Ask the Vet: Nutrition

Do you have questions concerning your horse's current diet? Pose them to March's AAEP expert, Dr. Lydia Gray from SmartPak Equine, as she answers your questions regarding equine nutrition.

Question: I adopted a rescue horse about 2 years ago from a local rescue organization. A buckskin gelding that is now about 9-years-old. I have had him at the current boarding facility for 1 1/2 years and we have done a couple months of training where he has progressed extremely well. I've noticed that this spring and through this past winter his coat seems to be coarse and static at times. He is being fed Purina Strategy feed, which when we switched to this late last summer I saw a DRAMATIC change in his mane and tail that became nice and soft instead of brittle. His mane and tails are still in wonderful shape. I was thinking of adding flaxseed to his grain daily to help with his hair coat. Is this a good thing to do? He is also currently on Fastrack Probiotics and has unlimited access to rough forage both in his stall and in pasture. He doesn't seem to eat a lot of hay. My veterinarian suggested trying alfalfa forage. I purchase the Triple Crown Alfalfa forage and put it in a bucket in his stall. He eats both it and the hay. I just don't understand why his coat is looking so rough and feels so coarse. Am I on the right track with adding the Omegas in a form of flax seed? We had been using Legends Omega supplement but for the price of it and after researching more and more it seems that using ground flax seed is a healthier and cheaper alternative. 

He is also given Purina Strategy mixed with oats and Fastrack Probiotics.

Thank you! I'm completely new to the owning horse world, maybe not the smartest thing to start with a rescue horse as my first horse but I fell in love with him and now that he has had more training and I am learning how to work with him. I think we are working out just great.
Good for you for adopting a rescue horse! It sounds like you’re on the right track with nutrition, training and other aspects of his care; you just need a few tweaks here and there. If you and your veterinarian are satisfied there are no underlying health issues that could account for his rough, coarse coat—like parasites, ulcers, etc—then absolutely try another source of flax seed for the omega 3 fatty acids it provides. Be warned though, you may find (after daily soaking or grinding) that the price of commercial, stabilized flax seed products is not so bad after all!

In addition to flax seed, there’s my new favorite plant-based source of omega 3s, chia seed (yes, that chia). The seeds from the chia plant have even more omega 3 fatty acids than the seeds of the flax plant and are a powerhouse of other nutrients. There’s also fish oil, which may be an excellent choice for your guy. Not only is it super-high in omega 3s, the fatty acids consist of pre-formed DHA and EPA, the two forms of omega 3 fatty acids that the body is not super efficient in making on its own yet have the most health benefits.

Make sure your guy is getting plenty of turnout (fresh grass is a plus) and grooming and I predict his coat will bloom in no time!
Question: I have a 28-year-old Quarter horse pony gelding. He lacks adequate dentition for eating hay, but his weight and appetite are good. He is fed a senior feed split over 2-3 feedings per day. He also gets one feeding per day of beet pulp. I added a hay extender pellet to his senior feed, but he doesn't eat it up well. When he tries to eat hay, it just balls up. Should I add a cubed hay product which is soaked before feeding? What would the risk be of choke or obstruction? Would this improve the appearance and frequency of his bowel movements? His manure is formed, but loose. He makes only 2-3 piles per 12 hours, on average. It would be nice to feed him something when the other horses are getting their hay.
I feel like a broken record, but I’m going to recommend to you the same thing I did to the last two question-writers: investing in the HayGain Steamer!

See, I recently had a training session with these folks, and learned that steamed hay is not just for horses with respiratory allergies, to reduce the molds, pollens and other triggers. Because steamed hay is also soft and wet, it is also ideal for horses with poor teeth, those recovering from colic surgery, and other horses that might need roughage that is not quite so . . . rough. If you try this, however, and he stills balls up the hay, then unfortunately long-stem forage may have to be permanently taken off his menu to avoid the risk of choke from poorly chewed materials being swallowed.

To answer your specific question though, yes, soaked cubed hay is an excellent choice for horses that can no longer chew the long-stem forage that is so vital to their digestive and overall health. Have you considered soaked beet pulp? It’s a palatable and nutritious feed for all ages and types of horses, but especially those with difficulty chewing. 

At the recommended feeding level as written on the bag however, senior feed is also fine as the sole diet for these teeth-challenged guys. It’s called “complete” feed because it’s an all-in-one product, like getting hay and grain in a bag. Just make sure you’re feeding enough of it, like 15 or 20 pounds per day. Most horse owners provide senior feeds like they do traditional fortified grains—like 5 pounds per day—and that’s simply not enough of this dilute product to meet a horse’s nutritional needs when hay is not also offered.

Make any diet changes gradually, and think about adding digestive support to his regimen, especially since his stool is less firm than desired. Ingredients like the active live yeast Saccharomyces boulardii as well as probiotics and prebiotics have been shown to assist in the management of proper formed manure. Stick with it, you’ll eventually find the right recipe!
Question: My Trakehner brood mare is due March 15. She is 11-years-old and in good body condition. I would like to know if I need to change her feed ration. She currently recieves 7 lbs of Southern States Legends Performance textured, 1 lb of Triple Crown Senior and one scoop of Daily Omega Plus and will not eat more. I just took her off the grass and she gets first cutting alfalfa hay, free choice.

I have her on the 10% fat feed because she has trouble keeping her weight up. She will not eat rice bran or other high calorie supplements, as I have tried on several occasions. Please let me know if I need to change anything.
As a Trakehner owner myself, I know how wonderful these horses are. You must be very excited! One thing jumps out at me from your question, and that is the fact that she receives free choice alfalfa hay. Please speak with your local veterinarian and nutritionist about this, as certain health conditions (for example enteroliths) have been linked to an all-alfalfa hay diet. While I love this legume as a forage, she might be better off with a mix of alfalfa and grass hay.

The next fact I noticed was that she gets one pound of senior or complete feed. Certainly this category of product is great for older horses that may not be able to tolerate traditional roughage anymore, but senior feeds are very, very dilute in terms of nutrients (energy, protein, vitamins and minerals). Even though you’re only giving a small amount, you may want to just cut this out of her diet completely since it’s bulky and taking up valuable intestinal tract space that should be reserved for more concentrated feeds. 

While we’re on the topic of grain, I looked up the fortified grain you’re feeding and it’s designed “for mature horses in moderate and intense performance or show activities.” Since you’re already having trouble keeping her weight up--plus the first few months of lactation are going to be an even bigger energy drain on her system--I recommend you gradually switch to a more concentrated product, one specifically for pregnant and nursing mares.

