In the September issue of EQUUS magazine I discovered a very timely article in the EQ Hands On section, written by Katie Frank with Melinda Freckleton, DVM, entitled “Winter Weight Gain”.
I’ve mentioned here before that my senior Thoroughbred has always been hard to keep weight on, and I would worry about him even during our mild winters down here in Texas. As noted in the article, horses with better body condition will handle chilly winter weather better because fat can provide insulation from the cold as well as the energy needed to maintain the core body temperature.
So as I read through the short article, I was happy to note that the feeding strategies suggested are all things that we now do for Annapolis to help him gain and keep his weight and (knock on wood) so far they seem to be working.
Here are the healthy winter weight-gain tactics offered in the article:
1) Add another meal of hay to your horse’s daily ration, or feed it free-choice. Unfortunately, Annapolis doesn’t have enough teeth to be able to chew hay but we’ve been able to compromise by adding a lunch time feed of soaked hay cubes.
2) Switch to a higher calorie feed. The authors state that many slim horses are slow and picky eaters and this is certainly true in Annapolis’ case. There were times at previous barns when he was still picking through his feed while all the other horses had been turned back out and left him behind. The best idea is to try a feed that will provide more calories in the same sized meal. Feeds that provide extra calories from fat are safer to feed than those that supply the calories from sugars and carbohydrates, so be sure and read those labels.
3) Add oil to his existing ration. Corn and other vegetable oils add calories to a horse’s diet in the form of fat. This was the first tactic we tried with Annapolis when I moved him to our current barn and we saw an immediate improvement in his condition.
Finally, the article suggests that as you implement your new feeding strategy, taking photographs and jotting down notes will help you keep track of your progress.
So it’s comforting to know that we are doing everything we can to help Annapolis maintain his body condition so he’ll remain comfortable and cozy throughout his 33rd winter and beyond.