Feeding breakdown for a hardkeeper - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 11 Old 10-15-2019, 11:08 PM Thread Starter
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Feeding breakdown for a hardkeeper

So I recently bought a 11 year old Irish sport horse who is roughly 16.3 hands. When I bought her the owners had her on the chunky side and she was happy as could be on no pasture just 4-6 flakes of alfalfa hay a day.
Fast forward two months or so and she started dropping weight like crazy. She is on pasture 24/7 but it's not high-quality. She also doesn't have access to free choice hay as much as I would love her too because she shares the pasture with other people's horses and she can't be moved because those horses are the only ones she doesn't try to kill haha.
As of right now I have her on cool gut for ulcers, although she won't eat it and we have to use a syringe daily. For her grain I give 3 pounds of Purina strategy, 2 pounds of 12% sweet feed, and a cup of oil. This is given once a day. Along with that she gets 2 pounds soaked alfalfa, 2 pounds soaked beet pulp, and another cup of oil once a day. She also gets a flake of alfalfa and Bermuda hay.
My problem is I can only personally feed once a day and I can't mix the wet with the dry because shes picky and won't eat wet grain. I've done some research on it all but there are so many opinions and options out there. Would I be better off giving her more alfalfa cubes and beet pulp? Or increasing her grain? I don't want to give her too much grain when forage is better.
Also I am debating adding in aloe vera juice and or diamond v yeast to her diet, if anyone has had success or failures with those.
Pretty much any suggestions or advice is welcome, she gained for awhile and now she doesn't seem to be and I'm not sure what to do. Thanks!
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post #2 of 11 Old 10-16-2019, 01:24 AM
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Hi & welcome to HF!

If your horse is getting *enough* pasture - as in at least around 2.5% dry weight of her ideal bodyweight, she shouldn't need extra hay as such. If she is not getting that much, then she needs supplementing. Unfortunately there are no good ways around that, so you need to find ways to get her the roughage she needs if it's light on. Even if not, supplementing with alfalfa/lucerne is higher energy & generally lower sugar than pasture hay.

Any other supplementary feed needs to be given over AT LEAST 2 meals daily. Horses don't do well being fed large &/or infrequent &/or rich meals. You're feeding 9lbs+ of rich, sweet feed in one fell swoop, which is too much, esp for only once daily. Especially if you're wanting her to thrive & gain condition and especially if she already has ulcers/gut problems, I'd be feeding her as frequent small meals as possible. Unfortunately not doing her too many favours only feeding once a day. If you cannot possibly feed more than once daily, at least keep to low sugar, easily digested ingredients.

Purina Strategy is a high NSC(yes I know they advertise it as 'controlled starch') feed which doesn't have fixed ingredients(so can't comment on those aside from saying I think it has corn in it, which is not good for horses generally. 'Sweet feed' is a generic term for generally grainy(so starchy) and extra sugared(with molasses usually) premixed feed. It's also, with all that sugar & starch, high NSC and is often low quality feed. Supplementing oil in feed can be a great source of fat/calories. Horses do not naturally have the enzymes in their stomach for digesting straight fats however, so oil should always be fed little & often & added gradually, starting with a very small amount, building gradually over a couple of weeks to a 'maintenance ration'. 2 cups of oil, particularly only once daily is a LOT and chances are she's digesting little if any of it.

There's also a possibility nutrition is out of whack & if certain nutrients are deficient/imbalanced, this can cause 'failure to thrive', along with other problems.
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post #3 of 11 Old 10-16-2019, 05:48 AM
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(Long post - ahh! Also, always remember to discuss with your vet any suggestions you want to try. =] )

More does not equal better when it comes to 'grain'. I doubt she needs the sweet feed or oil (what kind of oil?) Get her off of that. Feeding her sweet feed has a high chance of counterbalancing your efforts to prevent ulcers, particularly if that sweet feed is starchy. @loosie has mentioned that the Purina feed is high NSC, so this will likely need to take a hike as well.

