For many people it's getting weight off a horse that's usually the problem but this isn't always the case as some horses simply don't maintain their body weight that easily. Here the experts at Dengie offer some simple tips to help you tackle the problem.
If you own a horse that doesn't maintain weight easily, it can prove to be a real challenge. Ideally, your horse's ribs shouldn’t be visible, but they should be easily felt if you run your hand along their side.
We also want our horses to have good topline but a common complaint from horse owners is that their horse hasn't got enough. Building topline is achieved through the horse being worked correctly and his diet supplying the quality protein he needs to build muscle.
One solution can be to feed Alfalfa. Alfalfa provides the quality protein essential for improving topline, muscle condition and repair. Naturally low in sugar and starch, independent research has also shown that alfalfa is a natural buffer to acidity in the digestive tract.
Find the right fibre feed
How to feed for condition - top tips!
- Feed your horse little and often (choose high-fibre, non-heating feeds)
- Ensure hay or haylage is of good quality, sweet-smelling, free from dust and mould spores
- Try to allow your horse ad-lib access to a forage source such as hay or haylage, especially when stabled
- Feed your horse a yeast culture to encourage efficient fibre digestion in the hind gut
- Make sure vitamin and mineral requirements are being met. If necessary, top up with a broad-spectrum supplement such as Dengie Performance Vits & Mins or a balancer such as Dengie Alfa-A Balancer
- If you're looking for a conditioning fibre feed that doesn't contain alfalfa then take a look at Dengie Meadow Grass range. Made from Lincolnshire's finest meadow grasses and oil grown by UK farmers
For advice from the Dengie nutrition team or to review your horse or pony's diet, call the Dengie Feedline on 0845 345 5115 (call charges may apply).
For more information visit the Dengie website
Discover how to best feed your horse for his temperament with this expert advice from Dodson & Horrell Nutritionist Sarah Kearney.
All horses have an embedded flight instinct and so in certain situations this can lead them to become stressed and anxious, sometimes leading to the development of unwanted behaviours such as barging, bolting, bucking, rearing or biting. This can be down to a number of factors including previous unpleasant experiences, management, feeding, genetic influences or environmental changes; however the key to solving the problem is to find the trigger point for your horse and take the appropriate steps to regain equilibrium.
Has your horse's behaviour changed?
Firstly take a step back and ask yourself some key questions such as ‘When did this behaviour begin?’ and ‘Did it coincide with any changes that I made to my management routine?’ Sometimes the answer can lie in a simple place, for example your horse does not like to live on its own, leading to increased anxiety levels and making them difficult to ride. Whilst this may not be quick to solve you can work with the issue as you know where the behaviour is stemming from.
Is his diet the problem?
It's also important to remember that your horse’s diet may be affecting its behaviour and that dietary needs constantly adapt throughout the year due to natural fluctuations in their forage source and therefore hard feed needs to be adjusted accordingly. Dodson & Horrell’s helpline often gets calls during the early spring months from people struggling with horses that are suddenly over excitable and a little difficult to handle and quite often it coincides with the beginning of grass growth.
The spring flush of grass is naturally higher in sugar and calories, which for example if you are feeding a conditioning mix to maintain the weight through the winter, all adds up to a high calorie and therefore high energy diet that may be exceeding the requirements of that horse, leading to exuberant behaviour. If this is the case then determine what you need from your horse at the current time, if workload decreases or they gain weight then drop down to a lower calorie feed or reduce the amounts of your current feed and ‘top-up’ with a good quality balancer, which offers lower levels of calories but ensures your horse is getting a balanced level of vitamins and minerals. It is also usually a good idea to look for a feed that is high in fibre, providing lower amounts of starch and sugar if your horse is prone to displays of exuberance.
For the hard working horse
If you have a horse that is working hard or needs to gain weight but is sensitive to higher levels of starch and sugar, a typical conditioning feed may not be appropriate for them. Most feed companies offer a low starch alternative to a conditioning or competition feed. These will typically contain oil (usually soya or linseed) and are a great way to include a real boost of slow releasing calories into the diet, providing over two times as much digestible energy as the same amount of a cereal.
Can't find the root of the problem?
If there just seems to be no reason for the exuberant behaviour and all management and feeding options have been explored then feeding a calming supplement is usually a popular option. There are an abundance of products on the market and so it is important to remember that what works for one horse may not necessarily work for another, leading to a little trial and error when finding the one for you. If you are thinking of adding in a calming supplement into your horse’s diet then do contact a helpline to discuss.
