Welcome to the Nerd Herd Sugar!

Nerd Herd_Sugar

My client has a tough time keeping the weight off this 14 year old Quarter Horse gelding. It wasn’t so bad when he could be ridden 4-5 days per week but he was recently diagnosed with navicular changes and is limited to an occasional trail ride.

Sugar loves to eat. He is a big boy at 16 hands and 1,300 pounds. With his new restricted exercise his daily Caloric needs are now only for maintenance so around 17,000 (17 Mcal).

His owner has great pasture and takes good care of them with regular mowing and rotation to rest. Sugar’s normal schedule includes half a day turn out in one of these fields. In addition, his diet consisted of 2 pounds of senior grain and minerals plus a net full of orchard grass hay while he was in his stall.

Of course now that his activity level has been greatly reduced it’s obvious this diet needed adjusting plus the added weight wasn’t helping his foot issues. Adding all of the Calories in the different feedstuff we could see that Sugar’s daily intake was too high.

12 hours of grazing good pasture can equal as much as 10,000 Calories as a horse usually can consume on average 1-1 ½ pound of grass per hour and grass usually has around 900-1,000 Calories/pound.

We weighed the amount of hay he was getting and discovered it was at 1% of his body weight (almost 15 pounds) which is fine for a horse in work or one without good grass. This added 13,500 Calories (13.5 Mcal) to the grass Calories (10,000) and put him at 23,500 Calories without the grain!

When we added in the 2 pounds of Senior at 1,600 Calories per pound (3,200) he was at a total of 26,700 Calories per day, well over his maintenance needs and this will create health problems.

We started our changes with a no-brainer; we added a muzzle for half of the day during turn out. Sugar could still get out and feel like a horse, have a diet based on good forage plus get the additional benefit of moving around. A muzzle can reduce intake to one third of the amount they can consume without one.


We switched him from eating his hay from the ground to a slow feeder net and reduced the amount of hay to .50% of his BW (6 ½ pounds). I love slow feeding because it will take him all day to eat this lower amount which will keep him happy. The lower amount of hay will also reduce Calories.


We also switched his grain to a forage balancer pellet feed with lower Calories (1,100/pound versus the 1,600 in his Senior feed). We added the forage balancer to give him all the vitamins and minerals that might be missing plus extra biotin to help with his feet. He gets stressed if he doesn’t get some grain when everyone else does so we can give him some because it is fed at such a low rate that it adds very little in Calories.

After the changes if we add up Sugar’s intake:
6 hours of pasture with muzzle at 333 Calories per hour (1/3th of the Calories)= 1,998
6 hours of grazing at 1,000 Calories per hour = 6,000
6.5 pounds of hay at 900 Calories/pound = 5,850
2 Pounds of balancer pellet feed = 2,200
1,998 +6,000 + 5,850 + 2,200 = 16,048

Right where we should be. Remember to start your horse in a muzzle gradually and to tweak your ration/Calories according to time of year, quality of grass and hay, and other issues that might affect intake.

There is no reason why a horse that has a reduced Caloric requirement cannot live like a horse, out on pasture and with a little grain as a treat. Using slow feeding methods like nets and muzzles as well as the wonderful fortified “lite” feeds out now any horse can be healthy and happy!

If you would like your horse to be a part of the Equine Nutrition Nerd Herd just click here

Peace and Good Feed,

~The Nerd

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