Please note that horses are meant to subsist on GRASS. If a grass based diet is not working in warm weather, you need to ask yourself 'What's wrong here? Has she ever had a metabolic issue, colic, or something else wrong with her? Should I deworm? Have I done a manure test for sand/dirt content? Does she need a probiotic? Is she getting a low carb diet with sufficient fiber, fats and proteins? Are her minerals and electrolytes balanced - is she getting too much iron, manganese, or something else?' (Ask the questions in that order, pretty much.) These are questions every horse owner should ask.

Essentially, we need to start all over with her diet, and this will take time. 1) Because you need to 'transition' and 'morph' a horse's diet over time, and 2) because it will take time to see if it is working and she gains weight. If she continues to get skinny or loses more weight, PLEASE seek veterinary advice before it gets out of hand.

Test your grass hay and pasture (take a sample and send it in). When you get the test back, pay attention to ESC and starch (Also look at processed feeds to see if these are included.) These are the two components of hay that cause insulin reactions in horses. You will want to be aware of equine metabolic issues in feeding.
See this thread here: https://www.horseforum.com/horse-nut...inking-808457/
Here is the link referred to:
And one more just for the sake of being thorough:

It's also good to pay attention to iron and nitrates in your purchased forages. High protein in grass can indicate high nitrate levels. Pasture with constant manure exposure can have higher nitrate levels - manure releases nitrogen slowly to the soil and it adds up over time. Excess iron is obvious - typically horses with iron imbalance will have an odd red tinge to hairs in the coat, along with the symptoms of mineral imbalance in general (such as unexplained thrush in a dry environment). The problem with iron is that it can be actively absorbed and (along with manganese) also block passive absorption of other trace minerals, thereby forcing the horse to only take in iron.

For balancing minerals (which you should do!), you will not only want to test her food but also her water. If her water is high in iron or other minerals, you can use an RV water filter on your hose. That's what I do. This is the trace mineral supplement that I use. You might not need extra selenium - this is where having your hay and pasture tested is VERY helpful. You might also wish to add 1 tablespoon of salt per day for electrolytes (basic non-iodized salt). CA Trace already contains iodine. If she needs anything after that, it's protein, fiber and fats, possibly some probiotics.

While you are having your hay tested, I would do this:
- If you suspect that psyllium and deworming are both needed: deworm first, then start psyllium treatment 1 week after.
- The same week that you begin psyllium treatment, start reducing and eliminating that sweet feed and Purina feed from her diet. Remember - reduce by 10% every 2 days, 20 days to fully eliminate this from her diet to be safe.
- When you start reducing the sweet feed/Purina, add 1 flake bermuda grass daily. Every 7 days after that, add another 1 flake bermuda grass until you've reached 4 flakes bermuda daily.
- Add your extra 1 flake of alfalfa in the last week that you're feeding any sweet feed/Purina.
- When your horse is transitioning off of sweet feed/Purina, you need to do some legwork to balance trace minerals and salt and figure out if your new diet will require minerals to be supplemented. After the sweet feed/Purina is out of the diet, you may supplement trace minerals as needed - work up to the amount your horse needs, introducing over 1 week.
- You might wish to begin adding Manna Pro SWA to the diet at this point - I would. You should only need 2 scoops daily (despite what the label says). You will want to be aware that both alfalfa and SWA contain protein - be careful about this. If it is an issue, reduce alfalfa back to 1 flake and add another flake of grass hay.

The flax in Manna Pro SWA can also have the same effect as psyllium in cleaning out dirt or sand from her gut. That's a very good thing - if your mare is not accustomed to pasture, she might be consuming more dirt and it could be irritating the intestinal lining. If you feed Manna Pro, you might not need to use Psyllium as often.

You should notice changes in the first 4 weeks, and it should be especially noticeable after 8 weeks. Keep a journal of your horse's progress with the Henneke Body Condition Scoring Chart and give your horse a 'score' each week. Gaining weight is and should be a slow process - accept progress as you get it, but don't force it by thinking you need to add more grain. That's a recipe for disaster.