For further information please visit the Dodson & Horrell website www.dodsonandhorrell.com or call the free helpline on 0845 345 2627 to speak to one of our friendly, expert nutritionists.
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If you’re struggling to know how much to feed your horse, fear not! We’ve got the answers to some very common questions on that very subject right here.
Will grass provide your horse with everything he needs?
Unfortunately not! Grass may provide sufficient calories and even protein for horses at rest or in light work a large study has shown that UK grazing will not meet their mineral requirements. For example, grass only provides around half the quantity of zinc a horse needs every day and this can result in poor hoof health. Horses that maintain weight well on grazing alone don’t need lots of concentrate feed but they still need extra vitamins and minerals. To make sure your horse’s diet is balanced, consider feeding a broad spectrum vitamin and mineral supplement.
How much hay or haylage should you feed?
Forage is an essential part of all horses and pony diets. Horses have evolved as trickle-feeders and feeding insufficient forage can result in problems such as stereotypic behaviours, gastric ulcers and/ or colic. Horses will eat between 2-2.5% of their bodyweight as dry forage per day. Depending on how much work you do with your horse some forage may be replaced by concentrate feed. However, if your horse needs to lose weight it may be necessary to restrict forage intake. We recommend a restriction of no less than 1.5% of body weight unless under veterinary supervision.
How much concentrate feed is safe to feed in one meal?
Your horse’s stomach is very small in comparison to the rest of the digestive system. As a result feeding large concentrate meals can increase the risk of problems such as colic. You should aim to feed no more than 500g/100 bodyweight per meal. For example a 500kg horse should have a maximum of 2.5kg of food per meal (this includes concentrates, chaff, sugar beet etc.).
Top meal size tip!
Aiming for smaller feeds more often, is much better for your horse’s digestive system and feeding a balancer which includes a probiotic can help the digestibility of fibre, meaning your horse will get twice as much out of the fibre in his diet. This will help him put on weight and condition without having to over-feed him.
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Feeding old horses in winter can be a challenge but, with the right guidance, you can keep your veteran horse in great condition. Here, Joanna Palmer BSc (Hons), Nutritionist for Allen & Page offers her expert advice.
Treat your horse as an individual
"Horses and ponies all age at different rates," says Joanna. "Some older horse can start to drop weight and condition, particularly during the winter months and may benefit from a change to a high calorie veteran feed to meet their increased nutritional needs. Others who have been good doers throughout their younger years will continue to need a low calorie diet to maintain a healthy weight and help prevent obesity."
As Joana explains, fibre is the most important part of every horse’s diet. "In the wild, horses graze for 18 to 20 hours a day and to mimic this need to ‘trickle feed‘, our domesticated horses should ideally have fibre in the form of grass, hay or haylage available at all times," she says.
"Fibre is essential for good digestive health and its digestion also provides a good source of calories and body heat as it is fermented in the gut. If a horse is not eating enough fibre, he will lose weight, regardless of how much high calorie 'bucket' feed he may also be fed."
Unfortunately the natural decline in dental condition that occurs with age will greatly affect a horse’s ability to chew efficiently and it is then necessary to provide alternative sources of fibre. "Allen & Page Fast Fibre is a soaked high fibre feed that can be fed as a complete or partial hay replacer, offering similar nutrition to that of hay but in a form that is easy to eat."
Choosing a veteran feed for your horse
A good veteran feed will be one that is high in fibre and low in starch and sugar as this is more natural for the horse. "Feeds which contain a high proportion of cereals should be avoided as these have significantly higher starch contents than those which use fibre and oil as energy sources," says Joanna. "A high starch diet can not only cause fizzy and excitable behaviour, but it is also more difficult to digest and can make the horse more susceptible to developing laminitis or colic. Most specific veteran feeds including Allen & Page Veteran Vitality will have digestible energy (DE) values of around 11MJ/kg, which provides a step up in calories from most standard mixes and cubes. Veteran Light offers all the benefits of a low starch and sugar veteran feed, but with a much lower calorie level of 8MJ/kg – perfect for good doers."
