Monday, April 12, 2010

Feeding the Problem Horse (Book Excerpt) - Full Article

by: Heather Smith Thomas
March 08 2006, Article # 6678

Some horses present special challenges, such as being too thin, too fat, or sick. Some horses are finicky and are hard to keep weight on, especially when working. The first option is to increase the feed's energy density by adding grain or fat to the diet. Weight loss in spite of plentiful feed may be a sign the horse is being overconditioned.

Increasing good roughage or adding nutrient-rich legume hay can usually help the thin, idle horse or one doing moderate work. A hard-working horse, however, will not tolerate the extra protein some feeds (such as alfalfa) provide, with heat produced during digestion. A better choice might be rehydrated beet pulp, with its highly digestible fiber, low protein, low vitamin-mineral content (unlikely to upset the diet's mineral balance), and palatability. Unlike grain, it is safe to feed in relatively large quantities and can be added to a grain ration to give greater digestibility. For horses that just pick at hay, beet pulp often can be a good substitute for part of it.

The hard-working horse cannot eat enough roughage to supply his needs, particularly if he is finicky, tired, or dehydrated. If a horse won't eat enough hay, he can usually be tempted with something more lush and palatable, such as fresh green grass, or rehydrated beet pulp. A tired, dehydrated horse often will eat green grass when he won't touch anything else. You can also soak a flake of hay in water.

The fat horse needs less calories and/or more work. When cutting down his nutrients, however, don't cut down the total amount of feed or he will look for something else to chew on. Cut down the quality of his ration rather than the quantity. A mature thousand-pound horse still needs about twenty pounds of feed to meet his dry matter requirements, and if you cut him back to fifteen pounds he will start eating the fences or bedding. Feed him clean grass hay (no grain), cut mature enough to be low in nutrients.

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