In addition, research suggests supplementing with active live yeast such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which can improve feed efficiency. That is, certain digestive support products can help horses extract more out of the feed they are already being given. Talk to your veterinarian about adding a supplement with yeast, probiotics, prebiotics, enzymes and other ingredients. Best of luck on a healthy foal!
Question: I have a Thoroughbred mare off the track. She is 16-years-old now and having a difficult time keeping on weight. She looked her best about two years ago. She could care less about food as it takes her all day to finish her morning meal and then it's time for evening meal. She has been dewormed, current dental care and up-to-date on vaccinations. I have tried SmartPak weight gainer and mare calm for about a year and now on a different regimen. She could still stand to gain another 100 lbs.
I’m going to give you the same advice I gave the other person with a thin, picky eater: invest in a HayGain Steamer! You’ve already tried a supplement with fenugreek in it to tempt her with a maple/vanilla aroma (the SmartGain 4). How about a weight gain supplement that’s purely fat, or a weight gain supplement that’s purely protein (amino acids)? I find that horses respond very individually to different brands within the same category (weight gain) so don’t hesitate to experiment with some other products.

Another suggestion is to play with her forage. Interestingly enough, turns out easy keepers LOSE weight with small hole hay nets while hard keepers, like yours, actually GAIN weight. There’s something about a constant source of forage trickling through their digestive system that seems to regulate or normalize horses’ weight. If you haven’t tried alfalfa hay, cubes, or pellets with her, they’re also a great way to increase appetite and add weight to horses. 

As the previous question and answer also mentioned, soaked beet pulp is another way to encourage horses to eat and to get calories into them. Beet pulp is a complex carbohydrate or fiber that is fermented by the good bugs in the hind gut or large intestine (cecum and colon) into readily available energy/calories.

Research suggests the fermentation process might be enhanced with the addition of active live yeast such as Saccharomyces cereviseae. That is, supporting her with a digestive supplement may help her get more nutrition out of the food she already consumes. Besides yeast, you’ll also find probiotics, prebiotics, enzymes and other ingredients in this particular category of supplement.

I rarely recommend adding grain or increasing the level you’re already feeding, but consider switching to a more calorie-dense product so the food she does take in has more “bang for the buck.”
Question: My 2-year-old Thoroughbred grew a hand in one month last spring and became over in the knee, very straight in the pasterns and lame. I was told to give her Stamm vitamins and minerals only even though it would cause her to get very thin. She also wore expandable shoes with pads for 5 months. Since grass can be 20% protein and it is really green early this year, should I go back to Stamm, hay grass only? Even though she has been on grass most of the winter (out during the day and stalled at night), should I cut back on the amount of grass? If so, for how long?
As an article I wrote with Dr. Sarah Ralston for AAEP says “Feeding Young Horses: It’s not the Protein!” ( So the concern with putting your two-year-old on spring grass is not the protein content, it’s the energy content. That’s why you were told to only give her grass hay and a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement temporarily, because commercial, fortified grain would add additional energy (mostly from sugars and starches) that she doesn’t need right now. Therefore, it might not be a bad idea to restrict her from pasture, particularly during the lush spring months when it has high levels of simple carbohydrates.

Ideally, a young, growing horse should not be fed so little that she becomes excessively thin though, because that might create other problems. Especially with a tall, fast-growing breed like this, I encourage you to work closely with your veterinarian and local qualified nutritionist to develop a complete and balanced diet for her life stage yet does not worsen her existing musculoskeletal issue.
Question: I have a very picky mare and a little hyper. She doesn't clean up anything but alfalfa/oat cubes. She ties up on too much alfalfa so am trying some timothy grass hay with the cubes. She eats some of it. Any suggestions?
I spend most of my time devising methods to slow down horses from eating too fast and creating diets that are not very calorie-dense so they can eat a lot of bulk but not gain weight. So your question has really made me think! Here are my ideas:

I just attended a training session with the HayGain Steamer folks and one of the groups of horses their product is perfect for is picky eaters! Turns out horses love the smell and texture of steamed hay (I know I love the smell). This particular brand comes in three sizes: full bale, half bale and travel; you may want to purchase the travel size to see if she likes the smell and taste as much as other horses do. Or, you could see if someone in your area has a unit they would let you borrow as a trial. 

It’s true that horses like their food to have a “nose” or attractive odor, so anything you can do to make her food smell better would be a benefit. A study from the UK found that fenugreek, an herb with a maple or vanilla smell, is one of the top preferred flavors for horses. I recommend you look for a supplement that contains fenugreek and sprinkle it on top of foods that she might not go for with gusto.

Now, some horses LOVE the taste and feel of soaked beet pulp and will knock you down for it—does yours? If you have not tried this product, which has a nutrient profile somewhere between hay and grain, give it a whirl. Best of luck getting your Picky Patty to finish her dinner!
Question: I have a 6-year-old Morgan horse that is a very easy keeper. She is currently getting 1 lb of a ration balancer, 12 lbs of grass hay and 2 lbs Alfalfa cubes a day total (broken down into 3 feedings). Her hay is fed in small mesh hay nets to help it last longer, but she has started digging holes to chew on tree roots. She is on Recovery EQ and Quitt. Any suggestions on what to do or is this normal behavior?
I feel your pain! Here you are trying to do the right thing and your mare is not participating in the program. Couple of suggestions for you:

1. Omit the 2lbs of alfalfa cubes. Alfalfa typically provides more calories than grass so she probably doesn’t need this particular feed.

2. Feed the right amount of forage. How much does your horse weigh? If she weighs 800 pounds, then the 12 pounds of grass hay you’re feeding her per day is 1.5% of her body weight. If she weighs 900 or 1000 pounds, then she’s receiving closer to 1% of her body weight. This may simply not be enough long-stem forage and therefore chew time for her. Try gradually increasing her hay to 15lbs or more and see if her behavior quits and yet she does not gain weight.

3. Soak hay to reduce the NSC content. Since you’re already putting her hay in the small hole hay net, soaking in a clean muck basket would be really easy! Sugars and starches but not important nutrients are removed in just 30 minutes of warm water soaking or 60 minutes of cold water soaking.

4. Add a grazing muzzle. I’ve had great success with putting grazing muzzles on horses to slow down their rate of hay consumption. I know they’re designed for grass pastures, but they also work well in situations like yours where the small hole hay net doesn’t keep her from finishing her hay too early.

5. Include a supplement targeted to support metabolism. Ingredients like chromium, magnesium, taurine, biotin, cinnamon, fenugreek, and other herbs—including adaptogencs—help some horses lose their ravenous appetite.

In addition to these diet recommendations, I have two more ideas for you: provide at least 30 minutes of controlled exercise each day, not just turnout, and consider adding stall toys or another distraction to her environment. Hopefully something here will help your mare cope with the diet restrictions that are necessary to her overall health and soundness!
Question: I have had my mare for 3 years and I cannot seem to get her to gain weight. She is incredibly thin no matter what or how much I feed her. I love my horse a lot and have never rode her because of this problem. Why would she not gain weight and keep it on?
I can tell you’re very concerned about your mare so let’s see what we can do to help her. First of all, how old is she? There are different reasons why a young, middle-aged, or senior horse may have trouble keeping weight on. 

