“Why won’t my horse put on weight”

This blog is for anyone who has ever asked themselves this question, we will try enlightening you on steps to take to get to the bottom of your horses weight concern.

I’ve lost count of the amount of times I seen people ask this very question on social media, the answers vary and guess what – feed isn’t always the answer. There are several things to consider when you are trying to get an underweight horse to put weight on.

This horse is not thriving on a horse sick pasture

Internal factors to consider

  • Dental Issues – When last has your horse had a visit from a horse dentist? Some horses need to be checked annually and some twice annually. If your horse can’t chew it’s food properly it will not only drop food but swallow unchewed feed which will be harder for the horse to digest. If your horse is up to date with the dentist, check inside the mouth for a foul smell to look for a sign of infection in a tooth or abscess on the inside of the cheek.
  • Health Issues – It won’t hurt to seek veterinary advice and get an overall health check. Inquire whether the vet thinks a full blood profile may shed light on the weight issue and share your concerns with your veterinarian. Note, the vet may want to check for gastric ulcers, checking for ulcers may need to be done in the equine clinic where there is a stocks so be sure to discuss this over the phone so avoid a wasted journey.
  • Parasites/worms – This is something your vet may touch on. It will be helpful to have a detailed de-worming history FWEC results (faecal worm egg count) and note what de-wormers you’ve administered in the last 2 years. FEWC are very useful but note that this will not indicate tapeworm (or encysted redworm larvae) this is something the owner must keep on top of. Horses with a high worm counts will not thrive, and this can lead to other complicated issues such as ulcers, anaemia, diarrhoea and colic.
  • Pain related issues and lameness’s – if your horse is feeling pain this can cause individuals to lose weight or refrain from gaining weight. This can vary from an abscess in the hoof or ill-fitting saddle to a fractured pelvis or chronic lameness like laminitis. No horse in pain or discomfort will thrive. It sounds simple but it’s ironic the amount of people who worry about weight and then you find out the horse has chronic arthritis of other secondary factors than MAY cause discomfort.
  • Age – some older horses will struggle to gain or retain weight, it may not be feasible to exhaust money on vets for older horses but there are many senior mix feeds to help older horses flourish the above factors still need to be considered.

External factors

  • Appropriate feed – before overfeeding think of your horses’ requirements. A basic pony nut regardless of the quantity will not suffice a horse in full work or a broodmare for instance. All equine diets should be based on high quality forage and fed little and often, sometimes adlib forage. A soil sample can be useful too, the best time to do this is autumn and spring especially if more than one horse isn’t thriving. Good quality soils will ensure a reliable supply of energy, protein and other nutrients they may also give a long season of potential grazing. A deficiency in just one nutrient or amino acid (in feed or grassland) can be enough to cause a horse to lose weight or prevent a horse from gaining weight.  Most reputable feed companies have nutritionists on hand to give advice in this matter and soil samples may help the nutritionist. If your land lacks some mineral a lick or supplement can be formulated and added.
  • Quality of grazing – sounds simple but further to the soil sample ensure paddocks aren’t horse sick and over stocked. Most fields will have weeds but if you’ve more thistles, buttercups and ragwort than you do grass you may need help with your grass management. Agriculture stores can give advice on fertilisers. Topping fields as well as cross crazing with cattle can help clean up fields.
  • Environment – if your horse is in a herd environment and getting bullied this could inhibit the horse from gaining weight. It may be an idea to feed in a safe secure area and if you worry your horse is getting bullied find a suitable paddock mate!
  • Stress – if your horse’s field or stable companion is taken away every day for exercise something as simple as thins can cause stress levels to rise and in turn will affect your horses weight gain.
  • Overworked – ensure you aren’t over working your horse or pony. Always be mindful of your horses respiratory rate while exercising and note their sweat levels. If your horse is blowing excessively this may indicate a health issue.
  • Water – ensure your horse always has access to clean and fresh drinking water if you are using a natural source it is a good idea to test the water regularly.

“Sometimes we talk to our horses, that is not a problem, the problem comes when we don’t listen to them”

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