Ask the Vet: The Easy Keeper

Courtesy of AAEP

Question: I have two horses that are very easy keepers, even through the winter. I actually feed one cup twice a day with good quality hay. Is there anything else that I need to give them? I trail ride once or twice a week. .

Answer: Thanks for your question. I find myself asking: you feed one cup of what? If you’re giving your two easy keepers one cup of a ration balancer, you may be spot on with their diets. Ration balancers are concentrated products that contain protein, vitamins and minerals designed to complete and balance either a predominantly grass or grass hay diet or a predominantly alfalfa hay diet.

For horses in light work like yours, the low end of the recommended feeding level—one pound per day–may be sufficient. However, make sure you’re actually feeding one pound by weighing it on a kitchen scale or fish scale, then marking your daily scoop for one pound of this particular product. Since the best way to feed horses is by weight, not by volume, weighing it out the first time you feed a ration balancer (or fortified grain or complete feed) ensures you’re feeding the proper amount.

Also, if your hay is of high quality, your horses may not actually need the protein from a ration balancer so a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement fed at the rate of 1-2 ounces may be just the ticket. Since many of these now come in tasty pellet form, you won’t need to add any sweet feed or oats to mix them in so that your horses eat them. A multi-vitamin would also be a good choice if it turns out you’re only feeding 1 cup of a fortified grain or complete feed. These types of products complete and balance the diet only if fed at the levels recommended on the bag, which range from 3-6 pounds for a fortified grain to 15-18 pounds for a complete feed. Only feeding 1 cup of a product like this hardly supplies your horses with any vitamins and minerals so you would want to bridge the gap with a multi-vitamin. Happy trails!

Question: I have a VERY easy keeper needing to lose weight going into spring grass. I use a grazing muzzle along with limited grazing and NO grain…any other advice beside more exercise? I am concerned about founder but don’t want him in a stall all day?

Answer: Horses that seem to gain weight on air can be extremely frustrating to manage for the horse owner, barn manager, veterinarian, farrier . . . no one is spared. It sounds like you’re headed in the right direction though, so I’ll just add a few tips I’ve picked up along the way.

The grazing muzzle is “de rigueur” for any easy keeper being turned out on pasture. However, during the spring while pasture grass is in a fast-growing phase AND your horse needs to lose weight, consider turning him out in a dry lot only and not allowing ANY access to pasture. I agree that stall confinement is not the ideal solution for a number of reasons, so try and find a compromise between pasture and stabling.
In completely removing all grain while trying to reduce their horses’ intake of calories and sugar, some owners have inadvertently created nutrient deficiencies. Provide a complete and balanced diet by introducing either a ration balancer or a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement. Some horses with weight problems have improved with this simple correction to their diet!

Watch treats. An apple or ½ a bag of carrots or handful of molasses treats here and there may not seem like a big deal. However, the calories add up and the sugar may cause his glucose and insulin to spike, worsening any insulin resistance he may have. By the way, has your veterinarian examined him for Equine Metabolic Syndrome?

Research is conflicting, but if your horse is sound, then I advise at least 30 minutes each and every day of some sort of controlled exercise. Since turnout does not equal exercise for these types of horses, it is up to you to design a workout regimen and make him stick to it. You are your horse’s personal trainer. Equine Biggest Loser, here we come!

In addition to a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement, there are products targeted to the metabolic system of your horse. Most contain ingredients that mimic the effects of insulin or are designed to help it work better. Ask your veterinarian if one of these supplements might be appropriate for your horse. Also ask about adding Omega 3 Fatty Acids. While it may seem counter-intuitive to add fat to an already overweight horse, research presented at the AAEP convention showed that omega 3s may help protect against laminitis.

Finally, if your horse is truly diagnosed with insulin resistance and Equine Metabolic Syndrome, ask your veterinarian if the prescription medication Thyro-L might be helpful in accelerating weight loss (and therefore lowering his chances of developing laminitis). Since several studies have shown that this drug lowers body weight and increases insulin sensitivity in overweight horses, it may be a useful conversation to have with your vet.