Have you had a veterinarian examine her? A complete physical examination—which may include bloodwork, a fecal, a dental exam and other specific tests—could rule in or rule out specific health conditions that may be responsible for her thin body condition.

Speaking of body condition, have you or someone else officially scored her? The horse industry uses the Henneke Body Condition Scoring scale as a standardized, uniform system for assessing the fat cover on horses. The scale ranges from 1 (emaciated) to 9 (obese), with 5 being moderate or ideal. It may also be a good idea to regularly weigh her with a weight tape and record these two separate measurements so you have an objective record of changes or trends.

Next, I strongly recommend you weigh everything you feed your mare now: hay, grain, etc. You may find out that you’re not supplying her with the recommended 1-2% of her body weight each day in hay, or that you haven’t been giving a full serving of grain as recommended on the bag.

Environment can have a lot to do with how well and how much horses eat. For example, if she primarily eats meals in a stall where she can’t see any other horses, she may be either too stressed to eat or burning every calorie she’s taking in worrying about being alone. On the other hand, if she’s at the bottom of the herd pecking order and having to scramble for every morsel of hay and grain, she may be using up valuable energy scrounging for her food.

Once you’ve addressed all these issues, it’s time to experiment with different forages such as alfalfa hay, cubes or pellets; calorie-adding feeds such as beet pulp and rice bran; and specific ingredients like fat and amino acids. Your mare may benefit from digestive support that improves her digestive efficiency, helping her extract the most nutrition possible from what she’s already eating. 

You certainly have your work cut out for you, I hope the “homework” I have provided yields some answers for you!
Question: I have a laminitic, overweight 5-year-old Arabian mare. She is on a sparse paddock 24 hrs/day. She is fed 1 cup of oats with a tablespoon of omega 3, 6, 9 soy oil and a vitamin/mineral supplement twice/day. She also has access to hay for 30 minutes/twice per day. She has lost some weight but, seems to be gaining again. My question is....could I just stop feeding hay to her? I feed the oats as a vehicle for the oil and vitamin/mineral supplements. I am concerned about her emotional state if I were to keep her on a dry lot out of the paddock. I am in the process of building a track to reduce her access to forage but it is taking more time than I had hoped. It seems she is gaining weight on the little stubble in the paddock. It is early spring and warm but she isn't shedding like her dam and has gone into early estrus...this concerns me also. Maybe early estrus is normal for some mares, as I don't know but the oil I give her probably has estrogen in it. Could the oil cause an imbalance?
I’m going to start with your most pressing question first, “could I just stop feeding hay to her?” Absolutely not! Long-stem forage should be the basis or foundation of every horse’s diet, and you should provide a minimum of 1% (preferably 2%) of her body weight each day in high quality roughage. This means weighing your horse AND weighing your hay, two things you should probably be doing anyway, given her health issues. 

Some options for safely feeding hay to the overweight horse are:

1). Have your hay analyzed-- especially for sugar and starch content--then soak if necessary to remove these simple carbohydrates.

2). Offer the hay in a small hole hay net or other device, which slows down her rate of consumption. I would rather see her eating small amounts frequently than be restricted to only 30 minutes twice per day of hay.

A grazing track works for some horses but if your mare is gaining weight just on the stubble in her “sparse” paddock, it may not be the best solution for her. Some owners of tremendously easy keepers have gone as far as to till up grass pastures and even paddocks with a hint of green so that their horses still receive turnout but no access to live plants. A second alternative is to use a grazing muzzle when she is turned out where there’s any grass. A few pony owners have even taped over the hole in the bottom of the muzzle so that their overweight equines don’t get ANY pasture.

I like that you’re feeding a vitamin/mineral supplement but recommend you cut out all grains, including the one cup of oats. Many “multi-vitamins” come in pelleted versions that are so tasty horses eat them right out of your hand like a treat!. However, omega 3 fatty acids are a nice addition to her diet for their support of cell and tissue health. Since you’re concerned about potential unintended effects from the oil, perhaps you could switch to flax seed, chia seed or fish oil so she still benefits from these healthy fats. I hope some of these ideas help you two get on the right track!
Question: I have a mare that has Cushing's disease. She is really sweet and she isn't too bad with Cushing's but definitely has it. I do not have her on pergolide yet, but will probably put her on it in a few years depending on her condition. I am having trouble knowing what to feed her since she is slightly overweight. She appears to have more muscle wasting than anything and therefore looks overweight. I don't know if I should feed her a high protein/low fat or a high fat/ low protein diet.
I’m going to take the liberty of providing medical advice as well as nutritional advice in your situation. My recommendation (with the support of your veterinarian) is to start your mare on pergolide now for her Cushing’s Disease since she’s already showing external signs of the condition, meaning it’s progressed beyond the early stages. By the time you observe hirsutism (long, curly hair), the disease is in the later stages and treatment may not be as effective. Starting her on medication sooner rather than later may slow the progression of the disease and improve her quality of life so I encourage you to rethink your decision to wait.

Now for the nutrition aspect of Cushing’s Disease. From your description, I’m guessing that your mare has developed a pot-bellied appearance that at first glance makes her look overweight but upon closer scrutiny is due to (as you suspect) muscle wasting. As horses lose muscle mass due to the constantly circulating levels of cortisol (stress hormone) that mark this disease, they appear to “sink” in their topline and in their abdomens. Therefore it is not uncommon for a Cushing’s horse to appear swaybacked and have a “hay-belly.”

The next time your veterinarian pulls blood to recheck your mare’s hormone levels associated with the Cushing’s Disease, ask if a serum chemistry can be run at the same time to see how well her kidneys, liver and other systems are working. If everything seems to be in order, then I would not hesitate to put your mare on a high protein/high fat/high fiber diet. Notice that the only category that should NOT be high is sugars and starches, or simple carbohydrates. While horses with Cushing’s Disease may have altered glucose (sugar) metabolism and even insulin resistance, they should have no difficulty digesting and absorbing protein, fat and fiber. Sources for these additional nutrients include alfalfa hay, soybeans or an amino acid supplement; powdered fats or oils with a healthy omega 3 to omega 6 ratio; and complex carbohydrates from high fiber feedstuffs like beet pulp. 

