iStock_000008396954_SmallAs winter drags on, it leaves some horses looking a bit on the poor side- if your horse is one of these, read on!

There are various reasons why your horse may have dropped a bit of weight, and often by making easy diet and management changes you can help them to gain a few pounds. The first things to consider are your horse’s teeth, to check that there are no medical issues that may cause weight loss, and make sure that your horse isn’t suffering from a parasite burden.

Once you have ruled out any medical problems, you can start to adjust your horse’s diet. In order for your horse to gain condition they will need to consume more calories than they are using- you can do this by helping to reduce the calories they burn on a daily basis, or by increasing their daily calorie intake.

Lack of access to clean water and good quality forage can have a massive effect on a horse’s food intake, so make sure your horse has access to clean fresh water and any hay/haylage is of good quality and free from dust and mould. Forage should be provided ad-lib, and supplementing the diet with Pre-and Probiotics will help keep the bacteria population in the hind gut healthy, vital for fermentation of fibre and allowing your horse to get the most from their diet.

If your horse is already being fed ad-lib forage, or they refuse to eat any more, try other fibre sources to encourage them to eat a bit more. Hay, grass or alfalfa chaffs or cubes suit most horses and can be fed in high volumes without the negative effects of large amounts of high sugar/starch feeds. Unmolassed sugar beet is also a good safe energy source, and is a good base for addition of oil if necessary.

Oil is energy dense, providing more calories gram for gram than other feed sources, and adding oil to the diet will increase energy input in a safe and controlled manner (although not suitable for horses with liver issues). Horses are able to tolerate quite high levels of fat in the diet providing that it is slowly introduced (over the course of weeks). This oil should be balanced with additional anti-oxidants, to help neutralise the free radicals produced when oil is converted into energy!

Some horses, especially those in hard work, may require concentrate feed to help maintain or gain condition. To reduce the risks associated with this feed type look for one with high fibre and oil content, and feed in several small feeds per day rather than one large feed.

As well as increasing the energy content of the diet, you can reduce calories being burnt by considering the following:

If your horse looks very poor, and it is possible to reduce their workload it is often a good idea.

Keep them warm- cold weather increases a horse’s energy requirements, so if your horse is losing weight make sure that they are adequately rugged and have access to shelter. Digesting fibre produces heat, so provide ad-lib good quality forage to help to reduce the energy your horse needs to use to keep warm.

Stress is another reason for weight loss, and certain horses are naturally much more highly strung than others. If your horse is constantly on the go and can be tense about everything they will be burning more calories than a calmer horse. This can be made more obvious under stressful conditions, such as being stabled more than usual, losing a companion, moving yards or travel/competition, and in these situations weight can drop off nervy types rapidly. If your horse is unsettled, consider feeding a calming supplement to help take the edge of them, and hence stop wasting nervous energy.

Whatever combination of feed and supplements you choose to give your horse, it is very important that they are receiving a balanced diet, and are not lacking any vital nutrients. If you need help to make sure that your horse is getting what they need, or you would like advice on feeding please call us on 0800 585525, email [email protected], or use our online chat service, available at