My Horse Has Lost Weight!

My horse has lost weight – what can I do? 

Whether your horse is underweight, overweight or just right, it is important to evaluate his condition through the changing seasons, advancing age or during environmental changes (such as drought or extreme cold). Addressing unwanted fluctuations before they become potential health risks is vital to maintaining optimal body weight. You can monitor your horse’s weight with a weight tape or by using body condition scoring. 

Evaluate why your horse has lost weight.

If your horse has lost weight, it is important to assess why. The first factor that should be checked when assessing causes for weigh loss is the condition of their teeth. Poor worming regimes can also lead to weight loss regardless of what or how much you are feeding. Parasites may compete directly for nutrients inside the digestive tract. They may also cause damage to the intestinal lining, making it difficult to absorb nutrients. Stress can also contribute to weight loss. If your horse is a chronic box walker, weaver or fence runner, he is burning calories needlessly all day long. High grain, low roughage diets can also cause stress as a result of gastric ulcers that are painful to the horse and may discourage him from eating. Disease or illness can also interfere with weigh gain either by decreasing the horse’s appetite or by directly affecting nutrient absorption within the digestive tract. Simply not feeding enough fibre or concentrates whilst exercising your horse hard will contribute to your horse looking less than his best. 

If all of these factors can be eliminated and your horse is still not putting on weight, the next step is to evaluate the energy in your horse’s diet, which is derived from three sources: fibre, carbohydrates and fat.  

Evaluate your horse’s diet. 

Fibre: Increasing the amount and quality of fibre the horse is receiving should be the first dietary change made, followed by increasing the energy density of the concentrate portion of the ration. Of the three major energy sources for the horse, fibre, which is the major component of pasture and hay, is the most important. However, there are fibre sources with higher energy content and better digestibility than others. So, choose your fibre source and the quality of your fibre wisely. Similarly, when the quality of your pasture drops off in winter, it would then be necessary to choose better quality forage or supplement your grazing with a high-quality forage option. 

Carbohydrates: Specifically, sugar and starch in the form of grains in concentrates have been the most traditional method of increasing the energy density of the diet. While grain is a concentrated source of energy for the horse, there are some complications with feeding large quantities. The small intestine can easily become overloaded with sugar and starch resulting in an overflow to the large intestine. This can lead to gas colic, colonic ulcers and even laminitis. Unfortunately, if too much grain is fed and the delicate microbial population in the large intestine gets disturbed, most horses will lose their appetite and the situation worsens. Care should be taken not to feed any more than 2kg of grain or concentrates in a single meal. When large amounts of concentrates are fed it should be divided equally over 3 or more meals throughout the day. Extruded or rolled grain is more easily digestible than whole grains. 

Fats: Fat supplementation has many benefits including providing calories for weight gain and providing essential fatty acids to improve skin and coat condition. Fat is an excellent, highly concentrated energy source, and a high fat diet is an invaluable tool for achieving weight gain in a skinny horse as long as the gastrointestinal tract of the horse will tolerate the fat. When choosing a source of fat to supplement your horse’s diet, it is important to choose oil that provides the correct ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6’s. 

Evaluate your feeding schedule.

  • Make all changes to your horse’s diet gradually

  • Feed little and often

  • Quality and source of your protein is more important than quantity

  • Feed each horse as an individual

  • Alleviate stress at dinner time – no fighting for feed and feed at regular times 

Choose the best for your horse. 

At Spurwing Horse Feeds, we are passionate about feeding your horse. The Cape’s finest lucerne and oat hay, cut to optimal length provides excellent fibre sources in our rations. We make use of extruded full fat soya to provide an outstanding source of fat in our feeds, while still maintaining a good balance of Omega’s 3 & 6. Additionally, we extrude maize for our grain-inclusive rations, thereby increasing the digestibility and palatability. Our Lucerne Conditioner Mix and Hay Presto are brilliant forage supplements and are good for adding extra condition and shine, while ensuring a healthy ulcer-free gut. Spurwing Energy Supplement is a blend of extruded maize and extruded full fat soya, and is a useful tool in helping a horse gain extra weight. In addition to these supplements, our range of grain-free and grain-inclusive rations are high in fat and fibre, with an outstanding vitamin and mineral content to ensure your horse has everything he needs to look his best.