can do far more harm than good if they get overheated. Overheating causes them to sweat, losing valuable water and electrolytes. It also makes travelling very uncomfortable. Remember that travelling does take quite a lot of physical effort for a horse so they can get very hot quite easily.
  • Avoid the ‘head-up’ position during travel as much as possible. Avoid cross tying horses and where it is safe to do so, allow horses the ability to stretch their heads right down to ground level to allow them to clear their airways.

Happy travels …

Being well prepared with a healthy horse that is set up well to travel means you will have a very good chance of having a horse fit and ready to do what is required of it at the end of a journey. Subtle changes to the diet to increase forage and fibre intake, moderate protein intake and adjust grain or grain based feed intake all help to keep your horse content, healthy, well hydrated and at less risk of dehydration, impaction colic and injury or sickness during travel.

Taking adequate time to complete a journey, giving your horse regular rest stops and allowing it to feed in a head down position for good periods of time to clear its airways will also significantly reduce the risk of your horse developing pleuropneumonia. And of course, FeedXL will help you to make the required changes to a travelling horse’s diet without upsetting the diets balance which could cause you to unknowingly create other issues.

 

Dr. Nerida Richards is FeedXL’s resident equine nutrition specialist. With a degree in Rural Science, a doctorate degree in equine nutrition and nearly 20 years of full time, on the ground experience in feeding all types of horses Nerida is able to help FeedXL members solve any problem they may come up against with feeding their horses. To learn more about Nerida and to ‘meet’ the rest of the FeedXL team, check out our About Us page here.

This newsletter by Dr. Nerida Richards was originally posted to the FeedXL user forums for FeedXL subscribers in June, 2013. If you would like be among the first to receive our newsletters then please consider subscribing to our email list.

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Feeding the oldies

There is little more precious than the old horse around the place. These oldies are often the dependable horses that look after a novice rider or give a young horse some confidence when out on the trails. Because they are so valuable and literally have a lifetime of experience under their ‘girth’, we want to do our best to keep them around as long as possible. While good veterinary, farrier and dental care are important for maintaining the long term health of your geriatrics, their health care should always be based on a solid foundation of good nutrition.

As horses age they go through several physiological changes that affect how and what you should feed to keep them as healthy as possible. Detailed below are four of the most important of these changes and how you can best manage them from a feeding and nutrition perspective.

1. Teeth Wear

As a horse gets older its teeth eventually stop growing and will gradually start to wear down until chewing becomes difficult or ineffective.

Worn incisors (upper and lower front teeth) make it difficult for horses to graze as the top and bottom incisors need to make good contact in order to shear the pasture off. If a horse has worn or damaged incisors, but its molars used for grinding feed are still in good condition, feeding hay will allow the horse to readily get the forage into its mouth simply using its lips and tongue (no need for incisors). Once it is in the mouth the horse can use its molars to grind the forage as normal.

However, worn or damaged molars mean grinding feed also becomes difficult, so feeding hay is not a good idea as the horse can’t chew it enough to be swallowed and digested. Feed forage that has already been extensively chopped up or processed. Forages like short chopped chaff or soaked hay cubes and pellets are good alternate forages for horses with no effective molars. Fibres like sugarbeet pulp and soybean hulls may also be used to increase an old horse’s fibre intake when they are no longer able to graze or eat hay.

If you are feeding grains, the grains should always be well processed (boiled, extruded, pelleted, micronised or steam flaked) before being fed so the grain can still be digested even if they are not effectively chewed. Never feed whole grains to older horses that can’t chew very well.

2. Hindgut loses some function

It is thought that as horses age their hindgut loses some of its ability to ferment fibre. This is likely due to changing populations of bacteria in the hindgut associated with ageing. A reduction in fibre fermentation means that older horses get less of the goodness out of forage (which partly explains why old horses need to be fed more to maintain their bodyweight).

Because the hindgut is not as effective at fermenting fibre, there should be a focus on feeding high quality forages with fibre that is easy to ferment. Lucerne/alfalfa hay and good quality, soft meadow/pasture hays are preferable to stemmy and mature hays that have tougher fibre to ferment. High energy ‘super fibres’ like sugarbeet pulp and soybean hulls are also excellent source of fibre for older horses as they are very easy to ferment in the hindgut.

Some pre‐biotics like Alltech’s Yea‐Sacc® 1026 live yeast culture (which is used in many different feeds and supplements) have been shown to improve the digestion of fibre in the hindgut, so it may make a useful contribution to the diet of aged horses.

