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Earlier this week I saw a post on Facebook asking for non-heating weight gain feeds for their horse. They have had this horse for several years but they had started dropping weight for the first time this year so they were looking for some new feeds to try. There were plenty of good feed suggestions, but my initial thought was have they investigated other causes?
I haven’t spoken to the poster, but to me, if a horse suddenly started dropping weight over winter on the same feed they had always had, I would think that there was another cause to the weight loss. In this post I am going to look at some other things what can cause weight loss which I think should at least be considered before throwing more food at the problem.
Natural to lose some weight over Winter
Firstly, it is natural for horses to lose some weight over winter. I have written about this before and why for some horses it is a good thing to drop some weight over winter. Before I started worrying about my horse dropping weight, I would think about what weight they were entering winter and if they would benefit from losing a bit of weight over the winter. Scottie usually gets a grass belly over the summer, so it does him good to drop this over winter before he hits the summer grass again!
If they don’t need to lose any weight, then I would start thinking about if they are warm enough. Horses use up energy to keep warm, which can burn up their fat resources. It might not even be a case of making sure they have a big enough rug on, but making sure they have some shelter and time out of the elements.
Have they had their teeth checked recently?
If you have ever had bad toothache you will know that you often don’t want to eat anything. Just because your horse is finishing the food in their bucket, it doesn’t mean they are eating normally. Many horses with tooth problems will eat their feed but not grass or hay. With older horses they can even lose teeth, making it harder for them to eat forage.
When were they last wormed?
Parasites are well known for causing loss of condition. If your horse has a high worm burden feeding them more won’t help them gain weight.
Has their routine changed since last winter?
Are they outside more? If so they might need more forage in the field. Or perhaps the horses come in at different times and they wait at the gate for hours waiting to come in rather than grazing. Are they finishing all the hay in their haynet when they are in? If they are turned out with new horses, are they lower down the pecking order and get less time at the hay? Plenty of forage is often the best thing to maintain weight. So checking if any changes might be affecting how much forage your horse is getting might be better than adding more hard feed.
After these initial checks and the workload is the same, then I would start to consider adding to or changing the hard feed to see if that helps.