Feeding the Easy Keeper

Here’s how your hoof-care clients can feed these horses conservatively, without robbing them of essential nutrients

Every farrier knows a few: those cresty-necked, peach-rumped pasture potatoes whose spines disappear into dimpled grooves along their backs, even though their owners swear they feed them nothing.

Lots of breeds — Morgans, Canadians, Haflingers and virtually all of the pony breeds — have a tendency to be easy keepers. They can be a challenge for your hoof-care clients to properly maintain.

Horses are nomadic grazing animals, designed to take in forage at an almost-constant rate for up to 16 hours a day. So what we interpret as greed is simply a natural and constant hunger, which is genetically programmed into all equines. But some horses are better at satisfying their hunger than others.

The easy keepers are also programmed to make more efficient use of their food than others. Having originated under harsh, inhospitable conditions, their DNA is still telling them that the food supply might run out at any moment, so their metabolisms store calories and energy as if an Ice Age might be imminent.

We all like to see horses in good flesh, but too much of a good thing is neither attractive nor healthy. Feeding an easy keeper requires a delicate balance since it can be difficult to ensure a good nutrient profile in a restricted diet. However, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that many easy keepers are in fact struggling with metabolic disorders such as insulin resistance.

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Karen Briggs

As an equine nutritionist, Karen Briggs researched, designed and marketed a line of premium quality feeds for performance, pleasure and breeding horses. She’s also offered nutritional and ration balancing information to horse owners throughout Ontario. Located in Puslinch, Ontario, the award-winning equine writer is also a Canadian Equestrian Federal certified-riding instructor and has managed several Canadian farms and riding schools.

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