It is also likely that the hindgut of older horses doesn’t support the production of B‐vitamins as well as a younger horse’s gut does. Thus it may be necessary to supply more B‐vitamins in the diet. FeedXL takes this into account and has raised B‐vitamin requirements for aged horses. The production of biotin may also be reduced in older horses so it may need to be added to the diet of older horses. For more information on supplementing with biotin, read FeedXL Newsletter #2: Biotin – should you supplement?.

As horses age they also find it harder to absorb phosphorous from the hindgut. Again FeedXL takes this into account and has raised phosphorous requirements for aged horses.

3. Small intestine loses some function

In studies we conducted at The University of New England we found that an older horse had much lower concentrations of carbohydrate digesting enzymes in its small intestine than younger horses had. While it was a limited study with small horse numbers, it is likely that as horses age their ability to digest carbohydrates like starch in their small intestine is reduced. This means digesting feeds like grains becomes difficult (which also contributes to older horses needing to be fed more to hold their bodyweight).

So, aged horses should always be fed cooked grains that have been boiled, extruded, pelleted, micronised or steam flaked so that the starch they contain is easy to digest. If you suspect your horse has difficulty digesting grains look for a feed that has added starch digesting enzymes or use a supplement that contains enzymes like amylase and amyloglucosidase to help with the digestion of the grains.

Older horses also find it harder to digest protein in the small intestine and some with reduced liver and kidney function can also find it difficult to excrete waste products associated with eating too much protein. So the key to feeding older horses protein is to use high quality protein from lucerne/alfalfa, soybean, lupins, canola meal or faba beans to satisfy without oversupplying their requirements.

4. Mobility is reduced

Perhaps the most obvious change in an older horse is some loss of mobility. Because they can’t get around so easily, try to have them in pastures that have the feed and water sources reasonably close together so they don’t have to travel long distances for feed or water.

You will also probably find that if they are kept in a herd they will slowly fall down the pecking order as they become easier to boss around. If this happens you should feed your old horse separately to avoid him having all his feed pinched by the younger horses higher in the order.

Take home message …

If you keep in mind the physiological changes occurring in your horse as it ages it will help you to adjust feeding accordingly. Feeding forages that are easy to chew and digest, grains that have been well cooked, increasing the intake of nutrients like phosphorous and B‐vitamins, providing good quality protein, and being aware of any mobility issues that may affect feed intake will help keep your oldies happy and healthy for years to come.

 

Dr. Nerida Richards is FeedXL’s resident equine nutrition specialist. With a degree in Rural Science, a doctorate degree in equine nutrition and nearly 20 years of full time, on the ground experience in feeding all types of horses Nerida is able to help FeedXL members solve any problem they may come up against with feeding their horses. To learn more about Nerida and to ‘meet’ the rest of the FeedXL team, check out our About Us page here.

This newsletter by Dr. Nerida Richards was originally posted to the FeedXL user forums for FeedXL subscribers in December, 2009. If you would like be among the first to receive our newsletters then please consider subscribing to our email list.

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Keeping them eating

There is nothing more frustrating or worrying than a horse that won’t eat. Horses go off their feed for a variety of reasons which can include illness, unpalatable feeds or gastrointestinal disturbances such as hindgut acidosis. Thankfully though, there are some things you can do to get a horse eating again. Here are some useful tips for maintaining appetite.

Step 1: identify the cause

The first step to getting a horse to eat again is to identify what caused the lack of appetite in the first place. Some possibilities include:

  • Disease: if the horse is sick or has a problem like gastric ulcers it is likely that its appetite will be poor.
  • Pain: if a horse is in pain it can dramatically reduce its appetite. Pain can include lameness, general muscle soreness from a hard workout and mild forms of colic.
  • Vitamin B1 deficiency: some plant species including bracken fern, nardoo, rock ferns and horsetails all contain an enzyme called thiaminase which destroys vitamin B1 (also called Thiamine) in the gastrointestinal tract before it can be absorbed by the horse. This, over time will cause a
    vitamin B1 deficiency. A deficiency of B1 is well recognised as causing loss of appetite in many animal species including horses. Also, if your horse is being fed uncooked grains like corn or barley there is a good chance the lack of appetite is due to grain fermentation and the resulting acidosis in the hindgut. During hindgut acidosis, thiaminase is produced by the hindgut bacteria and can lead to a vitamin B1 deficiency and the resulting loss of appetite.
  • Mycotoxin poisoning: many feeds including hay, chaff and grains can be contaminated with fungi (mould) and given the right conditions these fungi can produce mycotoxins. One of the early symptoms of mycotoxin poisoning in horses is loss of appetite. I often suspect mycotoxins when a change in source of hay, chaff or grain suddenly causes a horse to go off its feed.
  • Unpalatable feeds: feeds and forages that are mouldy, stale, rancid or too salty will stop a horse from eating. Some feed ingredients like soybean meal can also be not very tasty and may make the more finicky eaters lose their appetite.
  • Over-supplementing: feeding supplements in excess of your horse’s requirements can also make a feed unpalatable and stop a horse from eating. This is particularly the case with concentrated vitamin/mineral preparations and electrolyte supplements.
  • Medications: putting medications like Bute into a feed can make it unpalatable and put a horse off its feed.
  • Stress: if a horse is stressed by a change in routine, or the loss of a pasture buddy can lead to reduction of appetite

