The first step we take is try to pin point what the likely cause is, and to do that we have to ask a few questions:
1. Is the horse otherwise healthy?
If your horse is normally happy and energetic and suddenly becomes very lethargic, it probably needs to have some veterinary attention to rule out a medical cause for this. Pain, muscular issues, or serious deficiencies in the diet will all result in a lack of energy.
- What is the horse’s weight like?
Often when we ask owners will tell us that their horse is on the heavy side. Just as with humans, if your horse consumes too many calories (energy units) and doesn’t wear enough off, they put on weight. An overweight horse will often feel lethargic, and by helping them to lose weight they will often act in a spritely manner!
There is no quick cure to this, the only way to help your horse lose weight is to reduce calories by cutting down on hard feed if they are fed this, or by restricting access to grazing, and by increasing calories burnt by increasing time and intensity of exercise. If your horse needs to trim up, please call our nutritional team who will help you to come up with a weight-loss routine suited to your horse!
If your horse is underweight, they may also be lacking energy.
- Could they be dehydrated?
Dehydration and a lack of essential body salts (electrolytes) will quickly result in issues such as energy loss, so make sure your horse always has access to clean water, and supplement with electrolytes if they have been sweating due to heat or exercise.
- Are they fit enough?
If you are asking your horse to perform at a level above their current fitness, they will be lethargic during work, and often for a day or two after, so make sure your horse is fit enough for the task in hand! If their fitness needs working on, gradually increase duration and intensity.
- Do they need Oats?!
If your horse is at an ideal weight or (even a poor do-er) and they lack energy, the answer may be that they need an increase in dietary energy. Try gradually adding oats or competition mix to a high fibre diet as a form of extra dietary energy . This is generally only needed if the horse is in medium-hard work. Some horses can act very ‘fizzy’ on these feed types so introduce slowly and monitor behaviour.
If your horse is a good doer and is already overweight, it is likely that the extra calories will just get converted into fat, and the problem will get worse, so we do not advise feeding an overweight horse these high energy feeds.
- Anaemia or deficiencies
Anaemia is when your horse has got either fewer red blood cells than normal, or less haemoglobin (the bit that carriers oxygen around the body) in these cells, and this can result in lethargy. Iron is a major component of haemoglobin, but even so, Iron alone is not a suitable supplement for anaemic horses, instead, you need a product which combine iron with copper, which is needed for iron absorption and uptake.
Deficiencies in B-vitamins can also cause energy issues: deficiencies in B12 and B9 (Folic Acid) can cause production of overly large red blood cells that do not function correctly, which directly affects oxygen supply to bodily tissues. The other B-vitamins also have an important role in energy metabolism, and a lack of any of these may make your horse more lethargic than is usual.
Adequate B-vitamins are usually provided from a high forage diet and synthesis within the hind gut, but older horses, those in stressful situations, competing, undertaking intense exercise, on a low forage diet or those with compromised hind gut function will benefit from additional B-vitamins to ensure optimum levels are provided.
If you would like any further information or advice please call our free helpline on 0800585525.
Olivia Colton MSc
Nutritional and Technical Coordinator