Feeding older horses with poor teeth
"Another important quality of a feed for veterans is that it is easy to eat," explains Joanna. "A veteran horse with poor teeth is more at risk of suffering choke and colic, simply because he is not able to chew properly. A feed that soaks to form a soft, palatable mash is easy to eat and using warm water also releases more flavours from the feed, helping to tempt even the fussiest of feeders." Feeding a soaked feed will also increase a horse’s water consumption, something that is particularly useful during the winter months when many veterans can be reluctant to drink enough water.
Take ailments into consideration
Sadly with advancing age comes the increased likelihood of medical issues, many of which can be exacerbated by the horse’s diet. "For example, any horse with liver problems requires a low protein diet (e.g. Fast Fibre) in order to reduce the strain placed on the already damaged organ. Similarly, horses and ponies prone to or at risk of laminitis, including Cushing’s sufferers should only be fed feeds that have very low starch and sugar levels of under 10% combined (e.g. Fast Fibre and Veteran Light)," says Joanna. "Consequently, it is essential that all veterinary issues are taken into account when recommending feeds to ensure that the diet is suitable for the horse as a whole and not just in relation to his age."
For more information on feeding veteran horses visit and to discover the complete Allen & Page range of feeds www.allenandpage.co.uk or call the award winning nutrition helpline on 01362 822902.
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A balancer is a nutrient dense feed that provides your horse with all the vitamins, minerals and quality protein he needs on a daily basis.
They also contain a low level of calories making them ideal if your horse is a good-doer. They’re usually small pellets, which makes them easy to feed and you don’t need to feed a huge amount. The usual amount fed is 100g per 100kg bodyweight, so an average 500kg horse will need just 500g of balancer a day.
You’ll pay a little more for a bag of balancer compared to a bag of nuts or mix, but it will last you longer and cost you less on a daily basis.
There’s also a growing number of targeted balancers that contain additional ingredients to help with specific issues such as glucosamine for joint support or biotin for healthy hooves.
When to feed a balancer?
If you’re feeding the recommended amount of a mix or cube compound feed your horse will be receiving all the vitamins and minerals he needs to maintain a balanced diet. If you’re not feeding at the specified level detailed on the feed bag you’ll need to balance your horse’s diet and this is where feeding a balancer is ideal.
If your horse maintains his weight on a diet of just forage, or he’s in hard work, but maintains his weight on a low energy feed which are designed to support him when he’s in light work, feeding a balancer should be considered. Also, if you feed straights or feeds that don’t contain additional vitamins and mineral adding a balancer will ensure his diet is balanced.
Research and Development Manager at SPILLERS®, Clare Barfoot RNutr, reveals some of the most frequently asked winter feeding questions and provides the answers, to help you keep your horse in fine fettle this winter.
“During the winter months our phone line and inbox are usually red hot with questions from caring horse owners who need some advice,” says Clare. “Questions range from very standard to occasionally slightly off the wall – once someone asked if she could feed her horse the contents of her compost bin! Obviously the answer was an emphatic ‘no’!”
Here are the top five questions asked so far this winter*:
1. How do I measure horse feed?
Most owners feed by the scoop but with all the different types of feed available one scoop can weigh considerably more or less than another. This is why it is really important to weigh your feed, even if you only do so once. The easiest way is to put one scoop of your chosen feed in a carrier bag and weigh it on your kitchen scales. Then all you need to work out is how many scoops you need to feed per day.
2. How can I keep weight on my horse?
First it’s important to eliminate any clinical reasons for weight loss. Next check that the quality of your forage is good and make sure that it is always fed ad lib – even in the field. It is also worth making sure your horse is well rugged as significant calories can be used just to keep the body warm. In terms of your horse’s bucket feed you should be feeding the recommended quantity, in meals of no more than 2kg so as to not overload the stomach. If your horse is still not maintaining weight increase the calorie density of the meals. Try a conditioning feed or if he has a sharp temperament opt for a fibre and oil based medium energy feed; these types of feed may not say ‘conditioning’ and may be packaged as competition feeds, nonetheless they will be medium energy and will help build condition.
3. How should I feed my laminitic during the winter?
Obesity and diet are two key laminitis risk factors that are under your control. As grass is the largest contributor of water-soluble carbohydrate (sugars and fructans) it is important that it is restricted, even in the winter. Choose feeds that are high in fibre and low in sugar and starch. If your horse is a good doer or needs to lose weight consider feeding a balancer designed to complement a calorie restricted diet. If he requires more condition opt for a high fibre feed suitable for horse and ponies prone to laminitis. It’s useful to have the nutritional value of your hay analysed and to soak it before feeding to reduce the water-soluble carbohydrate (WSC) content.