Step 2: remove or treat the cause

Once you have identified the cause of loss of appetite, remove the cause or work with your veterinarian to treat the cause.

  • Disease: work with your veterinarian to treat any illness that may be putting your horse off its feed.
  • Pain: again, work with your veterinarian to identify and treat any pain that may be preventing the horse from eating. It may also be wise to have a dentist thoroughly examine your horse’s teeth and mouth for any issues that may be causing pain.
  • Vitamin B1 deficiency: if your horse is eating plants that contain thiaminase, remove the horse from the pasture and supplement the horse with oral vitamin B1 and provide plenty of good quality hay. If your horse was being fed whole or uncooked grains, remove them from the diet and replace them with cooked grains (i.e. grains that have been micronised, extruded, steam flaked or thoroughly boiled) or high energy fibres like sugarbeet pulp or soybean hulls. Also provide the horse as much hay as it wants to eat. When loss of appetite is caused by hindgut acidosis the horse will often maintain its appetite for forage. An oral vitamin B1 supplement will also help to replenish depleted vitamin B1 supplies and return appetite to normal.
  • Mycotoxin poisoning: if you suspect mycotoxins, try to locate the source of mycotoxin contamination. You can look for visible signs of mould (which doesn’t always indicate the presence of mycotoxin) or send the feeds off for a mycotoxin analysis. Equi-Analytical offer a mycotoxin screening service. Once you have located the source, remove it from your horse’s diet and replace it with a clean alternative. If mycotoxins are an ongoing concern you can look at using products like Mycosorb® that trap the mycotoxins and prevent them from being absorbed by your horse. Keep in mind that hay and chaff are common sources of mycotoxin poisoning.
  • Unpalatable feeds: locate which feed is unplatable for your horse and replace it with a palatable alternative. If you are unsure what is unpalatable, simplify your diet back to one or two ingredients that you think your horse will eat and then as his appetite returns gradually add any additional ingredients one at a time (leaving a few days between the addition of each new ingredient). If the addition of one particular ingredient stops your horse from eating again, remove it immediately and find a suitable alternative, or in the case of it being salt, provide the horse with a salt lick and don’t add salt to its feed. If you are adding salt to your horse’s feed you can also just try removing the salt, as salt is one ingredient that will turn a horse off its feed very quickly.
  • Over-supplementing: use FeedXL to carefully adjust your horse’s diet so that its requirements are being met without being exceeded. Pay extra attention to the amount of sodium in your horse’s
    diet as oversupplying sodium (a component of salt) will make a horse’s feed very unpalatable.
  • Medications: don’t put medication in a fussy horse’s feed. If you need to administer medication, try mixing it up with apple sauce in a large syringe or clean worm paste tube and administering it directly into your horse’s mouth after he/she has eaten their feed. Don’t do it before you feed as this will also stop them from eating in many cases. If you suspect a vitamin B1 deficiency is causing the loss of appetite you should administer the vitamin B1 in this way until your horse’s appetite has returned.
  • Stress: if your horse gets upset by changes in routine try to keep things as consistent as possible and always have a buddy close by your horse. They are herd animals and don’t feel comfortable or safe when alone in most cases.

Step 3: simplify the diet

If your horse has stopped eating its normal ration for a period of time, even after you remove or treat the cause of loss of appetite, it is likely your horse will take some time for its appetite to return to normal. During this period of time feed as simple a diet as possible, starting with access to as much good quality hay or pasture the horse wants to eat. Then gradually add ingredients one at a time, starting with the ones your horse likes the most. Remember to leave at least 2 days between adding new ingredients.

With the exception of providing vitamin B1 where a B1 deficiency is suspected as the cause of loss of appetite, remove all supplements from the diet until the horse has a healthy appetite again. When you do reintroduce supplements, do so one at a time so you know if your horse doesn’t like the taste of one.

