On my boarding farm, I keep pleasure horses and retired horses. The retired horses are not ridden at all while the pleasure horses go out on the trails one or two days per week and might do some light arena work.
Most of the horses are Quarter Horses and Quarter-Horse crosses. I have only one truly hard keeper, a Thoroughbred. The rest can, as the sayings go, “live on air” and “gain one hundred pounds just by looking at the grass.” A few are insulin resistant and one has Cushing’s Disease.
To control the horses’ weights and keep them safe from laminitis, I limit turnout on the grass and often use grazing muzzles. The primary source of calories for the horses is high quality orchardgrass hay. I also stuff much of the hay into nibble nets to slow the horses down and keep them busy. By strictly following this regimen, I’m able to maintain their body condition scores at a five or six.
So when it comes to calories, I limit, limit, limit. But I don’t limit nutrition because I feed a “ration balancer.” This horse feed is very low in calories and carbohydrates while providing essential vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. It is intended to “balance” a diet based primarily on forage and is ideal for easy keepers, overweight, insulin resistant, and Cushing’s horses. Many feeds recommend feeding a 1000 pound horse four to seven pounds a day to ensure that the horse receives adequate nutrition. The horses at my farm don’t need those four to seven pounds of calories. By feeding only one pound of the ration balancer I’m able to meet their nutritional needs.
If you have an easy keeper, overweight horse, or a horse with metabolic issues, consider a ration balancer diet. The major brands of horse feeds all offer these diets, which are pelleted. Ration balancer feeds tend to be a bit more expensive, but they’ll probably save you money. That’s because you feed so much less.
To maintain your horse’s ideal weight you might have to limit your horse’s intake, but be careful that you’re not limiting nutrition at the same time.
Photo by Nancy Hoffmann
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