A note about pasture:
Your horse is meant to eat grass all day, and sometimes it's appropriate for this to be commercial forage. If you suspect the pasture is sugary (which is likely is if it's overgrazed, in drought, etc.) then you need to keep your horse eating more bermuda grass and less pasture. If the pasture is good, then this is the correct way to do pasture turnout for diet: Do this in the early morning (4AM to 9AM) when grass sugar content is at its lowest (grass has been growing - converting sugar into fiber - all night). Do not turn your horse out at the very end of the day, when the grass has been photosynthesizing and creating sugar all day. During times when she is not on pasture, she should have access to grass hay.

Horses and digestion: Horses are fermentation vats and derive many of their nutrients from microorganism activity. Because she went through a drastic change in feed, her gut microorganisms likely did not have time to adjust and start digesting her new food. Whenever these microorganisms die off, it release toxins into the gut. This can be a problem if they die of en mass.That is why you have to change feeds slowly and see how the horse reacts. I'm not sure if you did that. Either way, if you weren't able to do that or just didn't know, that's okay - your horse is still here and you can remedy the situation. You can introduce probiotics into her diet for a while to help restore proper digestion. As you might have seen, Manna Pro SWA has probiotics added in. Please note that fat can reduce the amount of microorganisms in the gut - you might be blocking her from properly re-developing a proper microbial population that can break down grasses. This is why I say 'no oil'.

Dry feeds and 'slime factor' vs colic: With anything you feed, be very careful about 'dry, compacted' feeds. Very dense, dry feeds need to be soaked (hay/alfalfa cubes, beet pulp), and processed feeds are best with some 'slime factor'. Add some water and mix it up to prevent colic. Very dense feeds (grass/alfalfa cubes or beet pulp) should be soaked overnight. Your horse is a picky eater? Try adding 1 teaspoon of salt to the supplement dish. If that doesn't work, try 1 tablespoon of Ukele Cocosun. Horses tend to like the last quite a lot.

Hoping that helps you and gets you interested in equine nutrition. Any articles by Dr. Eleanor Kellon are helpful. Feel free to ask questions! =)

No diet, no hoof. No hoof, no horse. No horse is not an option!
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post #4 of 11 Old 10-16-2019, 07:31 AM
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Read the others comments quickly and may have missed but my take and impression...
Pasture is obviously not enough for the horse to thrive on...and a limited amount of supplemented hay shared still doesn't give enough to the horse...
A horse of your size needs at least 17 - 20 pounds of hay a day all for her to eat, not to share with anyone else.
If in work and not able to maintain a nice appearance then add supplemental feed.
Get rid of the sweet feed as it is sugar candy and the Strategy is a better choice.
Again though what you are feeding is not accurate in amounts...
Large horses need more food to eat to thrive...
In light work your horse needs nearly 8 pounds of feed a day if you are feeding the original Strategy GX formula.
Here is the link to see amounts recommended for feeding, of course they need tweaking to each animal but as a baseline it tells me you are not feeding enough calories and nutrients in...
For me, I would dump the sweet feed and oil and instead feed more of the calorie dense, nutrient rich Strategy feed along with increasing the hay fed for your horse alone to consume.

I think you need to stop adding this or that and get the horse to a basic feeding plan and then watch and work from there.
Hay and lots of it...unless you are in Australia winter is arriving, your pasture you said is not quality and your horse is eating busy food with minimal nutrition in it...aka junk.
Once the hay is addressed of plentiful and good quality then build if she not thrive with feed.
A fortified feed like Strategy will give the daily vitamin and minerals pretty much all she needs if fed in proper amounts...
Feeding once a day though does the horse not the best either...her meals need to be split in 2 or 3 for her to really do best utilizing what she is being given....many meals smaller amounts works.
I love soaked alfalfa cubes but unless you know she will & is eating them, is the only one to eat them at her leisure then why bother feeding someone else horse???
Her teeth have been done in the last 3 months, worm load test addressed?
Was she scoped for ulcers or are you guessing? Vet suggested treatment underway?
So many things to look at the biggest and one glaringly in front is not enough calories being fed to your horse is what needs addressed.

