Feeding the showhorse/improving muscle tone with feed? (Pics included)
I grew up with a coach whose opinion was that if you have good quality hay, your horse shouldn't need grain/supplements to flourish. I've never been at a barn or with a coach who has been really pro-grain/supplements, so I'm a bit lost with this whole concept. I do realize that "you are what you eat" but I'm completely in the dark when it comes to feeding horses anything other than good hay and grain as a treat more than anything else.
So, on to my question:
Someone said that Ronan looks like he's still lacking in topline despite all my work to improve it, and asked whether or not he's getting enough protein.
To be 110% honest - I haven't the foggiest clue. I rely on my coach/BO to purchase good quality hay, and I feed him beet pulp, complete feed and milled flax seed on the days I ride (5 days/week). I've been working very hard to get Ronan to use his back correctly, and he's improved quite a bit but the results just aren't where I feel they should be, if that makes sense? He's in work 5 days a week and I feel that it doesn't really show.
How do you feed the show horse? What do you feed for improving topline/muscle?
A few things specific to Ro:
- He's been clipped 4 times this winter. He grows hair like there's no tomorrow, or rather like we're going into an ice age. Before his last clip, he grew these weird, long, coarse hairs. His coat in the summer was gorgeous... this winter he's grown the thickest coat I've seen in a LONG time.
- He's very quiet and calm, which is great... but also dead-sided and extremely lazy under saddle.
- He's very touch sensitive, and his coat rubs very easily during shedding season - to the point I have to be careful of my heels as they'll rub him raw.
Any and all advice is greatly appreciated. I'll upload some photos from recently and the summer.
When I bought him, late May 2012:
I don't know much about this, but I have heard good things about Tri-Amino and am starting my boy on a half-dose of it (in addition to his multi vit/min) to see if it helps with his topline.
You can't improve muscle development or tone with feed. That only comes with the right kind of work. If it worked any other way, all the gyms would be out of business and everyone would be eating their way to fitness. :D Having said that, nutrition does, of course, play a very important role in being able to develop muscles.
I would recommend you do two things:
1) Have your vet run some blood tests on your horse. Changes in the horse's coat is usually a sign of an underlying problem such as inadequate nutrition (perhaps lacking some vitamins or minerals) or a metabolic disorder.
2) Have an equine nutritionist come and assess your horse and his nutritional needs. It's a good way to learn more about proper feeding of horses.
Does the barn manager or owner have a nutritional analysis done on the hay? The quality of the nutrients (particularly protein and sugar content) in the hay vary depending on weather conditions where it was grown, the quality of the soil, when it was cut (how mature the hay was), and even how long it was down before it was baled.
Horses have a very sensitive digestive system and should have the same feed every day. Your horse looks to be on the thin side to me (can see his ribs in most of the pictures) so either he is not getting enough food or enough nutrients for the amount of work he is doing. Even with plenty of good quality food, if there is an underlying medical or physical condition (like a problem with his teeth or ulcers), he won't be able to eat as much or his body won't be absorbing the nutrients properly.
I believe it is every horse owners responsibility to educate themselves as much as possible about the care of horses - including nutrition. Speak to the feed reps (they are equine nutritionists). Go to workshops (sometimes offered for free by feed suppliers). Take courses - University of Guelph offers several good online courses.
Does he only get fed on the days you come up? How much complete feed does he get? It wouldn't hurt to add some alfalfa cubes/pellets to his diet as it can help with building muscle along the topline. He doesn't look too bad in the summer but could gain a bit more.
Some horses just need grain. If he is not eating the correct amount of complete feed he is lacking the nutrients. If you aren't feeding enough then a rational balancer would come in handy.
My hard keeping tb gets Kalm Ultra(12% fat), Essential K rational balancer(28% protein), along with a fat top dressing(18% fat) 2x a day. He also gets a huge bucket of alfalfa cubes and beet pulp once a day. I also have him on a probiotic which helps tons.
In reference to the hay/protein thing (I think everything else has pretty much been covered), a hay can be good quality AND too low in protein for a certain horse.
It's along the same line of those people we all know that can eat all the food they want without gaining an ounce (and maybe even NEED to eat a whole lot to stay away from becoming "too skinny") while the average person couldn't even dream of eating that much, unless he/she wanted to gain 40 pounds.
