The topic that seems to come up the most in every horse discipline is feeding. People are always asking how to put weight on their old horse or hard keeper. With the unlimited amount of supplement and feed companies out there, you can find an endless list of articles and advice on how to feed horses. If you ask ten different people what to feed your horse, you’ll get ten different answers.
There have been many times that I’ve run across a skinny older horse whose ribs showed and the response has been, “Well, he’s just old and won’t keep weight.” The owners have bought into the misconception that once a horse gets over the age of 20 they’re going to be skinny. While that may be true for some ancient horses, and by ancient I mean over the age of 30, that’s not necessarily true for all. I have seen too many fat and sassy old horses to know better!
It is true that as horses age, factors like tooth loose and a decreased ability to digest foods impacts how well they keep their weight. But it doesn’t mean that the impact is so big that they can’t maintain a healthy weight. What makes the determination of whether or not an old horse, or a hard keeper, maintains their weight is simply management.
Quite frankly, one of the biggest reasons I’ve found that keeps old horses or hard keepers from gaining weight is simply that they’re not being fed enough. The next reason is that they’re not being fed a good enough quality forage.
When you ask owners how much does your horse weigh, how many pounds of feed and how many pounds of hay do you feed your horse, many simply don’t know. They can tell you what volume they feed, but they don’t know what that volume actually weighs. When they put a weight tape on their horse and then actually weigh their feed and hay, they often find that they are feeding a good bit less than what they think they are.
So rule number one in feeding the hard keeper and old horse is know your horse’s weight and actually weigh your feed and your hay. By the way, a 3 quart scoop of Equine Senior weighs 3.8 pounds on a postal scale – and not all feeds will weigh the same!
Since we’re talking about pounds, the average horse requires a minimum of 1-1.5% of their body weight in forage sources per day. That means that a thousand pound horse needs at least 10 to 15 pounds of hay per day. Most hard keepers will require around 2% or 20 pounds of hay per day. Keep in mind these totals do not include feed, only forage or hay.
If you’re feeding an older horse with teeth problems that can’t chew, many Senior feeds are formulated to be at least a partial replacement for hay. Be sure to verify if your senior feed is a Complete Feed.There’s also other options such as Chaffhaye , cubes and beet pulp, and chopped hay that provide high quality sources of forage for horses that can’t chew well.
In order to keep weight on an average horse, a decent amount of excellent quality forage is still required. When feeding an older horse or a hard keeper, feeding at least some top quality hay is critical to maintaining their weight. Personally, I’ve never seen a hard keeper that could keep weight on just hay but good hay or forage does play a crucial role in their feed program in order to maintain a certain level of weight and condition. Without it, it’s impossible to keep the pounds on.
The bottom line is that you can’t feed a minimum amount of feed and mediocre hay and keep weight on your hard keeper or your older horse. You also can’t just add a supplement or just change feeds and watch the pounds miraculously appear. It takes making sure your horse gets enough poundage, not just volume, of good quality feed and hay — and that’s after you’ve made sure they’re on a good worming program, their teeth have been floated, and they don’t have any other underlying health issues.
Do you have a hard keeper or an old horse that’s in excellent condition? What do you do to keep them at a good weight?
Here’s a picture of my 23-year-old Appendix horse that I’ve had since he was 3 years old. He’s on 3 pounds of Chaffhaye , 1.5 pounds each of alfalfa cubes and beet pulp (soaked!), 10 pounds of mix fescue grass hay,7 pounds of Strategy feed, and a cup of rice bran and flax seed. He weighs 1250 pounds.