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Tips for Feeding the Fat Horse

If you are a horse owner you have likely struggled with the questions of how fat is too fat for a horse and is there an overweight problem with your horse. You may even experience a horse that is constantly getting fatter and yet you hardly feed them anything. You should rest assured that you are not the only horse owner with these questions and there are many others who are wondering the same thing.

The first of these questions is determining how fat is too fat for your horse. You will need to familiarize yourself with the most popular body condition scoring systems that are used by all the major horse breeders and trainers before you start to monitor your horse’s condition.

To determine if your horse is overweight there is one very simple test that you can do. Feel how much fat is covering the middle rib cage of the horse which should be right about in the middle on the horse’s side. You horse is over conditioned if you can’t feel the ribs at all

or if you have to press hard in order to feel them and you should start a program to reduce the horses body fat. A good condition to maintain for your horse is to easily feel the ribs but at the same time you shouldn’t be able to see them.

chubby horseThere are also two different types of fat when it comes to horses. There is the horse that gets fat from eating grass but doesn’t eat hardly any grain and then there is the horse that gets fat from eating too much grain.

A horse that is fat from grain is more likely to have health conditions such as founder, colic or orthopedic problems such as arthritis. These health problems occur even if they are eating an average quality grass because they just have an efficient digestive and metabolic system. The horses that have their fat from grain are also more predisposed to conditions linked to obesity such as fat necrosis, fatty livers and poor reproductive performance.

If you have a mature horse that stays slightly on the fat side even after eating very little to no grain you shouldn’t be too worried, especially if they are one of the warm blood breeds. The time when you need to be concerned is if it is a pony or a horse that consumes the early spring grass or from winter grazing and gets fat as a result.

Ponies are more likely to get founder than any other horses and if they are over conditioned this problem can be further exacerbated. Many horse owners have a saying that ponies have two types, either those that have already foundered or those that are close to doing so. However, this doesn’t mean that all ponies will get founder no matter what. If you pay close attention to their body condition and make sure you give them a balanced diet you will be doing a lot towards keeping them healthy and preventing them from getting founder.

The pastures in early spring and winter can have a high level of soluble carbohydrates which can mimic a high grain diet for a horse and increase their total intake of starches and proteins. You should limit the grazing of any horse that is gaining weight from grazing during the early spring and winter seasons. Although you should always keep in mind that any broodmares and mature horses may be mineral and vitamin deficient if they are exercised regularly and fed very little grain.

In order to meet their mineral and vitamin requirement a horse needs to eat about five to six pounds of fortified grain mix each day. Supplemental vitamins and minerals should be given to any horses receiving less in order for them to stay healthy and perform at acceptable levels.

For an overweight horse the most important part of managing their diet is to properly balance their mineral and vitamin intake while on a limited grain diet. You can consider changing from a calorie dense feed to a feed that provides lower calories but at the same time has all the vitamin and mineral requirements. This is often the better way rather than just trying to reduce the horse’s weight. A horse may loose weight if you drop their feed, reduce grazing and cut back on their hay, but there is also a negative effect to this such as substandard hair coat, little stamina and a bad attitude.

You how can you meet a horse’s nutritional requirements while reducing their diet and choosing an exercising program? You have two options that you can use. You can either increase the intensity and/or duration of the exercise program for the horse or you can reduce how much energy and protein you feed the horse each day. You should start by selecting only one of these options and then later on combining them if you haven’t achieved your desired result yet.

Metabolic disorders can result if you start out right away with an increased exercise program and reducing the protein and energy intake of a horse because of the rapid weight loss and the changes that would occur in their metabolic system. This can cause your horse to become predisposed to conditions such as tying up, founder, colic and orthopedic disorders.

Most do not have exercise programs for their overweight horses. Some horse owners may not have the time to spend working with their broodmares for longer hours. This is why many choose to have their horse loose weight only through diet, but how can this be done?

First of all you will need to reduce the energy intake of the horse. A four pound per day grain mix should be reduced to nothing over a two pound per day grain mix while at the same time making sure you maintain your horse’s vitamin and mineral needs.

It is extremely important that the intake of vitamins and minerals be kept to adequate levels. Whenever you are giving less than five pounds per day of a well fortified feed to your horse you should modify your feeding program to include additional vitamins and minerals.

Reduce the horse’s access to pasture once you have reduced their grain intake to a minimum and found a total, balanced diet. Horses will often graze sixty to seventy percent of the time that they are in the pasture. The pasture grass has a fair amount of energy, but the horse will not get a lot of calories from this grass.

The last step is to reduce how much hay you feed your horse. However, you need to know the limits when it comes to choosing how much you are going to limit their grass and hay. Horses are predisposed to eating continuously and grazing frequently. A certain amount of bulk material is required by the horse’s digestive system and this is usually provided by pasture or hay. A horse may become colic without this bulk material.

For horses the standard guideline is that they should get at least one percent of their current body weight in grass each day. This means a minimum of three flakes of hay each day at least. However, horses may be left with idle time and nothing to chew on at this level which can lead to situations such as wood chewing, cribbing and other stable vices. This is why it is important that you have a good and balanced nutritional program that keeps your horse from getting fat in the first place.

Read the next horse nutrition article on Helping Skinny Horses Gain Healthy Weight.
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