Step 4: make their feed taste good

If removing or treating the cause of your horse’s loss of appetite and simplifying the diet hasn’t worked to return appetite to normal you could try adding ingredients that generally smell and taste good to a horse to help get them eating normally again. A few ingredients you can try include:

    • Bran
    • Honey
    • Molasses
    • Applesauce
    • Grated carrot or apple
    • Brewers yeast; or
    • Lucerne chaff

Final few bits and pieces

Hopefully the tips above will help you to identify and remove or treat whatever it is causing your horse to
go off its feed. A few other things that you should also keep in mind are:

  • Make sure the horse’s feed bin is in a comfortable position. For example, if your horse is lame in one of its forelegs, put the feed bin at chest height to allow the horse to eat without putting a lot of pressure on its front legs.
  • A horse will almost always eat fresh pasture, so if you have it available, let the horse graze and don’t try to force it to eat hay or hard feed.
  • Feed in frequent small meals and remove uneaten feed every 2 hours to keep it fresh and palatable.
  • Keep a close eye on how much feed and water your horse is eating and drinking. If it is eating or drinking very little the risk of colic is high. If you are getting concerned about your horse, call your vet immediately to discuss a suitable management plan to keep the horse hydrated and nourished until its appetite returns.

 

Dr. Nerida Richards is FeedXL’s resident equine nutrition specialist. With a degree in Rural Science, a doctorate degree in equine nutrition and nearly 20 years of full time, on the ground experience in feeding all types of horses Nerida is able to help FeedXL members solve any problem they may come up against with feeding their horses. To learn more about Nerida and to ‘meet’ the rest of the FeedXL team, check out our About Us page here.

This newsletter by Dr. Nerida Richards was originally posted to the FeedXL user forums for FeedXL subscribers in November, 2009. If you would like be among the first to receive our newsletters then please consider subscribing to our email list.

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Feeding the easy keeper

The mistake a lot of us make with an overweight horse is just thinking that we shouldn’t feed it very much at all, and generally feed it a very low quality diet (straw for example) or lock it up so it can’t eat much at all. The problem with doing this is that while you will do a good job of restricting calories and causing weight loss, you will also be severely restricting protein, vitamin and mineral intakes, and in doing that, you are going to cause more health problems than you can imagine.

To feed your ‘easy keeper’ a restricted calorie diet without compromising its health you should do the following:

  1. Restrict access to good quality pasture or forage
    Because most pastures nowadays are designed to fatten cattle or sheep, they are now more like double chocolate mudcake than high fibre Allbran for horses, meaning horses grazing them will usually become grossly overweight. Thus we need to restrict their access to the pasture. You can do this in one of two ways. First, you can lock your horse up over a night or day period off the pasture or you can put a grazing muzzle on your horse. I like the muzzles as they allow your horse to be out wandering around and interacting with herd mates without having access to massive quantities of feed. It also still allows the horse to have its head down and be chewing all day which helps keep their gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts nice and healthy.
  2. Provide access to very low quality hay
    Because you are restricting your horse’s forage intake at pasture (or if your horse has no access to pasture) it is essential that you do fill your horse up with a high fibre forage. Suitable forages include weather damaged lucerne hay, cereal crop straw or a very, very mature or weather damaged grass hay like the stalky pasture hay in the photo (be careful to ensure all are mould and contaminant free).Your horse’s intake of pasture will determine how much extra forage you have to feed. Around 2% of your horse’s bodyweight (10 kg for a 500 kg horse) should be the minimum you feed to a horse with no access to pasture. If your horse does have access to pasture you should feed less than that, but the amount really depends on your horse and the quality of your pasture. Use FeedXL to work out how much hay is needed to meet your horse’s feed intake requirement, without overfeeding digestible energy.To extend the amount of time it takes the horse to eat its hay and help prevent boredom, put the hay into 2 or 3 hay nets as this makes it harder for the horse to pull it out and eat, so will keep the horse chewing for a lot longer.
  3. Add some high quality protein to the diet
    While you need to restrict your horse’s calorie intake (by restricting access to pasture and feeding low quality forage) you need to make sure that you still meet their protein requirements. Failure to meet protein requirements can result in muscle wastage, poor hair coat and terrible hoof quality.Full fat soybean or soybean meal contains the best quality plant protein available. You only need to add a small amount (up to 400 grams per day for a 500 kg horse on a diet of poor quality hay) to help maintain hoof and coat quality and avoid muscle wastage. You can also add a small amount of lucerne hay or chaff to the horse’s diet to add some quality protein.
  4. Ensure vitamin and mineral requirements are met
    It is essential you do not compromise the overweight horse’s health by restricting vitamin and mineral requirements. Adding a low dose rate vitamin and mineral supplement to an overweight horse’s diet will meet their vitamin and mineral requirements without adding unneeded calories to the diet. You should look for a ‘complete’ vitamin and mineral supplement that is fed at a dose of less than 100 g/day.
  5. Oils
    Over the years I have found that horses on restricted diets often lack shine in their coats, even though they are on well balanced diets with all their protein, vitamin and mineral requirements met. This is likely due to a lack of oils, and more specifically the omega fatty acids in the poor quality forage diets they are being fed. Adding a 1/4 of a cup of oil that contains both omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids (for example canola or soybean oil or commercial oils with added omega 3) to their diet per day will make sure they have their essential omega fatty acid requirements met to keep their skin and coat nice and healthy.
  6. Salt
    All horses should have constant access to a salt lick and easy keepers are no different. Always make sure your horses can get to salt. It should also go without saying that they must have constant access to clean, fresh water.