I also thought my one horse was a hard-keeper...once the vet checked over and we had done what we needed "fixed" my hard-keeper is no longer.
Biggest one was fed appropriately and keeping his meal to himself...no more "sharing" or stealing as the case was by my others!
Good luck.

WELCOME to the Forum!!!


The worst day is instantly better when shared with my horse.....
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post #5 of 11 Old 10-16-2019, 10:27 AM
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When a horse goes from being a well covered easy keeper to being an underweight hard keeper, in such a short space of time, you probably need to get the vet involved.
It could just be that the horse needs either more/better grazing or it needs that lack of grazing supplementing with good hay.
You canít replace the sort of fiber bulk you get from grass or hay with just two oversized Ďbucket feedsí a day. Youíll just cause all sorts of problems. Horses are trickle feeders.

If there isnt enough grazing then the horses need hay put out, if that canít be done in the day then can you maybe stable her at night?

If the horses are getting short rationed I wonder if other management is being skimped on too?
Itís very likely the horses have all got a heavy worm burden which yours will now have as well
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post #6 of 11 Old 10-17-2019, 06:38 AM
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I disagree slightly with @loosie in that I'd say your horse is getting 5 lbs of non-roughage per day, since horses do digest beet pulp and hay pellets in the hind gut as roughage. Still, in my opinion those 5 lbs are not ideal at all to feed and will tend to make your horse digest whatever roughage she does get less effectively, since it will promote the growth of acid-loving, grain digesting bacteria in the gut, rather than less acidic hay digesting bacteria.

I believe your horse has not suddenly become a hard keeper, but rather you have decreased her calories drastically by removing those 6 flakes of alfalfa hay and instead providing poor quality pasture. At best, horses need to graze day and night to get the same amount of calories as they would from hay even on good pasture, because of the high water content.

Your best choice would be as @jaydee said: try to provide enough hay. Horses often can eat large quantities of hay in just a couple of hours, so if there is any way to provide that time for her with hay, that would be the best way to get weight back on her. Currently you are substituting less healthy options such as sugary grain and pellets rather than giving her calories through roughage. If you can't give her enough time to eat hay, then I'd still avoid the sweet feed and Strategy pellets and instead give her more hay pellets.
Remember though, 6 "flakes" of hay can weigh as much as 30-40 lbs. The one flake of hay plus pellets you are giving are probably still falling short of the amount she was doing well on.
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post #7 of 11 Old 10-17-2019, 07:34 AM
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All above advice worth reading carefully.

The biggest thing is to feed your horse all the roughage it can eat. If the pasture is poor you MUST supplement with good quality grass hay, available twenty-four hours a day. Alfalfa, in my mind, is a supplement for poor doers or hard workers -- the base is always grass.

Only after that is taken care of should you look at your concentrates. I feed a forage balancer pelleted vitamin and mineral supplement twice a day, about a pound for my small horse. She is a good doer so that is all she gets -- grass hay and pasture, and the balancer.

My pony on the other hand is nervous, and lost a lot of weight due to recovering from an injury. It took all summer to get her back to normal weight. She had her free access to hay and pasture, plus the balancer, but could not gain. I tried all sorts of different things, most of which she refused to eat after awhile. I hit on a combo of soaked alfalfa cubes (she won't eat them dry), plus a proprietary supplement called Renew Gold composed of stabilized calcium/magnesium-balanced rice bran, copra, and ground flaxseed. She gained some on that but was still ribby, and my vet suggested adding more fat at that point. I used a brand of granulated fat supplement from Farnam called Weight Builder. Just adding four ounces of that a day (she's 12.2 hh, 600 lbs) did the trick, amazingly. I did switch to alfalfa pellets because soaking the cubes was such a pain.

