Feeding the good doer can be a lot harder and more challenging than feeding a skinny horse! Two things are vital for a horse: plenty of bulk, provided by fibre from forage; and protein, that is the building block of all the organs, muscles, blood, and even bone.
The chubby horse does not need too many calories but does need plenty of bulk to keep the guts functioning correctly, to avoid stress associated with hunger and to satisfy the need to eat. If a horse goes longer than two hours without eating, the risk of ulcers increases. More than four hours, and gut health and that of the important gut microbes is compromised. We suggest that the total intake of forage be not less than 2% of target weight.
Soaking hay for an hour or two can remove some nutrients but if you can find hay that was first cut from mid-July onwards, it will naturally be higher in fibre and will take longer to eat as well. Double net it and if possible, tie the nets behind boards across the corner of the stable so he can be fed at a low level. Tie the nets inside a hay bar as an alternative. Dividing the hay into two lots on opposite sides of the stable will make it last longer than if it is all in one place.
Use a high fibre, additive free chop/chaff to replace some of the hay and add variety. Although it has low feed value, we do not recommend feeding straw as it is prone to fungal infections, may have agrochemical residues and many horses show sensitivity to cereal straws.
Avoid any foods with significant levels of sugar or starch – read ingredient lists very carefully and avoid molasses, wheatfeed, soya, peas and so on, even if the bag wording suggests that the contents may be suitable. Apples, carrots, parsnips, polos and sugar lumps as well as most treats are also on the forbidden list!
A small forage-based feed directly before work will encourage the horse to work better as he will not be so hungry and lining the stomach with forage will make it more comfortable and protect against ulcers. While he is very overweight, make this as low calorie as possible. Often pellets, including our own brand low calorie Lucie Fibre Cubes can also be offered in a feeding ball that will encourage the horse to exercise as he eats.
A balancer is important to provide essential omega 3 and top up on minerals, trace elements and vitamins. The inclusion of yeast helps ensure healthy microbes. If things have gone wrong and laminitis is a worry or the risks of it have increased – perhaps there is a hard crest or fat pads – then use something such as our own MetaSlim.
Make the most of turn out but this may have to be restricted to a track around the edge of the field or a long, narrow area – small squares limit movement. Company is important as that will enable play behaviour and avoid stress. Never rug an overweight horse or pony – rugs keep calories in! When stabled, use the biggest stable possible to encourage as much movement as possible. Make sure all horses have free access to a plain salt lick. While the horse is very heavy, avoid fast work as this can cause strain but lengthy spells of steady work are good. If your overweight horse seems unwell or unsound, consult your vet.
Jane van Lennep, B.Sc., M.Sc., B.H.S.I.(S.M.Cert.) N.P.S.D.
Director of Nutrition, Simple System Horse Feeds (UK)