I encourage you to body condition score (and weigh) your mare before gradually adding one of these products at a time to her current diet. Then every two to four weeks rescore and reweigh her to make sure you’re on track.
Question: I've done a lot of reading trying to figure out some issues with my horse. Is it possible for horses to be on a nice balanced diet of hay and pelleted feed and still have deficiencies? For example, my horse gets plenty of hay (as much as he is willing to eat) and the correct amount of high fat pelleted grain by weight daily yet is consistently underweight. He went from being fine about grooming to absolutely hating it over the last couple years. He dislikes being touched, having his blanket put on or removed, as well as anything other than the lightest leg pressure under saddle. He is otherwise quiet under saddle but has these freak outs on the ground where he gets nervous about something then literally starts shaking all over. I have treated him for ulcers a few times with no real results, although he has not been scoped. I've read about magnesium deficiency and wondered if that is possible or if it's just another fad. There is a local place that does hair mineral testing, but I've been told almost all their tests come back with magnesium deficiency and aluminum toxicity. Is this a sign of a missing piece in most equine diets or just a game? I've also read that since magnesium gets low in the blood last that checking those levels is pointless.
And herein lays the difficulty with fortified grain. As you’ve already found out, the calories are tied to the other nutrients (protein, vitamins, and minerals). You’ve weighed out the proper amount of grain to feed your horse based on his age, weight and workload, yet he’s too thin. In this case, your solutions are:

• Feed more of this particular grain, being careful not to give more than 0.5% body weight at any one meal (this may mean adding a third meal like a lunch)

• Gradually switch to a more calorie-dense fortified grain, where the recommended serving size has the same amount of protein, vitamins and minerals but more calories per pound

• Keep this grain but add another source of calories such as alfalfa cubes, beet pulp or rice brain

• Provide a weight gain supplement with calories coming from fat or fiber. Some products in this category also include amino acids like lysine, threonine and methionine to maintain a muscular topline.

And yes, it is entirely possible to provide your horse with the book-recommended levels of nutrients yet--as you’ve seen with calories and his weight--for him not to thrive at these levels. Remember, the NRC Nutrient Requirements of Horses suggests the minimum levels of calories, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals in order to prevent outright disease, not to optimize health and performance. In addition, horses are individuals and while the minimum level of a nutrient might be enough to allow one horse to say, grow healthy feet, this minimum level may not be enough for another horse. Differences in metabolism, digestive efficiency--even management and stress—can all factor in to why some horses thrive on a basic diet and others need additional support.

Your horse’s issues may or may not be nutrition-related. Either way, I encourage you to have your veterinarian out to examine him fully. Once you’ve ruled out physical causes for his change in behavior, at least you’ll feel better about gradually trying different foods and supplements to see if they make a difference. 

As far as the hair mineral analysis, I honestly don’t know what to tell you about that. The scientist in me reads the literature and is skeptical, yet I know some very knowledgeable and experienced horsemen that provide this service or that use it with positive results. So I’m going to let you do some more reading and come to your own conclusions on that one!
Question: I have a VERY easy keeper needing to lose weight going into spring grass. I use a grazing muzzle along with limited grazing and NO grain...any other advice beside more exercise? I am concerned about founder but don't want him in a stall all day?
Horses that seem to gain weight on air can be extremely frustrating to manage for the horse owner, barn manager, veterinarian, farrier . . . no one is spared. It sounds like you’re headed in the right direction though, so I’ll just add a few tips I’ve picked up along the way.

The grazing muzzle is “de rigueur” for any easy keeper being turned out on pasture. However, during the spring while pasture grass is in a fast-growing phase AND your horse needs to lose weight, consider turning him out in a dry lot only and not allowing ANY access to pasture. I agree that stall confinement is not the ideal solution for a number of reasons, so try and find a compromise between pasture and stabling.
In completely removing all grain while trying to reduce their horses’ intake of calories and sugar, some owners have inadvertently created nutrient deficiencies. Provide a complete and balanced diet by introducing either a ration balancer or a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement. Some horses with weight problems have improved with this simple correction to their diet!

Watch treats. An apple or ½ a bag of carrots or handful of molasses treats here and there may not seem like a big deal. However, the calories add up and the sugar may cause his glucose and insulin to spike, worsening any insulin resistance he may have. By the way, has your veterinarian examined him for Equine Metabolic Syndrome?

Research is conflicting, but if your horse is sound, then I advise at least 30 minutes each and every day of some sort of controlled exercise. Since turnout does not equal exercise for these types of horses, it is up to you to design a workout regimen and make him stick to it. You are your horse’s personal trainer. Equine Biggest Loser, here we come!

In addition to a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement, there are products targeted to the metabolic system of your horse. Most contain ingredients that mimic the effects of insulin or are designed to help it work better. Ask your veterinarian if one of these supplements might be appropriate for your horse. Also ask about adding Omega 3 Fatty Acids. While it may seem counter-intuitive to add fat to an already overweight horse, research presented at the AAEP convention showed that omega 3s may help protect against laminitis.

Finally, if your horse is truly diagnosed with insulin resistance and Equine Metabolic Syndrome, ask your veterinarian if the prescription medication Thyro-L might be helpful in accelerating weight loss (and therefore lowering his chances of developing laminitis). Since several studies have shown that this drug lowers body weight and increases insulin sensitivity in overweight horses, it may be a useful conversation to have with your vet.
Question: I purchased a mare approximately 2 1/2 months ago. She came from a bad situation, basically a rescue. She was not starved but thinner than she should be as she was being fed sweet feed (I believe they said 4 quarts a day). Since I have had her, I had her teeth done since they were terrible, dewormed her with ivermectin, allow her as much free-choice hay as possible (I have no grass) along with her grain. I started her with a "complete feed" pellet, approx. 2 1/2 cups (measuring cup) twice a day/ (total=5 cups). Her weight did not change. I also had to wet her feed initially as she ate too fast and would choke, but I no longer do this since I gradually switched her to an extruded pellet that contained glucosamine for her joints. It seemed more rounded a feed type-plus she ate it slower. I fed her the same amount of 5 cups total daily. Now her weight has slowly come up-but in the past week, her manure is getting softer and looser, just short of actual diarrhea. I added probios to her feed for a week with no change. I don't know if it's the feed (the bag is half gone) or something else? I'd hate to switch her again. Any thoughts on this?
My first thought is: thank you for giving this mare a chance! My second thought is: I am not surprised that when you switched from 5 cups of a complete feed to 5 cups of a fortified grain she gained weight. That’s because “complete feed” is an all-in-one product (hay and grain in a bag), so that horses with poor teeth or areas of the country without quality forage can make sure their horses still get enough long-stem roughage in their diets. However, these products are very, very dilute when it comes to calories, protein, vitamins and minerals so you have to feed a lot of them—15, 18 even 20 pounds a day! I’m guessing here (but you need to get out your kitchen scale and actually weigh) but 5 cups of a complete feed is maybe 2 pounds? So she was getting way underfed this particular product. Five cups or two pounds of a fortified grain is closer to the recommend amount, but you still need to weigh the product and follow the instructions on the label for the proper amount to feed her given her age, weight and workload.