I'm telling you this because of the two basic principles:

1. my pony had all the grass hay and pasture she wanted, all the time. Before I added anything else.
2. all of the additions I use are healthy and safe for horses, so-called "cool calories" -- copra, rice bran, flaxseed, alfalfa. You really want to avoid grains and other high-sugar/starch products.
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post #8 of 11 Old 10-17-2019, 06:02 PM
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It sounds like your pasture is poor, and your horse isn't getting nearly enough food. Horses need good forage nearly 24/7. When pasture is poor, good grass hay needs to be available at all times. If that's still not enough, you or the barn owner need to figure out how to separate your mare so she can get some alfalfa, too.

She also needs her grain and soaked pellets split into 2 feedings. Horses that get one large feed will not utilize it nearly as well as if that food is split into 2-3 feedings. Also, if she's not getting enough good pasture, she could be suffering from ulcers. Also look at her turnout-- if she's unhappy or restless with her pasturemates, or is in with a bully, she may be fretting and worrying off the calories she gets, and that can lead to ulcers as well. If the pasture is poor and overgrazed, your mare is also ingesting a lot of sand/soil and likely parasites trying to get enough to eat.

1.) high-quality grass hay, as much as she will eat
2.) split her grain and pellets into 2 or more feedings, and make sure it's balanced. You're actually may be better off to cut out concentrates and get her on quality hay with a ration balancer.
3.) add alfalfa hay back into her diet if the above makes no difference within a couple of weeks
4.) get your vet involved to make sure there's no underlying issue

Your barn owner should work with you to make sure your mare gets what she needs. If that's not possible, find somewhere else to keep her.
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post #9 of 11 Old 10-17-2019, 06:56 PM
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Originally Posted by gottatrot View Post
I disagree slightly with @loosie in that I'd say your horse is getting 5 lbs of non-roughage per day, since horses do digest beet pulp and hay pellets in the hind gut as roughage. Still, in my opinion those 5 lbs are not ideal at all to feed and will tend to make your horse digest whatever roughage she does get less effectively, since it will promote the growth of acid-loving, grain digesting bacteria in the gut, rather than less acidic hay digesting bacteria.
Not sure what you're disagreeing with, as I agree with all of the above totally. Perhaps the way I wrote it... The problem I see isn't the beet pulp & pellets, but that it's in a single, large feed daily with a lot of sugary stuff & oil.
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Some info I've found helpful; [COLOR=Lime][B]www.horseforum.com/horse-health/hoof-lameness-info-horse-owners-89836/
For taking critique pics; [COLOR=Lime][B]https://www.horseforum.com/members/41...res-128437.jpg
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post #10 of 11 Old 10-17-2019, 08:50 PM
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Originally Posted by loosie View Post
Not sure what you're disagreeing with, as I agree with all of the above totally. Perhaps the way I wrote it... The problem I see isn't the beet pulp & pellets, but that it's in a single, large feed daily with a lot of sugary stuff & oil.
As I understand it, the reasoning behind giving 5 lbs or less per feeding only applies to grain and other feeds that are mainly digested in the stomach and small intestine. The more you feed at one time, the more quickly it passes through into the large intestine.

This is not an issue with roughages such as beet pulp, hay pellets or cubes, and other feeds the horse digests in the hind gut. No matter how quickly they get there, they'll still sit and ferment for the same amount of time and the horse will utilize the feed. If you feed more than 5 lbs of corn, oats, barley, or pellets that have a lot of grain products in them, the feed will pass through before being digested and the horse will not utilize the feed, and also in an attempt to digest these in the large intestine the horse will end up producing more acidic environment bacteria, which will lead to hind gut acidosis, poorer roughage digestion, and poorer health.

So it's not that a horse can't handle more than 5 lbs of any feed, but rather the horse can't digest more than 5 lbs of starch-based feed at a time that needs to be processed in the foregut. This is good, since many horses easily eat more than five pounds of hay in a half hour or hour, and they will still digest it fine. The reasoning behind slowing down hay consumption is to help horses keep food going through their system, but there is no reason to limit how fast they eat hay (as long as they have decent teeth) if they are on pasture and the horse needs to be separated for a brief time to give added calories.
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