An example diet

To give you an idea what a well balanced diet for an overweight horse should look like, the following is an example diet for a 500 kg easy keeper:

  1. Restricted access (either with grazing muzzle or yarded overnight) to average quality pasture.
  2. 2 kg/day (approx 4.5 lb) poor quality meadow hay
  3. Up to 100 g/day (approx 3.5 oz) of a balanced vitamin and mineral supplement
  4. 60 ml/day Canola Oil
  5. 250 g/day (approx 9 oz) good quality lucerne chaff
  6. Free access to salt lick

If the pasture quality was ‘poor’ (dried, brown with seedheads present) some full fat soybean would be used to provide quality protein.

Why bother trying to get the weight off

What we often don’t recognise is that being overweight for a horse carries just as many health problems as it does for humans. In overweight horses we see increased levels of:

  • Insulin resistance
  • Laminitis
  • Increased bone and joint wear and tear
  • Lack of mobility; and
  • Heat stress

It is worth the effort putting together a diet for your overweight horse as he or she will be all the healthier for it. Just giving them poor quality hay or straw or locking them in a tiny dirt paddock is not a solution to weight problems. Remember, you must restrict the calories but provide for all their other nutrient needs, otherwise you will end up with a skinny, but very unhealthy horse!

 

Photo copyright © Nerida Richards – Equilize Horse Nutrition.

Dr. Nerida Richards is FeedXL’s resident equine nutrition specialist. With a degree in Rural Science, a doctorate degree in equine nutrition and nearly 20 years of full time, on the ground experience in feeding all types of horses Nerida is able to help FeedXL members solve any problem they may come up against with feeding their horses. To learn more about Nerida and to ‘meet’ the rest of the FeedXL team, check out our About Us page here.

This newsletter by Dr. Nerida Richards was originally posted to the FeedXL user forums for FeedXL subscribers in September, 2009. If you would like be among the first to receive our newsletters then please consider subscribing to our email list.

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Feeding horses in winter

Winter can be a tricky time of year for feeding horses, especially if you have older horses or horses that lose weight easily. Feeding the right diet during winter will help keep your horses healthy and in good body condition. Here are some tips on how you can do it:

1. Prepare for Winter Early

Use late summer and autumn while the temperatures are still comfortable and the pasture and hay quality still high to get your horse in good shape for winter. All horses during this period need to be fed a balanced diet (more on this soon) to make sure they are generally healthy and their immune systems fully functional.

If your horse tends to lose weight over winter it can be fed a little more than normal during this time to get a bit of extra condition on them, so if they lose weight during winter they won’t end up being too skinny.

You should also be looking to buy hay in summer as availability and quality are high but demand is lower meaning you will get a good quality product for less than you will pay in winter.

2. Feed plenty of forage

Forage (hay, chaff and pasture) provides your horse with many of the calories they will need to maintain weight during winter. Aside from that, forage will keep your horse warm in winter. During the digestion of forages in the horse’s gut, bacteria ferment the fibrous portions. One of the ‘by-products’ of this fermentation is heat, and it is this heat that really helps a horse to stay warm during winter.

Because of the ‘warming’ properties of forage, your horse will benefit more from an additional feed of hay than an extra feed of grain, pellets or sweetfeed in very wet, cold weather.

3. Condition score your horse regularly

Don’t throw a rug on your horse in winter and leave it on for weeks on end without taking it off to check your horse’s body condition (and of course that it doesn’t have any injuries or sores that are covered by the rug). Condition scoring involves looking at areas on your horse’s body such as the top of the neck, the wither, over the ribs and over the loin to assess the amount of body fat (which we call body condition) your horse is carrying. For more information on Body Condition Scoring, see the FeedXL Newsletter #1.

At the very least, take your horse’s rug off every week so you can check to see if your horse is losing, maintaining or gaining weight.