If you haven’t had a veterinarian look at her recently, it’s time again. A physical examination—along with bloodwork, a fecal exam or other diagnostic testing--may be able to rule out certain problems or even pinpoint the cause of the loose stool. Your veterinarian will also help you investigate all aspects of your mare’s environment and possibly figure out if something else (a switch in hay, a new turnout buddy, other stress) could be responsible for her change in manure.

Adding a probiotic to her feed was a good idea; give this one a little bit longer then if you still don’t see results, try another product. I’ve found that horses respond very differently to digestive supplements. That is, Brand A may work great in one horse but it does nothing for another horse yet that horse responds great to Brand B. I don’t know if it’s the different species of probiotics, the different amounts, the addition of prebiotics (food for the good bugs), active live yeast, enzymes or something else, but don’t give up on supporting her GI system through her recovery just yet. Best of luck bringing her through this!
Question: My stallion has ulcers every couple of years. What would be a good diet for him? At present he gets good quality alfalfa / grass hay with about one pound of 12% sweet feed daily at 6:30 am and 3:30 pm. All the fresh water he can drink.
To help you with your ulcer-prone horse, here are the recognized risk factors for gastric ulcers in horses:

• Intermittent feed deprivation—not having food in the stomach is such a reliable risk factor for ulcers that researchers withhold food on purpose to induce the condition for studies! 

• Intense exercise—there appears to be an association between the level of exercise intensity and the prevalence of ulcers

• Diet—concentrate (grain) feeding is believed to contribute to the formation and worsening of ulcers

• Stall confinement—could be due to intermittent feeding, lack of contact with other horses, stress, or other reasons

• Transportation—similar to stall confinement, could be a result of decreased food (and water), separation from other horses, or just the stress of being hauled to a new location

• Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)—this class of drugs disturbs the balance of protective vs aggressive factors in the stomach

• Stress--either mental or physical stress could increase the level of cortisol (stress hormone) in the body, which has been shown to shut down protective factors in the stomach

Now that you are familiar with the risk factors for gastric ulcers, what can you specifically do to eliminate or reduce them in your horse? Without knowing what you do with your horse (exercise, trailering, etc) or how you keep him (stall, dry lot, pasture), I will stick to recommendations concerning diet.

Since he’s only getting one pound of sweet feed at his morning and afternoon meals, is it possible just to remove this grain altogether from his feeding regimen? This small amount is not enough to provide him with much nutrition in the way of protein, vitamins and minerals, but it may be enough to aggravate his stomach tissue. Try feeding a ration balancer or multi-vitamin/mineral supplement instead to complete and balance his diet.

I like that you’re feeding some alfalfa hay, as it may result in improvement in both the number and severity of gastric ulcers. Scientists aren’t sure if it’s the high protein, high calcium, or something else about alfalfa that is responsible for this result, but let’s use this forage to our advantage! Probably the best way to reap the benefits of alfalfa is to provide a flake with his meals morning and afternoon, then keep grass hay in front of him all the time so he always has something in his stomach. There are a couple of ways to keep him slowly nibbling around the clock, one is a small hole hay net. Maybe these were introduced to the market for the overweight, easy keepers, but I’ve found them to be super helpful for horses prone to ulcers as a safe method to provide free-choice grass hay without the waste or extra calories.

Finally, ask your veterinarian if a supplement to support stomach health might be a good choice for your horse. From antacids designed to temporarily neutralize stomach acid to amino acids like glutamine to other natural agents like pectin/lecithin, seabuckthorn and aloe, there are a variety of natural ingredients to select from with solid science behind them. Give a product for a month and see if it makes a difference; if not, choose a different one. Best of luck finding a diet, management and supplement program that helps your stallion!
Question: I have an 8-year-old Quarter Horse/Arabian/Mustang mix that weighs about 1000 lbs. My 11 year-old daughter barrel races on him about 1-2 times per week and exercises him another 2 days in the week. We are feeding him a scoop of Healthy Edge in the morning and 1 scoop of Healthy Edge in the evening with 1/2 flake of Alfalfa in the morning and evening with his HE. He has a couple of flakes of Coastal hay at his disposal during the day, but he doesn't really eat it. We are new horse owners, we've had him a couple of years. Over the winter, when my daughter wasn't riding him as often as she usually does, he put on about 100 extra pounds. Our veterinarian recently reduced his grain to 1/2 scoop morning and night and added Platinum Performance to his diet. I'm just wondering what your thoughts are on this?
I think your veterinarian made a good decision in reducing the calories and sugars/starches given to this horse and replacing nutrients with a broad multi-vitamin/mineral supplement. While the particular product he recommended doesn’t account for the differences in vitamins and minerals between grass and alfalfa hay, it probably does an adequate job of filling the gaps between what the NRC Nutrient Requirements of Horses says your horse’s daily requirements are and what he’s getting from a partial serving of grain.

“About 100 extra pounds” is the equivalent of two body condition scores, so if your barrel horse was a 5 on the Henneke Body Condition Scoring scale your vet thinks he’s now a 7 (or if he was a 4, now he’s a 6). Your goal throughout this competition season and into next year’s off-season should be to keep his weight as ideal as possible for his performance and health. So when your daughter has gone to his last show in 2012, begin to gradually wean him down from a full scoop of grain (please weigh this!) and add in the multi-vitamin.

There is one thing that concerns me in your question though, and that is the amount of hay your horse is eating. One half flake of alfalfa morning and night isn’t nearly enough forage to maintain gut health. Are you sure he’s not eating more of the Bermuda Coastal hay than you think? Does he have access to pasture? A 1000lb horse should receive at a minimum 10lbs of hay per day; 20lbs would be an even better amount. I recommend you review the hay situation at your barn to make sure he’s eating somewhere within this range.
Question: I have a 14-year-old Warmblood/ TN Walker cross gelding with good teeth that I cannot get weight on. He moved from VA to CO in October. He then proceeded to go from a BS of 7 to a BS of 4 in 3 months. I have tried the high fat supplements but he will not eat them. He supposedly gets 25lbs of timothy hay per day from the barn where he stays, plus 3 lbs of a complete feed. I have a draft mare of the same size on the same diet and she is very similar BS wise to when she moved out here. I really need him to bulk up fat and muscle wise to get ready for this summer. Any suggestions?
I have to admit after seeing “warmblood/walker cross gelding” in the first sentence, I was surprised to learn that your issue is getting this particular horse to gain weight. Both of these breeds can be “easy keepers” so my first recommendation is to have your veterinarian out to examine each of your horses for medical issues that may be causing a problem. You specifically mention that his teeth are good although it wouldn’t hurt to get a second opinion. Also, how’s your parasite control program? 

While your veterinarian is at the farm, walk him or her through your current feeding regimen. Assess the quality of the hay and grain, weigh the horses’ daily servings, read bag labels, body condition score and estimate weight, examine when and where your horses are each fed, etc. Perhaps together you can identify a problem that could cause them not to be getting the quality or quantity of food you think they’re getting.

