Early Days

Horsey Nutrition

In late May/early June I started giving Hemie some probiotics to help put some flesh over his ribs.  I’ve gone through the whole bag (he got it ~5 days a week for about 7 weeks), and here’s how he looks:

Some ribs still visible.

So, not super successful.  In terms of his overall physique, the fact that I can see some ribs is the only issue I have. He has good muscling (for our level) and minimal fat stores.

To use an objective measurement, I would rate Hemie as a 4.5 on the Body Condition Score. Darn close to the “ideal” of 5.

Download the Horse.com Equine Body Condition Score poster here and here’s a great article on the scoring system and various components to consider to evaluate your horse. 

This leads me to a few choices:

  1. Buy another bag of probiotics and give it more time to see improved results.
  2. Instead of probiotics, add more hay to his diet (as many readers suggested).
  3. Do nothing. Get over it.

Probiotics helped my first horse gain weight, but to be honest that was so long ago I can’t remember how long it took before I started seeing results. So it’s possible I just need to give it more time.

On the other hand, maybe I’m just being overly sensitive to the fact I can see ribs. Most other people at the barn don’t think he looks too skinny. TBs are known to stay on the leaner side of the spectrum.

As for hay, I’ve got a few options if I go that route, and would love opinions!

  1. Pay my facility an additional $50/month for 1 extra flake served at lunch. I would likely chose alfalfa (he currently gets 1 flake alf + 1 flake oat, morning and night).
  2. Keep hay in my car or somehow try to store it at the ranch (pretty sure that’s against facility policy) and feed him an extra dinner most nights a week. Would be cheaper but could get me in trouble. Better to ask forgiveness than permission? Ethically challenging to me.
  3. A magical idea I have invented (maybe) and would seriously like opinions on: buying a full bale of grass or grass-alfalfa mixed hay and leaving the whole bale in his stall for him to eat free-choice. I’ve never seen other people do this at any boarding facility I’ve been at. Not even sure if this would be allowed at the facility, though I could make a case for it. Thoughts?
Another quick note – Hemie has been on the California Trace mineral supplement for about a month, and so far so good. My goal for feeding it is to provide neurological support and help support healthy hooves (healthy everything, actually). I do think it is working. He is not tripping as much as he used to and is better able to really step under himself and cross his hind legs without hesitation or awkwardness. Of course I wonder how much of that is improved balance and self-carriage from training versus the supplement. His coat and hooves look good – more time is needed to really see if his hooves are growing out with a visible difference in quality.

13 comments on “Horsey Nutrition

  1. I have Bobby on Fat Cat which includes pre- and probiotics. He beefed up right away on it, and he's only showing minimal ribs this summer when he gets a really hard workout in the heat.

    I also want to say how sorry I am you don't live on the east coast where getting an extra flake of hay is no extra cost. Crazy!

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  2. I live on the east coast but if I want to feed extra hay, I have to buy it myself. It's all barn-dependent.

    Oat hay is basically straw. It's not giving him any nutrition at all. If you can get them to give him two flakes of alfalfa instead of one alfalfa and one oat, you could try that for awhile. Increasing oat hay is pointless for weight gain (though if the goal is to keep the horse eating to prevent ulcers or boredom, oat hay is fine). Alfalfa does make many horses hot. It's rocket fuel. So if he gets more wound up when you increase the alfalfa, that's why.

    I'd strongly advise against keeping hay in your car. It will get hot in there and could get moldy and gross.

    Could you feed him soaked alfalfa cubes? They only need to soak for 10-15 minutes before feeding (though longer is fine, so long as it's not long enough for them to get rancid). I give my OTTB four quarts of cubes, soaked, twice a day, on top of her feed and hay (a huge pile of coastal with a flake of alfalfa).

    I'll have to look more into California Trace specifically, but my vet advises against stuff like that. It's probably harmless, but if you're using a commercial feed, it's already balanced nutritionally and your horse should be getting what he needs from it. If he isn't, then something else is going on with him. Mineral supplements are usually not absorbed well anyway, and if you're over-supplementing, you're just making expensive poop. Vitamin and mineral supplements have to be enteric-coated or the stomach acid destroys any nutrition before it can be absorbed into the bloodstream. The research on vitamin and mineral supplements (the good research, that has been peer-reviewed) is showing not a lot of effect, if any. So all of that is to say, I'd put my money into hay over California Trace.

    I would NOT give the horse an entire bale of alfalfa to eat at once. You'll have laminitis and/or colic on your hands like woah. If you want to give him a whole bale of something to eat, orchard grass or timothy would be a better choice. You will have a problem with waste, though, because if he has that much hay in his stall he will probably poop/pee on it and will spread it all over the place instead of eating it. There are slow hay feeders that can hold a bale, I think, but they're probably pretty expensive if they're commercially available. If it were me, I'd go with the soaked hay cubes and maybe also sucking it up and paying the $50/month for an extra flake.

