Following three months’ box rest, my 16.2hh Elementary dressage horse lost condition. He’s schooled four times a week and hacked once a week, with two days off, so how much should I feed him?
Liz Bulbrook answers:
For a horse to gain weight, his energy (calorie) intake must exceed what he requires to fuel his work and maintain health and well-being, so that excess can be stored by the body to improve condition. The art is in supplying these extra calories in a ‘safe’, effective way, so that his digestive system is not overloaded.
In your horse’s case, make sure every mouthful he eats is as nutritious as possible. Ensure he has adequate turnout, but if grass is in short supply and/or of dubious nutritional value, ensure he has ad lib hay or haylage, both in the field and stable, to ensure his fibre intake is maintained.
Is he getting enough vital nutrients to maintain equine health?
Your chosen compound feed should be energy dense, and a conditioning mix or cube will deliver more calories per scoop than a ‘pasture’ or ‘cool’ mix. Ensure also that you feed recommended levels of your chosen feed to ensure that your horse’s vitamin and mineral requirements are met.
For your horse’s workload and bodyweight, I suggest 5.5kg/12lb conditioning cubes divided into three or more small meals a day. If you can only feed twice a day, reduce the amount to 3.7kg/8lb and add a high oil, balanced supplement or vegetable oil to provide extra calories. Oil is useful, as it is energy dense, containing 21⁄2 times as many calories as cereals. Increase the levels very gradually to allow your horse’s digestive system time to adapt, building up to 375-500ml oil per feed over three weeks.
As oil levels in the diet increase, so does the body’s requirement for antioxidants to counteract the free radicals produced during its metabolism. I would recommend, therefore, the addition of vitamin E and selenium supplements to your horse’s feed.
To read the original article grab a copy of August 2012 Horse&Rider.