If the horses and your feeding program get a clean bill of health, then it’s time to look at ways to add calories to their diet. Let’s start with the hay. It sounds like you’re providing enough forage, since the rule of thumb is 1-2% of body weight. Next, while complete feeds generally contain high quality ingredients that are easily digestible, they are all-in-one products--hay and grain in a bag—and as such are very very dilute when it comes to calories, protein, vitamins and minerals. The full recommended serving for these types of products is in the 15 to 18-pound range, so the 3 pounds you’re providing is actually supplying very little of any of these nutrients. You may want to consider bumping them up to a true fortified grain, not a complete feed.

If adding grain isn’t something you’re keen on doing, other suggestions to add weight to horses include alfalfa (hay, cubes, pellets); beet pulp, and stabilized rice bran. Keep in mind if you do add one of these suggestions to the partial serving of complete feed, you should also consider adding a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement to fill in the gaps. 

You say you’ve tried one fat supplement but there are lots of others out there that your horse might take a liking to so I encourage you to experiment. Also think about a weight gain supplement that not only adds fat but also protein (amino acids) since you said you want to “bulk him up.” 

Finally, your horses sound like excellent candidates for digestive support to help them extract the most out of their current nutrition possible. Ingredients in this category include active live yeast like Saccharomyces cerevisiae, probiotics, prebiotics, enzymes and others.
Question: I have an 8-year-old Paint gelding that is boarded and is receiving one scoop of sweet feed and grass hay. He is ridden 3-5 times/week and given a moderate workout each time. We trail ride in the summer. His body condition is good. He is somewhat hot and I have been reading about using a feed which provides calories in the form of fat, or possibly just using a ration balancer for hot horses. Is this something that you would recommend? What feeds do you recommend for hot horses? Also do you feel that the calming supplements work?
I like your idea of replacing his sweet feed with a ration balancer (or multi-vitamin) for several reasons. First, it doesn’t sound like he’s getting a full serving of this fortified grain for his age, weight and workload. When grain is cut back to reduce calories, nutrients such as protein, vitamins and minerals are also reduced. These can be put back in the diet (without adding calories or sugar) with a ration balancer or multi-vitamin/mineral supplement.

Second, did you know that sweet feed can contain as much as 50% sugars and starches? These simple carbohydrates can cause some horses to be a little “silly.” They are quickly digested or broken down in the stomach and small intestine then absorbed into the blood stream as glucose (blood sugar), leading to a spike in insulin release. Some horses seem to do better when their energy comes either from complex carbohydrates, which are fermented by microorganisms in the cecum and colon or from fat.

As far as calming supplements, you may find you don’t need one after swapping out the sweet feed in his diet. But if you want to try this approach, keep in mind there are two broad categories of calming supplements: nutritional-based and herbal-based. Some horses respond better to the nutrients magnesium, B-vitamins and tryptophan (an amino acid) while other horses are able to normalize their nervous systems with herbs such as valerian, vervain, chamomile, hops, passion flower or others.
Question: In your opinion, what is the best feed combination for a race horse in racing season and during rest period? Should it be different due to the different energy demands? Is there need for supplementation?
Absolutely a race horse should be fed differently during race season than during the off season! Racing constitutes “very heavy work” according to the NRC Nutrient Requirements of Horses and is one of the categories where hay alone cannot meet the horse’s energy or caloric requirements. When a horse is working hard, he needs his diet to become more calorie dense because he needs more calories but is still volume-limited to that 2.5 maybe 3% body weight of feed intake per day. Hard-working horses can get to the point where they need more calories but simply can’t take in any more food so the food they eat needs to have more calories per pound.

With some horses, this can be accommodated by reducing hay and increasing fortified grain. Look for a grain that is specially developed for very active horses or horses in hard work and be sure not to feed more than 0.5% body weight in grain per meal (that’s 5 pounds for a 1000 pound horse). Studies have shown that more than this amount of sugar and starch given at one time overwhelms the stomach and small intestine, winds up in the hindgut, and can cause all sorts of problems like colic and even laminitis. 

Be forewarned, even if you are under the 0.5% per meal limit, many horses are unable to handle such high amounts of sugars and starches from traditional grains. These horses can develop behavioral issues, exertional rhabomyolysis (tying up) or other conditions. In these cases, fat has been shown to be an excellent source of calories! Nowadays there are many choices for adding fat to the diet, whether it’s a grain with a higher percentage fat, a supplement made from rice bran or other high-fat ingredient, 100% powdered fat supplements, or oils. Just keep in mind that all fats are not created equal so try not to imbalance your horse’s omega 3:omega 6 fatty acid ratio with an oil or fat that is loaded with the pro-inflammatory omega 6s (like corn oil). Good luck in the feed room and on the track!
Question: I recently purchased a coming two year old (based on birthday not the Thoroughbred January 1 date) Thoroughbred gelding that had 60 days training to race at 18 months before his owners decided he wasn’t fast enough. He is growing quickly and I am in no hurry to start riding him again as I feel he needs time to develop physically. Nutritionally, what should his diet consist of for optium growth and health?
Congratulations on your new horse! And cheers for giving him the time, space and nutrition to mature properly. According to my favorite book, the NRC Nutrient Requirements of Horses, horses 24 months of age and younger are considered “growing animals” and have additional daily nutrient requirements than adult horses in maintenance. 

Specifically, they need more energy (calories), protein (especially the limiting amino acid lysine), and certain vitamins and minerals like Vitamin D and iron. Since the amount and ratio of all these nutrients are both important—as well as knowing the body condition score and approximate weight of your growing horse—I recommend you speak with your veterinarian or a local equine nutritionist to develop the most appropriate feeding regimen for him during these formative years. 

They’ll likely recommend a combination of high quality mixed grass and alfalfa hay along with a fortified grain that is specifically designed to be fed to young horses because of the high density or concentration of nutrients it supplies. Don’t forget to topdress with salt; provide clean, fresh water; and allow plenty of turnout. Access to fresh grass is a plus!
Question: We have a 6-month-old foal that we got at Christmas time. Her mother died at birth and she was put on a neighbor's mare. The mare was bred when her foal and the orphaned foal were about 3.5 to 4 months old so they'd only been eating hay about a week when we got them. The orphaned foal (Halley) recently has had swollen back ankles. We were told to reduce her grain. We had been giving them hay and grain in the morning, but stopped the grain altogether. Can you tell me what we should be feeding our two foals to provide them with the best nutrition and maybe an idea of what could be going on with her ankles? They actually look much better in the last week and most of the swelling is gone. However, she sometimes will stands on her toe.
First, have your veterinarian out to examine Halley and determine what’s going on with her back ankles. It’s important to have an accurate diagnosis so that the appropriate treatment (which may include an adjustment to her diet) can be started as soon as possible. It would be a shame if this issue caused a lifelong soundness problem that causes her discomfort and potentially keeps her from being a fun riding horse for you to enjoy.

