Feeding for Condition

Some horses do not maintain their bodyweight easily and it can prove a real challenge to keep them in tip-top condition. Dengie nutritionist Tracey Hammond, MSc (Dist), provides some handy advice to help keep your horse looking its best.

The poor doer

Some horses are poor doers – naturally fussy with limited appetites and they often struggle to maintain their body weight, but a few simple measures can help to keep them in good shape.

Many owners strive for a good top-line. This can be achieved by ensuring that the horse is working correctly and that the diet includes sufficient quality protein needed to build muscle.

When assessing your horse’s bodyweight and condition, be clear exactly what you are aiming for. Feeding extra calories so that a horse stores excess fat along the top-line is not the same as achieving a well-toned top-line.

Forage – and more forage!

Make sure that you feed ad-lib, good-quality forage to help your horse maintain weight. Don’t forget that the fibre fermentation process in your horse’s hind gut produces heat as a by-product. This acts as your horse’ very own central heating system. Keep a close eye on veteran horses and ponies with dental problems to make sure they can still manage to chew their forage. Dengie Hi-Fi Senior is made from high-temperature-dried grasses and alfalfa, and can be used as a partial or total forage replacer. Made from high temperature grasses Dengie Meadow Grass with Herbs and Pure Grass Pellets are also ideal for those that struggle to chew.

Click here for more top tips on feeding horses with less than perfect teeth.

Weight watching

Using a weigh tape regularly alongside body condition scoring allows you to spot changes to your horse’s condition early. This means that you can act quickly before the problem becomes a big deal. See the video below to learn how to use a weigh tape.

Weigh your feed

You could be using the right feed to help promote weight gain but, if you feed by the scoop and don’t know how much it holds, you might still not get the desired result. As an approximate guide, a large round Stubbs scoop holds 400g of Dengie Alfa-A range products, 1.5kg dry weight of Dengie Alfa-Beet, typically just over 1kg of mix and 1.5 to 2kg of cubes – but, if you weigh your feed, you’ll know exactly what you are providing.

Feed the recommended amount

Rather than feeding lots of different types of lower energy or “calorie” feed, choose a higher-energy feed and feed it at the recommended quantity. Not only will this save some space in the feed room but, if you feed a cereal-based mix or cube, it is better for your horse’s digestive system to use a smaller amount of a higher-energy mix/cube than a large quantity of low-energy mix/cube.

Banish the fizz

Avoid making sudden, dramatic increases in energy intake and choose feeds based on “slow-release” energy sources such as fibre and oil rather than “quick-release” energy sources, including starch from cereal grains. Both these factors are especially important in the winter months, when your horse is stabled for longer periods and workload is less consistent.
Fibre feeds with oil such as Dengie Alfa-A-Oil provide slow-release energy for condition without the fizz. Feeding alongside soaked unmolassed sugar beet, such as Dengie Alfa-Beet will provide an additional source of highly digestible fibre for condition without the fizz.

Click here to read about the study that proves a fibre diet calms a horse’s behaviour.

What if my horse or pony is prone to laminitis?

Don’t panic! Choose a high-energy fibre feed that has been approved by The Laminitis Trust. Dengie’s Alfa-A Molasses Free and Alfa-Beet fit the bill nicely. These feeds are both straights, so it is essential that a balancer is provided alongside for a top-up of vitamins and minerals.

Click here for top tips on feeding horses or ponies prone to laminitis

Maximise digestion

A change of diet, stress and poor dentition are all factors that can impact on digestive efficiency. Some horses might need a little extra help to get the most out of the feed they are given. Digestive enhancing supplements can help to support maximal digestive efficiency. They usually combine live yeast, brewer’s yeast and prebiotics which can be used routinely or around periods of stress.

Give plenty of chew time

Fibre takes a long time to chew! This is no bad thing and, if your horse is stabled for longer periods during the winter, it is a great way to help keep them occupied. If your horse is on a fibre ration, there is no need to restrict meal size in the same way you would with cereal-based feeds. This means that you can leave your horse with the largest meal when they have plenty of time to eat it. For example, give your horse a small breakfast before morning turnout and then leave the largest quantity of fibre feed overnight when stabled to help keep your horse occupied.

Healthy hooves and coat

Keep your horse looking their best by ensuring they are getting a balanced diet with adequate vitamins and minerals. If horses are fed a fibre-only ration, a balancer is a great way to do this. For horses and pones that need a little more help, try a supplement with a formulation that additionally targets skin, hooves and coat.

For the answer to All your equine feeding queries talk to a Dengie nutritionist today:

Dengie Feedline: 01621 841188 or visit the Dengie website, www.dengie.com, where you can chat live to a nutritionist.