Say hello to Simon the latest member of the Equine Nutrition Nerd Herd.
He is an off-the-track (OTTB) thoroughbred and has trouble keeping weight on. The owner called me because she has two other horses that are both “easy keepers” and then there’s Simon.
Her current stabling (one run-in) and turn out situation didn’t really allow for Simon to be out on the grass while the others weren’t, or even to feed them individually for that matter. So she kept them all in a dry lot most of the time with 2-3 hours of turn out on grass per day.
She was feeding Simon a sweet feed with 4% fat, 12% fiber and 10% protein. I listed the fat and fiber first because that is what you should look at with a weight issue. It’s pretty simple; high fat, high fiber for a high metabolism and weight gain.
OTTBs generally are pumped up and full of “extra” stuff from track life and can drop weight with the change in routine and lifestyle. Especially since most race horses get high calorie feeds and high quality hay at the track, getting “let down” from all that can take its toll on their health.
Simon had been off the track for a few months when I met him so had started to adjust to his new life. He had dropped some weight from walking the fence trying to figure out “freedom” and transitioning into the new herd.
When we weighed him he taped at 950 pounds. Not too bad for a 16.1 hand TB. His Body Condition score was a 4 which is pretty typical for a fit TB but too low for one headed to the show ring.
I was happy to see that Simon’s owner did weigh his feed and knew she had him at 4 pounds of feed twice a day and free access to a round bale of grass mix hay when they were in the dry lot. That sounds like a lot to some of you but in Calories it really wasn’t.
Remember the Calorie is also called a kilocalorie. This is the rate of measurement used in human nutrition. Many times it is not spelled with a capital ‘C” which is incorrect. A megacalorie (Mcal) is 1,000 kilocalories. Megacalorie is the rate of measurement used to measure energy in a large animal’s diet, such as the horse. I like to use Calories because that is a term most people understand.
The average 1,000 pound horse in light work (like Simon) needs about 20,000 Calories (or 20 Mcals) per day. Simon’s grain was low in fat at 4% and fiber plus it only had 1,000 Calories per pound. So Simon was getting 8,000/day in grain. The round bale was decent quality but without knowing how much Simon was getting it was hard to know Caloric intake. Typical grass hay has about 700 Calories per pound which means he would need at least 17 pounds of hay per day just to break even.
Even isn’t what we want because you must factor in all the things that can affect nutrition when determining nutritional needs; living situation, herd dynamics, stress, health issues, age, and so forth. So after we determined Simon’s weight, Body Condition Score (BCS) and calculated Calories I looked at some of those factors.
Simon was off the track so I usually assume ulcers as 95% of race horses have them. Ulcers can cause a belly ache after eating so horses tend to eat less. An ulcer also compromises nutrient absorption. Simon was in a new situation and herd so we can add stress as a factor. Stress burns more calories. Another factor we considered was the pecking order and being fed off the fence which can mean he wasn’t getting all his groceries.
During my visit we fed the horses and watched their behavior. Sure enough, Simon was getting chased from his bucket and in the process dropping a lot of the feed he was trying to eat. If it was happening with the grain I’m sure the other horses were doing the same thing to him with the round bale.
I decided that until he could quietly eat in peace Simon would never get to the weight he needed to be. The owner agreed to split the run-in in two using a pipe gate and to divide the pasture using electric tape and a solar charger. This way Simon was part of the herd but not directly influenced by them.
We upped his grain to a 10% fat, 18% fiber ration and she bought some baled timothy/alfalfa mixed hay for him so we could better estimate his intake.
We also added a mix of 1 cup aloe juice, and herbal ulcer blend mixed with 1 pound rice bran pellets twice a day to heal and treat the ulcer.
Simon loved his new environment and diet. He finished 20 pounds of hay a day, grazed the pasture at will, and with the higher fat feed and rice bran, we were able to reduce the total grain he was eating to 5 pounds per day- almost half what he was eating before! The less grain you can feed the better so this was great news.
Now, 8 weeks after the initial consult, Simon weighs 1,100 pounds and appears to be a calmer, happier horse.