Feeding foals can be a delicate business, especially when you’re saddled with her history of being an orphaned foal. Show your veterinarian what and how much you’re feeding, and ask if there’s an equine nutritionist you can be put in touch with to help review her diet and make nutrition suggestions. I also recommend you read the AAEP article: Feeding Young Horses: It’s not the Protein! ( I wrote this with Dr. Sarah Ralston a few years ago and it does a pretty good job of laying out the issues and setting feeding guidelines for youngsters.
Question: We own a 5-year-old Thoroughbred and he is not picky about what he eats. His weight is good and he is in good condition. We feed him regular old grain and hay. We also have him on Platinum Performance. I have read many articles about grain, and it’s not good for horses. What should I look for when picking out what is good grain? (I need a simple way to check what to look for in grain). Is it better to cut back on the grain and feed more hay? Is there something better to feed him other than the grain?
I love your phrase “regular old grain and hay” like there’s fancy stuff out there your horse is missing out on! Consider yourself lucky that you have a horse in good weight. That means you don’t have to go to great lengths to add or subtract calories in his diet. Now you can just focus on providing high quality hay, the most important part of his diet, and completing and balancing things with fortified grain, if necessary, or a ration balancer or multi-vitamin/mineral supplement.

AAEP has a wonderful brochure called “Hay Quality and Horse Nutrition: Evaluating your horse’s nutritional needs” ( There’s also an article on their website called “10 Tips for Choosing the Best Hay for Your Horse” ( I encourage you to check out both these resources to make sure his forage is top-notch. 

The second part of your homework is to weigh your horse’s current serving of grain. If it’s less than what’s recommended on the bag for his age, weight and workload, then you should (gradually) switch to a ration balancer or multi-vitamin. In an attempt to cut down on his calories to keep him at his current weight, you’ve also inadvertently cut down on his vitamins and minerals. Better to feed the recommended amount of the appropriate product than a portion of the wrong product. Other than the sugars and starches in most grains that most horses don’t need or do well on, to me the biggest problem feeding fortified grain is that hardly anyone does it right, not that there’s some mysterious quality issue. Know what you’re feeding and why (and how much) and your horse will thank you!
Question: I have a 7-year-old Haflinger mare that is ridden pleasure. I'm concerned that she is receiving adequate nutrition requirements without over feeding. Currently she's on a hay based diet with a gastric supplement and a joint supplement fed daily. She receives soaked alfalfa cubes daily in order to add supplements to her diet. She has a history of colic including surgery and a bout of colitis, which landed her in the hospital for 10 days. Her feed includes Triple Crown Light fed daily (approximately 1-2 lbs / day).
Sorry to hear about your mare’s mishaps—colic, surgery and colitis. Fortunately, her diet, based on hay supplemented with the correct amount of a pelleted concentrate and supported with a handful of alfalfa cubes sounds very appropriate. With the stress your mare has been under, a gastric (stomach) supplement is not a bad idea, although given her history of hindgut or large intestine issues, you may want to consider a digestive supplement to provide ingredients targeted for the tissues, environment and special needs of the cecum and colon.

Ingredients to look for include:
• probiotics (direct fed microorganisms or bacteria such as Lactobacillus, Enterococcus and Bifidobacterium)
• prebiotics (soluble fibers like MOS, FOS, arabinogalactan, inulin and even psyllium)
• digestive enzymes (amylase, lipase, protease)
• active live yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae and boulardii)
• amino acids (glutamine, glycine, threonine)
• herbs (turmeric, ginger, licorice)
• hindgut buffers

Many of these have research supporting their use in maintaining a normal, healthy hindgut so I encourage you to check them out. Sounds like you’re on the right track though—keep up the good work!
Question: I have a mare that is due to foal in approximately a month (4/24/2012) and she has turned up extremely thin since she is 17.2hh and weighs 628kgs. At this late stage of pregnancy, she would be a condition score of two! She has had adlib haylage all winter but has obviously lost condition. I have dewormed her and had her teeth checked, she has also had bloodwork done, which came back clear of any major problems. I would like your advice on the safe way to feed her so she puts on condition without putting her or the foal at risk. Currently she is getting 4kgs of Stud Nuts (dodson and horrel) and 2kgs of sugar beet with oil spread over 4 feeds throughout the day.
From some of the information in your question, I gather you’re not from around these parts (the US). But, horses are horses, and even though you may have access to different feedstuffs in your neck of the world, hopefully I can provide you with some helpful advice.

That’s great that you’ve already had your veterinarian out to examine her for health issues, check her teeth, deworm, etc. That’s step one. Step two is evaluating her current diet for gaps or places where you can step in and make improvements. Let’s start with her weight. For us Americans, 628kg is about 1380lbs and you say she’s a body condition score of 2. Most veterinarians will tell you a mare about to foal should be a 5 or even a 6 on the Henneke scale, and since each number corresponds to something like 50lbs, she needs to gain 150 to 200lbs. She’s not going to do that in one month. However, maybe we can think of something that can stop the weight loss associated with this pregnancy and help her prepare for the even heavier demands on her system that lactation (nursing) will demand.

For those unfamiliar with haylage, also known as high dry matter grass silage, it is chopped forage that is then ensiled or fermented. One concern with feeding horses silage has always been contamination, especially with botulism, but modern techniques have reduced that risk making haylage a palatable, nutritious source of feed for horses. In fact, given how tasty and nutrient-dense haylage is, I’m surprised your mare isn’t holding weight on. But, that’s horses.

I had never heard of “Stud Nuts” before, and was pleasantly surprised when I Googled it and found it to be “a high energy, high protein nut for pregnant and lactating mare, foals, yearling and stallions. Minerals and vitamins are included to a high specification and live yeast is added for its beneficial effects on digestion, diet utilization and coat and body condition.” My next recommendation was going to be to try adding active live yeast—like the Saccharomyces cerevisiae found in Yea-Sacc—to her diet for its positive effects on nutrient digestibility and weight gain. In one study, pregnant mares fed 20g live yeast 4 weeks prior to foaling had improved digestibility of dietary energy, protein and fiber resulting in greater milk production and improved foal growth. Since your grain already contains yeast, perhaps reaching for a digestive supplement with probiotics and prebiotics is a reasonable next option.

The beet pulp is a good choice, with the 2kg you’re giving equivalent to about 4.4lbs. Oil or fat is also a good solution for increasing calories in the diet—could you give her more? And I like that you’re spreading her meals out into four feedings throughout the day because that fetus is taking up a lot of room in her abdomen making her unable to eat large quantities at one time. 