4. Adjust your horse’s diet to control body weight

Because you will be condition scoring your horse regularly you will know if your horse is maintaining, gaining or losing weight. Depending on what you want your horse to be doing, you may need to adjust the diet to keep your horse at the bodyweight and condition you want.

If your horse is gaining unwanted weight, you will need to reduce or remove high energy feeds like grains, pellets, sweetfeeds or oils in the diet. If your horse is losing weight that you don’t want him to lose, you may need to feed more calories in the diet. You can do this by:

  1. Feeding more hay and if you’re not already doing so feeding some lucerne hay.
  2. Adding high energy feeds to the diet like pellets, sweetfeeds, oil or high energy fibres like soybean hulls, copra meal or sugarbeet pulp. Use the best quality feeds you can afford and if using a sweetfeed look for one that contains either extruded or micronised grains as these are more digestible for horses.

5. Feed a balanced diet

An unbalanced diet doesn’t meet your horse’s requirements for each of energy, protein, vitamins and minerals so your horse won’t be as healthy as he could or should be. Nutrient deficiencies can lead to:

  • Weight loss
  • Muscle wastage
  • Increased susceptibility to diseases like greasy heal and respiratory disease
  • Dull, dry coat and skin
  • Brittle and slow growing hooves
  • Suppressed immune systems

While traditionally, knowing if what you were feeding was meeting your horse’s requirements was quite hard, the FeedXL Nutrition Software makes it very easy to see if what you are feeding is the right thing for your horse. FeedXL will also help you manage your horse’s bodyweight.

6. Beware of laminitis

For horses susceptible to laminitis (including overweight horses, horses with Cushing’s Disease or those who have previously had laminitis) winter can be a danger period.

If your horse is at risk you should:

  1. Restrict your horse’s access to pasture to only the very early hours of the morning up until 11 am.
  2. Feed low sugar hay and avoid hays made from ryegrass or cereals like oats or wheat.
  3. Avoid all feeds with grain or grain by-products in them.

Beware: Most feeds that claim to be grain free are NOT. Read the label of all feeds carefully. If they contain anything like bran, pollard, millmix or millrun do not feed them to a horse prone to laminitis. By ticking the ‘Laminitis’ box on your horse’s details page in FeedXL, all of the unsuitable feeds that contain grains or grain by-products will be coloured red and you will be warned not to use them.

7. Add a little oil to the diet

A horse’s coat can become dry and dull during winter. To help keep the coat and skin healthy, add 1/4 cup of oil to the diet.

And Finally…

Of course all the normal rules of good horse husbandry apply in winter. Feeding a well balanced diet in conjunction with good dental, hoof and veterinary care as well as a strict worming regime will help keep your horses in top shape over winter.

 

Dr. Nerida Richards is FeedXL’s resident equine nutrition specialist. With a degree in Rural Science, a doctorate degree in equine nutrition and nearly 20 years of full time, on the ground experience in feeding all types of horses Nerida is able to help FeedXL members solve any problem they may come up against with feeding their horses. To learn more about Nerida and to ‘meet’ the rest of the FeedXL team, check out our About Us page here.

This newsletter by Dr. Nerida Richards was originally posted to the FeedXL user forums for FeedXL subscribers in May, 2009. If you would like be among the first to receive our newsletters then please consider subscribing to our email list.

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Feeding for weight gain

7 Simple steps for putting weight on your horse

While many of us struggle to keep weight off our horses (and ourselves!) it seems a large number of horse owners have equal trouble when it comes to putting weight on their horses. Putting weight on, and keeping weight on a horse that is a “hard keeper” can sometimes be a frustrating task for the horse’s owner. But, it needn’t be a difficult thing to do.

The following are 7 simple steps you should take on the journey to putting weight on your horse:

Step 1: Worms

Make sure your horse is wormed with an effective wormer. If you are not sure which wormer to use ask your veterinarian and make sure that you are worming for Bots as well as Tapeworms at the appropriate times of year.

Step 2: Teeth

Have a qualified dentist correct any issues with your horse’s teeth. If it is painful or difficult for your horse to chew he/she just physically won’t be able to consume the amount of feed needed to gain weight.

Step 3: Health

Ask your veterinarian to carry out a full health check to make sure there is no underlying disease like gastric ulcers (which will be common in off the track or spelling thoroughbreds) that are going to prevent the horse from eating and gaining weight. If you do discover your horse has a problem with ulcers have them treated with appropriate medications. Likewise if any other disease conditions are found work with your veterinarian to resolve them.

