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The Thin Horse
Madalyn Ward, DVM
Getting a thin horse to gain weight can be a real challenge. A horse in optimum condition should have a thin layer of fat over the ribs and have plenty of energy. Before we look at feeding thin horses, let's look at other causes of weight loss.
If your horse has dental problems it can interfere with his ability to chew. Also, sharp points on the teeth can cause chronic pain from ulcerations on the cheeks and tongue. It is wise to have your horse's teeth examined every 6-12 months.
Have your horse checked for internal parasites. If your horse is negative for worms on regular fecal exam, consider giving a double dose of strongid paste to eliminate tapeworms. Tapeworm eggs do not show up on routine fecal exams.
Any sustained activity will increase your horses need for calories. In addition to riding, other activities such as stall or fence walking, weaving or cribbing can contribute to weight loss.
Extreme weather conditions can stress your horse and cause weight loss. Cold will increase his need for calories, heat can decrease his appetite and drought can lower the nutritional value and availability of foods.
Hard training can take a toll on your horse both physically and mentally. If your horse is losing weight in training it is wise to lower his stress level to avoid other serious problems such as ulcers or lowered immune function. Horses can lose weight for emotional reasons. Does he like his work or would he be better suited in another job? Is he lonely? Are pasture mates terrorizing him? A happy horse will stay fat on less feed.
So if your horse is basically healthy and happy but still thin, look at adjusting his feed. Let's look at several scenarios.
The thin, low-energy horse
These horses benefit from increased calories from any source. You can increase their grain up to 1-1/2 lbs. per 100lbs body weight. Corn and barley give more calories per pound of grain than oats. Sweet feeds will also give more energy.
Probiotics and digestive enzymes will help your horse get the most from his feed. Cell Tech™ makes an excellent acidophilus and also has a good digestive enzyme capsule. Even though these products are designed for people, they work well for animals and end up saving you money on your feed bill. Fastrack™ is also a good product. Cell Tech Blue-green™ algae will also increase his energy as well as help him gain weight by giving him a wide range of vitamins and minerals. Corn oil, up to one cup a day, can be added to his grain. Alfalfa hay can be given along with grass hay. If your horse is picky about eating grain he may have stomach ulcers.
The thin, high-energy horse
These horses fret off their weight no matter how much feed you give them. They usually respond best to lower amounts of grain. Encourage these horses to eat more hay by cutting back on the grain portion of the diet. Add fat in the form of vegetable oil or rice bran to the grain. Stay with good quality grass hay and small amounts of alfalfa. Beet pulp can also be added to the diet, but it must be soaked before it is fed. Give probiotics, digestive enzymes and Omega blue-green™ algae to provide plenty of B vitamins. The Omega algae will also help your horse focus and relax.
If you are feeding your horse well and have addressed all physical and mental health issues, consider acupuncture, homeopathy or chiropractic to improve his digestion and support overall health.