Hoof Nutrition IntelligenceHoof Nutrition Intelligence is a twice-a-month website feature that zeroes in on specific areas of hoof nutrition. Below you will find the latest question-and-answer installments you can share with horse owners.

Below you will find Part 2 of the latest question and answer installment that you can share with your footcare clients.

Q: The veterinarian says one of my horses needs to put on a few more pounds. Any suggestions on how best to do this?

By Kentucky Equine Research staff

A full measure of patience comes in handy when you are looking for ways to best nourish skinny horses. If patience is not a virtue of yours, tick off this to-do list to make sure you’re doing everything you can from a nutritional perspective.

1. Get a grip on overall health

Certain health problems make weight gain challenging, even under the best of circumstances. A veterinarian or equine dental specialist should examine the horse’s mouth to ensure no dental anomalies are causing pain or malocclusion, which could make grinding feed difficult. A fecal egg count will determine if parasites have invaded the gastrointestinal tract, robbing valuable nutrients from the horse. 

Endoscopic examination of the stomach would reveal gastric ulceration, a common condition among horses with limited feed intake. If budgetary constraints preclude endoscopic examination, a veterinarian can treat for ulcers with a course of omeprazole, and stomach and hindgut health can be maintained.

2. Value forage

Providing good-quality forage is the first step in designing a ration for a skinny horse. Full turnout on lush pasture is still a time-honored weight-gain strategy. Care must be taken to accustom a horse slowly to lush pasture if it was not in the field during the spring green-up. 

If good-quality pasture is unavailable, the next best bet is to choose an early-maturing legume hay, one that has soft, pliable stems and an abundance of leaves. Such a hay typically contains more calories per mouthful than good-quality grass hay. Unsure about hay quality? Get your hay analyzed for nutrient composition. Geography plays a part in hay selection, so choose high-quality hay that’s easily accessible. Give horses as much hay as they will eat, as a constant flow of forage through the gastrointestinal tract will keep it healthy.

3. Opt for a high-calorie concentrate

To achieve weight gain, it makes the most sense to select a high-calorie concentrate, preferably one that provides energy from a variety of sources such as starch, fat and fermentable fiber. Many performance feeds contain this medley of energy sources — usually in the form of cereal grains, vegetable oil, beet pulp and soybean hulls — as do some feeds marketed especially for senior horses. 

Choose a feed formulated by a dependable company. Be sure the feed contains a complete vitamin and mineral profile. If the horse is young, go for a feed intended for growing horses, and feed in moderation. Underweight young horses fed an avalanche of energy are susceptible to growth problems, including contracted tendons and physitis. 

Manufacturers provide recommended intake rates on feed bags; underweight horses might have to be fed at the top end of these recommendations. Keep individual meals at less than 5 pounds. If necessary, divide the daily allowance into two or three meals.

4. Supplement savvy

High-calorie feedstuffs can be topdressed to increase energy density. The most common ones are vegetable oil and stabilized rice bran. Corn oil provides calories, but offers too many omega-6 fatty acids, especially when fed in combination with a high-grain diet. Soy and canola oil are two sensible alternatives. 

Aside from weight-gain supplements, a hindgut buffer will keep the cecum and colon healthy, particularly when large quantities of grain and lush pasture are consumed. 

5. Remember to be patient

The effects of a weight-gain diet will reveal themselves in time, but don’t expect immediate gratification. Think about weight gain this way: not only must enough energy be supplied to fuel day-to-day activities, but there must be ample surplus to build tissue.

Located in Versailles, Ky., Kentucky Equine Research is an international research, consulting and product development firm working in the areas of equine nutrition and sports nutrition.

Hoof Nutrition Intelligence is brought to you by W.F. Young Co. (Absorbine). Absorbine

Like many significant achievements, Absorbine® grew out of humble beginnings—and through the tenacity of someone willing to question the status quo. In this case, it was a young woman in late 19th-century Massachusetts: Mary Ida Young. Her husband, Wilbur Fenelon Young, was an enterprising piano deliveryman who relied on the couple’s team of horses to make deliveries throughout the Northeast. Inspired by Mary Ida and Wilbur’s vision, Absorbine® has continued to add innovative products throughout the years — products used every day by horse owners around the world. Which is why, since 1892, we’ve been The Horse World’s Most Trusted Name®.

Click here to read Part 2 of the February 1, 2017 installment: I’ve been feeding a hoof supplement for 3 months, but haven’t seen any noticeable improvement in the quality of the feet with my three horses. How do I know if the hoof supplement is working?

Click here to read more installments of Hoof Nutrition Intelligence.