Please note that if your horse is emaciated and has come from a starvation situation you should follow the guidelines published by the American Association of Equine Practitioners for caring for starved/emaciated horses. Introducing feeds too quickly into the diets of these horses can result in ‘refeeding syndrome’ and death. The guidelines can be found here: http://www.aaep.org/pdfs/rescue_retirement_guidelines.pdf.

Step 4: Free choice forage

Weight gain occurs when the amount of calories provided in the horse’s diet exceeds the amount of calories the horse ‘needs’ on a daily basis – the excess calories are stored by the horse and thus contribute to weight gain. Many horses have problems gaining weight simply because they aren’t being fed enough to gain weight.

After addressing worms, teeth and health, the most important feeding step when you want a horse to gain weight is to provide as much pasture or grass/meadow hay as the horse can eat. You can do this by either giving your horse 24 hour access to pasture or by feeding just enough hay that a little is left over each day. If you can devise a way to feed the hay at ground level without the horse walking all over it will mean the left over hay isn’t wasted. If you can’t find grass/meadow hay, oaten hay is a suitable substitute.

Step 5: Lucerne (alfalfa)

Feed lucerne hay. Lucerne (known as alfalfa in North America) is a high energy forage and makes a valuable contribution to raising a horse’s calorie intake above their daily requirement to encourage weight gain. Lucerne will also provide your horse with good quality protein which will facilitate muscle development. This is particularly important if your horse suffered muscle wastage at the time that weight loss occurred.

It is difficult to make a recommendation as to exactly how much lucerne should be fed as each horse’s requirement will vary depending on the degree of weight gain required, their temperament (as occasionally lucerne hay will cause behavioural changes in some horses) and the quality of grass/meadow hay being fed. Between 0.5 kg and 1 kg of lucerne hay per 100 kg body weight per day is a good place to start.

Step 6: High energy feeds

Add high energy feedstuffs to your horse’s diet. If the desired rate of weight gain is not achieved after implementing the steps above, your horse still requires additional calories over and above that provided by the pasture and hay being fed. To increase your horse’s calorie intake even further you now have three high energy feed options to consider adding to your horse’s diet. These are:

  1. High energy fibres—including soybean hulls, copra meal and sugarbeet pulp. These feedstuffs are similar to pasture and hay, however the fibre they contain is more readily digested by the bacteria in the hindgut meaning they contain a similar amount of calories as cereal grains. These feeds are particularly well suited to horses that become excitable and hyperactive when fed grain based feeds.
  2. Cereal grains and grain based feeds—cereal grains are well known as being high energy feeds and are useful in the diet of horses that need to gain weight. However some grains and grain based feeds are more suitable than others from a weight gain perspective. When selecting grains to feed to encourage weight gain it is critical that the starch within the grain (which is the high energy component) is digested in the small intestine.Grains that are digested in the small intestine will provide your horse with more calories (and therefore more weight gain). Grains will also ensure your horse avoids problems with hindgut acidosis which can cause laminitis and will also reduce the amount of energy your horse can extract from its pasture and hay. To ensure the starch is digested in the small intestine, select grains or grain based feeds that have been cooked (such as via extrusion process Pryde’s use).Cereal grains should not be used in the diets of horses with Cushing’s disease or those susceptible to laminitis.
  3. High fat feeds or oils—high fat feeds and oils are the highest energy feedstuffs you can give a horse. Fats and oils hold two major advantages over high energy fibrous feeds and cereal grains. The first is they are energy dense – for example 1 cup of vegetable oil contains as many calories as 1.2 kg of oaten chaff. This has obvious advantages for finicky or small horses that won’t eat large meals. The second advantage of high fat feeds and oils is they don’t tend to make a horse as hyperactive as the same quantity of energy supplied in the form of cereal grains. In addition they do not carry the risks of digestive upsets that accompany cereal grains. High fat feeds include rice bran and rice bran based feeds, copra meal, and any of the full fat oilseeds such as soybean and sunflower.

The ‘correct’ balance of these feeds is going to depend on your individual horse.

Step 7: Balanced diet

Make sure the diet is balanced—if your horse’s diet is unbalanced from a protein, vitamin and mineral perspective it is likely that this will prevent your horse from gaining weight, regardless of how much you are feeding it. Using the FeedXL nutrition software will make sure your horse’s diet is balanced and that there are no deficiencies which may be preventing weight gain.

A warning about “Weight Gain” diets

Unfortunately when we start feeding our horses a well balanced diet with calories in excess of their requirements, they tend to try and find gainful employment for all their new found energy which often results in unruly, undisciplined and at times dangerous behaviour when we ride them.

