Every horse owner has probably had a hard keeper in their string at some point. But what about those horses that are beyond hard keepers…I mean to the point where the owner is trying anything and everything to get the weight on and nothing seems to be working. They feed a high-fat grain, add oil, feed alfalfa hay, and a fat supplement…and still the horse doesn’t seem to have the body condition score they are hoping for. This is when we need to start looking into other factors that might the affecting the horse. Looking past just what the horse is consuming on a daily basis will shed some light on what deeper issues might be going on.
First, I would examine its deworming program and what has been done with the horse in the past. Parasites will compete with the horse’s body for nutrients, which as a result will cause the horse to have trouble keeping weight on. Get your veterinarian to check your horse’s feces for parasite eggs to see if this is a problem your horse has. Make sure your deworming program is on par with the veterinarian’s suggestions.
Second, have your horse’s teeth checked regularly. Older horses especially will have more problems with dental health due to wear and tear on teeth with age. You’ll know something is wrong with a horse’s teeth based on an few obvious signs: Spitting out chunks of hay, eating slower than normal, grain spilling out of its mouth, and new occurrences of choke. Have your veterinarian come float your horse’s teeth if it is exhibiting any of the above symptoms. After that, if your horse is still having problems consuming its feed, soaking pellets can help as well as soaking hay or hay cubes/pellets.
Next, evaluate your horse’s environment during feeding time. Does your horse get fed while being turned out with other horses? Make sure you watch them eat their feed one day and determine if there is an aggressive horse in the herd preventing your thin horse from eating all of its feed. For horses in stalls, make sure your horse isn’t exhibiting anxious behaviors such as stall walking or weaving. This could mean that your horse is burning more calories than your realize because it is constantly walking in its stall. This could also happen in fields with horses that are constantly running the fence line. Make sure your horse has hay in front of him at all times, is in a stall where he can see other horses, has a toy such as a jolly ball, or you could also look into getting him a stall companion such as a goat or a chicken.
Many factors go into your horse’s appearance. Past and current health issues, environment, and what/how much they are eating all influence the body condition of horses. After having a solid feeding program in place with quality forage and grain, going through these check points will help you determine what might be going on with your horse. It’s never a good idea to be constantly switching grains and trying new supplements to try to get weight on your horse. Looking into other areas besides just the feed/hay will work wonders for your equine management and make your life much simpler!