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  3. Gosh, sorry for the novel! Hope it was helpful in some way!

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  4. When I read about Fat Cat working for Bobby on your website, I wrote it down but then completely forgot about that. Thanks for the reminder! What do you think about TBs and ribs showing? Do you like them not visible whatsoever or are a few ok to you?

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  5. Sure is helpful – thank you for taking the time to give feedback! Oat hay out here is typically a 3-grain composite of oat, wheat, and barley, so it actually is quite nutrient dense and caloric (though not as high as alfalfa). Our various grass hays are very pricey, and very low dense and low calories. I hadn't thought about the hay cubes and that's a good idea. He currently gets soaked beet pulp, rice bran, and the CA Trace.

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  6. I saw Carly's comment about the fat cat…there's another one called cool calories that I saw really great results on one horse, but not much results for another. I personally haven't seen the fat cat used in person, but I know bobby looks great for Carly.

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  7. More hay. I have not given Simon any weight gain supps, and he's gained tons of weight… but it's due to free choice hay for turnout and constant hay in his stall during the day.

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  8. Jess – here in California, depending where you live, alfalfa cubes are quite common. We feed them without soaking them. I think the primary reason for soaking is to prevent choke. Our horses are quite accustomed to the cubes and pick at them slowly. If you have a hoover, you might introduce them slowly, or soak them for a bit until he no longer woofs them down.

    Sarah – I agree that hay in your car would be a disaster. I would also avoid feeding a whole bale at a time. I think Jess is right when she says Hemie will scatter it or pee and poop in it. I think you're best bet is to pay for more hay. I know I've said this before, but both my boys are on free choice (essentially) alfalfa. Speedy gets a flake in his Freedom Feeder that is topped off as needed while the bulk of his ration is cubes which he nibbles on throughout the day. Sydney gets at least 20 pounds of alfalfa a day. He gets a hefty load in the morning and at least two heavy flakes at night. We feed according to weight and not by the flake count.

    The alfalfa does not make my boys “hot,” but I know it can have that effect on some horses. My boys also get soaked beet pulp and rice bran each day. You cannot see their ribs. You can feel them, but they aren't visible to the eye. Both boys are being ridden at least five days a week right now. When school starts up, they'll be ridden 3 – 4 times a week each.

    If you want to cover Hemie's ribs, you need to add calories. I think more alfalfa is probably the cheapest way to do that. I would pay the extra $50 a month which is probably cheaper than adding a complete feed. Good luck … adding weight can be a real pain in the patootie! :0)

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  9. Agree! Free choice hay is a great way to add weight!

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  10. I've seen cubes fed dry, though I like soaking them because it gets more water into my horse, and in Florida, that's always a concern. If the horse's teeth are okay and they aren't going to bolt their feed, nothing wrong with not soaking them. Beet pulp doesn't have to be soaked either, it turns out, though it seems to make it more palatable. I've been hearing more and more reports of horses on beet pulp having weird skin problems and that possibly being from the poor quality molasses they use, but that could be an east coast thing. Who knows. My horse gets a complete feed, hay, hay cubes, and a fat/coat supplement. She's on stall rest right now but when she's back in work she's gonna need more, and I think at that point I'm going to up her alfalfa ration.

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  11. Free choice is what I was going for with the grass-hay-bale in the stall's feeder idea.

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  12. Hey! I'm new to your blog so I haven't read down any further so I've missed a lot! I wanted to comment (but also tell you I don't know any history about your horse so disregard anything that is not useful :)). I am a huge fan of probios. I typically buy the paste kind but have also used the powder. Love that stuff! I have never used it for weight gain though, just for healthy gut function. For slight weight gain I would add more hay. $50/mo for 1 extra flake a day seems incredibly steep to me! Would they soak alfalfa cubes or beet pulp for you? I would also avoid feeding 1 bale at a time- he will poop on it for sure! If those are not available options my next step would be to add corn oil or flaxseed to his diet. Something to just push him to your desired “5”. I think he looks fantastic – nice muscling and a shiny coat. Very little ribs shows but I bet more when he moves…? Good luck! Keep us updated :)

    Ashley
    http://www.theprocessoflearning.com

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  13. I soak my beet pulp for the added water much like you would do for cubes. I've been feeding beet pulp for more than 15 years and haven't seen any of the issues that you mentioned. I often wonder how feed differs around the country. I do know of a few endurance riders (my former discipline of more than 15 years) that “rinse” their beet pulp to eliminate as much of the residual sugars as they can. I never felt the need to do that.

    I hope your horse recovers soon and that you're back up in the tack. :0)

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