4. What’s the right way to feed a hay replacer?
Firstly choose an appropriate product - this means one that is suitable to replace forage from a nutritional point of view such as chopped fibres or high fibre cubes. Partial replacers include grass nuts, alfalfa nuts and sugar beet. In terms of amount if your horse can’t eat any forage or grass you will need to feed at least 15g/kg bodyweight (dry matter) a day, however unless overweight most horses will require around 20g/kg bodyweight (dry matter). This equates to approx. 10kg of feed per day. Ideally this should be spread across the day in at least four meals.
5. What’s the best way to give my horse vitamins and minerals without weight gain?
It’s important to feed a balanced diet all year round to support your horse’s long-term health and well-being. A diet that is unbalanced or deficient in certain nutrients could start to show with poor hoof or coat quality, a lack of muscle tone or a compromised immune system. If, like many, your horse doesn’t need extra calories in the form of a full ration of compound feed a balancer would be the best solution. These are specifically designed to complement forage or pasture based diets but without unwanted extra calories.
More about SPILLERS®
SPILLERS® produces feeds to suit all types, including a range of superior fibres and balancers, Laminitis Trust approved products and new SPILLERS® Alfalfa-Pro which carries the BETA Equine Gastric Ulceration Syndrome (EGUS) Certification Mark. For friendly advice on winter feeding contact the SPILLERS® Care-Line on + 44 (0)1908 226626 or visit www.spillers-feeds.com
SPILLERS® led the way with the introduction of a horse nutrition Care-Line back in the 1980s. Now supported by four nutritionists, the free service gives inquisitive, worried, or confused horse owners access to friendly, non-judgemental and unbiased nutrition advice. Thousands of calls and emails are handled by the Care-Line annually and this number is increasing year on year. Nutritionist recommendations via the Care-Line are automatically uploaded onto your very own My SPILLERS® Record to help guide your horse’s diet plan with efficiency and accuracy.
(*Content courtesy of SPILLERS®)
As your horse gets older, you may notice he no longer keeps his weight like he used to over winter. Here, we catch up with SPILLERS equine nutritionist, Clare Barfoot, and get her top tips on feeding an older horse over winter.Read More
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From rodent proofing your bins, to storing your feed and organising your utensils, it’s important to keep your feed room in order. So don your sweeping brush and rope in a friend or two, to make sure that your feed room is in tip top condition and free from pesky pests.
Store your sacks sensibly
Most horse feedstuffs will go mouldy or stale if the sack or container is left open to air and dampness, which is why feed manufacturers generally recommend that their products are stored in airtight containers.
To help keep your horse’s feed at its best keep it in an area that’s dry and out of direct sunlight, this will prevent both spoilage from damp and the deterioration of vitamins and oils, i.e. the feed’s nutritional value.
Tough plastic or metal feed bins will also help keep out pests, while stacking unopened bags of feed on pallets will help keep damp and moisture out.
Keep him safe
Another very important reason to store feed securely is to prevent your horse from gorging himself if he makes a great escape into the feed room when you’re not looking. The consequences of him helping himself to his feed can be fatal, particularly if he eats a large amount of dried sugar beet.
Put paid to pests
Feed should be stored in containers to prevent vermin such as rats and mice getting into it. Rats and mice don’t just eat your feed, but can also spread disease and infections to your horse, from their coats and urine so always keep your feed storage area swept clean and tidy to ensure it’s less attractive to mice and rats.
Also consider placing mice and rat traps in your feed room or keeping a stable cat to keep the vermin population down.
Seal any supplements
Take care to tightly reseal any tubs of feed supplements to retain their freshness. Consider tipping them into a metal container so that rats and mice can’t get to them.
Have a tidy up
With your feed safely stored, it’s time to move on to some quick tips to a tidier feed room.
Keep your tools, such as brooms and pitchforks handy and out from under your feet by hanging them on a wall-mounted tool holder.
If you have hay in your feed room, store your bales on wooden pallets to prevent them from getting mouldy from sitting on damp ground. If your feed-storage area is next to a dirt road or has dust issues, keep your hay supply covered.
Thoroughly clean your buckets, scoops and mixing spoons regularly in order to remove any mouldy old feed.
Make sure you check the expiry, sell by, or best before date of your feed before feeding it.