Case story: the grass hay I get has an average of 10% protein. It's just my area's local pasture grasses, dried and baled. It's soft, smells great, never has weeds, I would say it's pretty good quality as far as local grass hays go.
Most horses, in my area, eat that year-round without ever being supplemented at all and most of them stay a healthy weight or even get chubby (lots of QH-types out here, "air ferns").
My mare, however, loses weight FAST if she goes into winter without more potein in her diet. She stays fat, obese even, on pasture grass and limited grass hay all summer. In the winter, on just grass/grass hay, she continues to loose weight, no matter what else is added to her diet, until I add alfalfa and increase the protein levels. It doesn't have to be a lot of alfalfa (when she's not in work -right now- I find that 1lb of alfalfa/day to 15lbs of grass hay is enough. In work, she needs more like 10lbs of alfalfa/day to those 15lbs of grass hay. She's also on pasture, doing a little grazing, all day so that probably adds another 5lbs of grass to her diet) but the alfalfa is key.
This winter I thought I would try just feeding grass hay, try to keep her weight on that way, but even with having 50lbs/day available to her, she just wasn't able to eat enough to meet her body's needs! I ended up starting to feed a smidge of alfalfa per day and she's keeping weight on perfectly right now.
That all is even with feeding her a pound/pound+half of alfalfa pellets everyday and a few beet pulp pellets for "taste".
He does appear to me to be needing protein, so I wold look into perhaps adding some alfalfa to his diet. The things you feed him on days he works sound pretty good, just they're things that are perfect for a horse that's getting adequate hay-nutrition...if that makes sense.
Have you thought about trying FeedXL.com?
I got the one month subscription a while ago, just to try it, and I feel so much more confident about Lacey's diet now. FeedXL isn't omniscient but it will give you a good idea of things he may be missing and it'll give you ideas of things to try.
Just a note to say-- I love FeedXL! Bought it for one month and totally balanced out my boy's diet. :)
I agree with your coaches that grain is not needed for a healthy horse. In fact grain is more likely to create problems (calcium to phosphorus ratio comes to mind as well as some digestion issues) that can go unnoticed for too long. (prevention is easier than cure)
While a forage only diet is the ideal dream for horses the problem most people face is that we have pastures that don't offer a great deal of diversity in grazing so there can be things missing (certain minerals that are needed may or may not be present) and can also create problems at times (e.g. to much water soluble carbs under some conditions).
All that being said, if you have good grazing and manage it well (keep it cut, rotate, etc.....) and provide hay or silage when needed with the needed nutritional value you can do quite well.
Beet pulp is a good source of easily digestible fibre (make sure you soak it enough before feeding). I like copra so mine get some twice a day.
You also need to take into account how much your horse needs and watch to make sure you don't feed too much or too little. Like people, some will put on weight with a diet that won't maintain someone else. Mine can put on weight so easily that I keep them on a lower quality hay and the older one still puts weight with less. I'm currently working on taking about 100 lbs off of her.
Neither of these horses gets any grain at any time for any reason and they flurish.
Thanks for the input, guys. I realize that there's no majikal feed that will add topline (and if someone does develop one, they'll be bazillionaires) - haha - there are feeds that can *aid* in muscle development, that's what I was getting at.
I do appreciate the input.
To answer a few questions:
- Unfortunately I don't have control over the hay, and there is no pasture/rotation, he's basically on dry lot, fed hay twice daily.
- He only gets fed grain on the days that I go ride; 5 days a week. I will speak with my BO about the possibility of graining him daily.
- It's been a very very odd winter here; it's been long and we've had some amazingly wild temperature changes.
Sorry, feel like my brain is running on empty today - I will reply later. But thank you to everyone who weighed in :)
Our winter has been pretty insane here and all 3 of my horses dropped a huge amount of weight so I definetely here you.
If you can get him grained atleast once a day with a rational balancer and some alfalfa pellets that would be good..as it won't take him long to eat that up unless your BO is willing to feed more.Then feed him what you have the days you are up.
If he is on a dry lot id REALLY suggest a rational balancer so he can get all he needs that he may be missing from pasture. You only feed 1-2 lbs a day.
Sorry I forgot to ask what type of complete feed you feed him and how much?
Does he have hay 24/7?
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