Without changing her diet too much at this late stage, maybe she would do better with the addition of pasture grass, a mix of grass and alfalfa hays, or hay cubes or pellets. She may just be one of those mares that needs more variety in her roughage so I encourage you to gradually explore these other feedstuffs. I admit I’m a bit stumped as to why you’re doing everything right but your mare is so thin, all I can say is keep food in front of her all the time (that she’s interested in eating) and try to increase the caloric density of the different foods in her diet.
Question: I am in Pennsylvania and have a 6-year-old, 16.2 h., athletic, Percheron x Paint/TB mare (Kit) that is an extremely easy keeper. I have had Kit for a little over a year but due to my current time constraints and the fact that she is boarded 25 miles away, I have trouble getting there consistently and thus, she is receiving very little organized exercise. She is turned out 23 hrs/day in rotated lush grassy (seasonal) pastures w/ access to the barn and plenty of water at all times. The boarding stable feeds a sweet feed of which she gets about 1 cup and a few (light) flakes of homegrown grass hay 2x/day. She has lost a little bit of weight this winter since grazing is nonexistent, but she still maintains a body score of 6.5 or 7. I was thinking of replacing her minimal sweet feed ration with a fortified ration balancer to ensure she gets her proper nutrients but I understand mares can be hormonally sensitive to soy products, and most RBs derive their protein from soy. She also gets a moderately severe case of midline dermatitis during fly season and becomes extremely itchy on her belly, mane and tail. I used a type of bug spray last year and it improved her condition until July/August when it just didn't seem to work anymore even though her environment is kept consistently clean. I'm concerned for both Kit's nutrition and immune function. Can you shed some light and/or make a recommendation on what I should feed her and how I can better control her fly hypersensitivity? Kit and I both thank you!
It sounds like you’ve put a lot of thought into your mare’s health and nutrition and I commend you for that! I also commend you for finding a place that keeps her turned out 23 hours per day. That’s so healthy and natural for horses! Unfortunately, at a body condition score of 6.5 to 7 after losing weight this winter she may need to wear a new piece of “jewelry” before getting turned out on pasture this spring: a grazing muzzle. Trust me, this does not make you a horrible owner and she will not hate you—my own horse wears a grazing muzzle from April to November. It allows him to be turned out with his herd all day long while not gaining weight or risking laminitis.

Since she is a little above the ideal of “5” on the BCS chart, I agree with your decision to replace the unnecessary, token amount of sweet feed in her diet with a ration balancer. I am not familiar with mares being sensitive to soy but if this is a concern of yours, either try and find a ration balancer that does not contain soy as an ingredient or go with a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement instead. It is fairly easy to find a “multi-vitamin” that completes and balances a predominantly grass or alfalfa diet and that is in a tasty pellet form so she’ll still eat it readily.

As to your final question, midline dermatitis, some studies have shown that horses supplemented with Omega 3 fatty acids have a reduced response to allergic skin disorders. Significant amounts of Omega 3s are found in flax seed, chia seed and fish oil, and there are several quality products on the market that provide stabilized sources of these ingredients. The level of Omega 3 fatty acids required to support cells and tissues is much smaller than the level required to provide additional calories (e.g. what a hard keeper or senior horse needs) so adding these healthy fats should have no impact on her overall weight. I hope you find one that works!
Question: I have two horses that are very easy keepers, even through the winter. I actually feed one cup twice a day with good quality hay. Is there anything else that I need to give them? I trail ride once or twice a week.
Thanks for your question. I find myself asking: you feed one cup of what? If you’re giving your two easy keepers one cup of a ration balancer, you may be spot on with their diets. Ration balancers are concentrated products that contain protein, vitamins and minerals designed to complete and balance either a predominantly grass or grass hay diet or a predominantly alfalfa hay diet. 

For horses in light work like yours, the low end of the recommended feeding level—one pound per day--may be sufficient. However, make sure you’re actually feeding one pound by weighing it on a kitchen scale or fish scale, then marking your daily scoop for one pound of this particular product. Since the best way to feed horses is by weight, not by volume, weighing it out the first time you feed a ration balancer (or fortified grain or complete feed) ensures you’re feeding the proper amount. 

Also, if your hay is of high quality, your horses may not actually need the protein from a ration balancer so a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement fed at the rate of 1-2 ounces may be just the ticket. Since many of these now come in tasty pellet form, you won’t need to add any sweet feed or oats to mix them in so that your horses eat them. A multi-vitamin would also be a good choice if it turns out you’re only feeding 1 cup of a fortified grain or complete feed. These types of products complete and balance the diet only if fed at the levels recommended on the bag, which range from 3-6 pounds for a fortified grain to 15-18 pounds for a complete feed. Only feeding 1 cup of a product like this hardly supplies your horses with any vitamins and minerals so you would want to bridge the gap with a multi-vitamin. Happy trails!
Question: What would you recommend grain/hay and or probiotics for a 15-year-old mare that has tied up before, ulcered and just had colic surgery as her intestines were impacted with corn cob bedding? Her manure is still cow patty form and we are planning to bring her home the week of March 3rd.
As someone whose own horse had (successful!) colic surgery, I’m sorry to hear that your mare had to undergo this. It’s very stressful for both the horse and the owner. While I commend you for seeking outside nutritional advice, it’s really important in situations like this to follow the discharging hospital’s instructions as far as diet, turnout, incision care and other management. They have the best working knowledge of your mare’s health status and should be able to design a feeding, exercise and care regimen to promote recovery.

Introducing food to a horse after colic surgery can be a delicate process, more so in your case because your mare has some other conditions (ulcers and tying up) that probably do better with specialized nutrition. In general though, the goals are to restore your horse’s normal intestinal function and promote tissue healing while not triggering an ulcer, an episode of tying up or further digestive problems. 

It’s important to get the intestine moving but since food was withheld because of colic and surgery, this has to be done slowly and with high-quality, easily digestible foods. Many surgeons recommend short bouts (10-15 minutes) of hand grazing fresh grass several times a day. This provides your horse with forage of high water content. Small, frequent hay meals are also suggested, and the hay can even be soaked or at least wetted to add water to the bowels and soften this all-important roughage. Other types of forage to consider adding gradually to the diet include hay cubes, hay pellets and hay stretcher. Beet pulp is an excellent source of nutrition—falling somewhere between hays and grains—with fiber that is fermented by the good bugs of your horse’s hindgut, but if your horse isn’t used to it then now may not be the time to introduce a new food. Even if your horse is used to getting some grain in his diet, you may want to wait before starting back up with it. Forage is your horse’s friend right now!

Several supplement ingredients come to mind that may support normal healing of the GI tract, replenish the good bugs, and assist in digestion of starches and fiber, but talk to the veterinary surgeon before adding anything. Specifically, ask if amino acids like glutamine to help repair intestinal cells, probiotics (beneficial bacteria), prebiotics (food for the beneficial bacteria), active live yeast like Saccharomyces cerevisiae, enzymes like amylase, and other ingredients might be useful in your mare’s recovery. Best of luck bringing her back to health!