It happens each year. We take the blanket off our horse and find that somewhere around 40-60 pounds has shrunk off the perfect weight he/she was carrying going into winter. With show or trail season coming soon we naturally want our equine partner looking the best possible. So, what to do?
No discussion about weight gain is possible without emphasizing the importance of ample palatable clean forage. Good hay provides calories for maintenance as well as protein, minerals, and vitamins. Most importantly however, forage provides the fibre needed to maintain a healthy digestive system.
Horses like other living creatures require energy to maintain body functions and perform their daily activity. Energy is measured in calories. Each feedstuff contributes calories to the horse’s total requirement. Grains like corn, and oats are more calorie dense than forages like hay and pasture. Fat from soy oil, flax, rice bran etc. are much more calorie dense than grains. Adequate calories are required for maintenance of body functions and to fuel the horse’s daily routine. A diet short on calories will result in weight loss.
The energy (calorie) requirement varies significantly from one horse to another. This is where the math comes in. An 1100-pound horse has an average energy requirement of 16000-18000 calories per day for basic maintenance. For some good forage can provide enough calories to maintain a healthy weight. Others however could need 15% or more extra calories per day, or gradually lose weight through the cold weather of winter. The chart below illustrates an example. This horse needs more daily calories than average. (19100 calories/day) Hay (20 pounds/day) and Brooks Enhancer still leave a calorie deficit of 1970 calories daily. On this diet the horse will lose about ¼ of a pound each day. That’s as many as 40-45 pounds or more over the winter. With low quality hay and very cold temperatures some “hard keepers” might have even greater loss.
Research has established that an extra 7500 to 9000 calories per day is needed over and above maintenance for a horse to gain one pound of bodyweight daily. Even using a good performance concentrate will require 5 to 6 extra pounds of concentrate daily over maintenance including a more active daily routine in the spring
A more modest goal of ½ pound gain per day is more reachable. To gain a ½ pound per day it will only require an extra 2 ½ to 3 pounds of concentrate per day. It will take more time but it’s healthier for the horse.
Are there short cuts to faster weight gain? Yes, a very high fat concentrate like Brooks “Fibre O Plus” is more “calorie dense” than most concentrates. Extra fat from Flax Appeal or rice bran adds some needed calories.
One fallacy is the claim that as little as 30 ml. of specialty oil will transform your horse’s weight This claim does not stand up to scrutiny. 30 ml. of oil provides approximately 250 calories which will produce about ½ of an ounce weight gain per day. Supplemental specialty oils may have other benefits but don’t depend on them for weight gain.
On the other hand, one cup of soy or canola oil weighs about 220 grams. This equates to close to 2000 calories per day which can contribute to weight gain. Palatability is another issue but at least it is a realistic addition to the diet.
To sum up when our Nutrition Advisors get asked about a diet for weight gain, we start with a realistic goal of ½ pound weight gain per day. We choose the most calorie dense Brooks formulas available including Fibre O Plus, Eeze Pro Plus, or Eeze. High fat supplements include Flax Appeal or rice bran for supplemental calories.