The question then is, how do you feed your horse for weight gain without having them trying to kill you when you ride them? The answer to this million dollar question is … you can’t, unless your horse is well disciplined to begin with. If you own a horse that you can only just control when it is not being fed for weight gain, then you should not expect that you will be able to feed it gross amounts of feed to encourage weight gain AND still ride it safely, because it is just not going to happen. The golden rule is education first, feeding for weight gain second. The exception to this rule is when you have an emaciated horse that needs to be fed to gain weight before you can begin riding it.

You may still find that a well educated horse becomes a little more difficult to handle when being fed a high energy weight gain diet. In this case, altering the types of feeds you are using may help. The high energy fibrous feeds and high fat feeds and oils tend to have the ability to promote weight gain without having as much effect on their behaviour. But this isn’t always the case so you still need to be careful.

When will your horse start gaining weight?

You should not expect that your horse will instantly begin to gain weight once you have placed him on a ‘weight gain diet’. Some horses and particularly those who have come from an emaciated state will have internal damage caused by weight loss that they must repair before visible weight gain will occur. Even if this is not the case visible weight gain may take weeks to appear. In short, make sure your horse is healthy, develop and feed a well balanced diet using your preferred ingredients, don’t skimp on feeding hay and be patient.

 

Dr. Nerida Richards is FeedXL’s resident equine nutrition specialist. With a degree in Rural Science, a doctorate degree in equine nutrition and nearly 20 years of full time, on the ground experience in feeding all types of horses Nerida is able to help FeedXL members solve any problem they may come up against with feeding their horses. To learn more about Nerida and to ‘meet’ the rest of the FeedXL team, check out our About Us page here.

This newsletter by Dr. Nerida Richards was originally posted to the FeedXL user forums for FeedXL subscribers in March, 2009. If you would like be among the first to receive our newsletters then please consider subscribing to our email list.

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Building topline

It doesn’t matter which equine discipline you are involved in, building and maintaining a strong topline on your horse is important. Strong toplines attract judges or buyers and also help ensure the horse’s back remains strong and healthy.

While work and correct muscle conditioning play a huge role in developing and maintaining topline, nutrition plays an equally important role. To build topline you need to provide the right nutrients. Here are some tips on feeding for topline.

Feeding for topline


Tip 1—Feed enough energy (calories) for the work your horse is doing

Underfeeding means your horse will need to dip into its stored energy reserves to fuel the muscles for work. Horses will quite quickly break down their topline to use it for fuel if they are underfed.

Tip 2—Feed high quality protein

To build topline you must provide the building blocks your horse needs to make muscle. Using feeds with protein provided by soybeans, lupins, faba bean or canola meal will give your horse access to good quality sources of protein, which builds muscle. Feeds with one or more of these protein sources are best.

Avoid feeds containing cottonseed meal as the protein source. Cottonseed is a poor source of protein that is deficient in the most important amino acids (amino acids are the building blocks of protein).

Feeding some lucerne hay will also contribute good quality protein to the diet.

Tip 3—Use top-up feeds designed to build top-line

Feeds such as KER Equi-Jewel and Pryde’s ReBuild are based on rice bran and are designed to provide extra calories and protein to help build topline. You can also use whey protein isolate or soy protein isolates.

Tip 4—Feed a balanced diet

Once again it really is so important to ensure your horse’s diet is meeting all of its nutrient requirements as any deficiency will stop your horse from reaching its potential and this includes its potential for building topline. Also, minerals like zinc are needed to effectively build muscle; failing to provide these nutrients will inhibit muscle growth, no matter how well the horse is being worked and fed with quality protein.

Again, this is where FeedXL is so useful; knowing that you are feeding a balanced diet that does meet your horse’s nutrient requirements.

Tip 5—Avoid or treat back injuries

Use properly fitted saddles at all times and quickly treat any back injuries that may occur. A horse with a sore back will avoid using its back muscles correctly, in turn preventing it from building a strong topline.

Feeding a good diet with quality protein, in conjunction with exercise aimed at strengthening the topline should give you noticeable results in 4 to 8 weeks.

 

Dr. Nerida Richards is FeedXL’s resident equine nutrition specialist. With a degree in Rural Science, a doctorate degree in equine nutrition and nearly 20 years of full time, on the ground experience in feeding all types of horses Nerida is able to help FeedXL members solve any problem they may come up against with feeding their horses. To learn more about Nerida and to ‘meet’ the rest of the FeedXL team, check out our About Us page here.

This newsletter by Dr. Nerida Richards was originally posted to the FeedXL user forums for FeedXL subscribers in February, 2009. If you would like be among the first to receive our newsletters then please consider subscribing to our email list.

QUESTIONS? COMMENTS?

Click here to join us on our Facebook Page