When the owner led John, an eight-year-old Thoroughbred gelding, off the trailer, I could count every rib. John’s neck, shoulders, and spine stuck out. I placed his body condition score at a 2.
“We need to have the vet out,” I said.
John’s owner told me that John had been in a good situation for years, but then things changed at the barn. Since John is a Thoroughbred and young, within a month, he had dropped a significant amount of weight. A few weeks after that, John came to my farm.
The owner and I turned John out on a large pasture.
“We’ll get weight on him,” I assured the owner.
After the owner left, I took a side-view picture of John and texted it to my vet. Then I called her.
“He’s bright eyed, alert, and strong,” I said. “He hasn’t had his teeth floated in over two years and was supposed to be wormed regularly, but the owner isn’t sure if they were doing it. He may have something going on or maybe he just needs more groceries.”
“I’ll be out tomorrow,” my vet said. “What feeds do you have on hand?”
“I picked up a bag of the sweet feed John was getting. I also have a low starch forage, a ration balancer, and senior feed.”
“Give him the senior feed,” my vet said. “It’s highly palatable and easy to digest.”
My vet was right. Senior feed can be great for a variety of horses, including hard keepers and those that need to gain weight.
Senior feeds are lower in starch and sugars so you can feed large amounts without making your horse “hot.” They are designed for horses who may have difficulty digesting and metabolizing standard feeds so the horse will absorb more calories and nutrition. Added pre- and probiotics further aid digestion.
Senior feeds are not grain based. They rely instead on beet pulp, soybean hulls, and alfalfa meal, all highly digestible fiber. In addition, they are often higher in fat, usually in the form of flaxseed and soybeans. Higher fat content provides additional calories without adding carbohydrates.
The level of protein in most senior feeds, 14%, will help a thin horse rebuild muscle mass. Senior feeds are also designed to be soaked into a mash, which was good for John because we were unsure of the state of his teeth. It also aids in hydration.
One note of caution, senior feed is not appropriate for growing horses because they don’t contain enough protein or the proper balance of vitamins and minerals. They also might not be appropriate for horses in intense work.
In the three months John has been at my farm, he’s gained hundreds of pounds. His spine is still a little too visible, but I can barely see his ribs. His coat is shiny. He now has a body condition score of 4 and is on his way to a 5.
For eight-year-old John, senior feed is the right feed.
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