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  • Q:

    My pony jumper is a firecracker. He’s a nervous type, but he’s fast and exciting to ride. Because he’s so high-strung, it’s difficult to keep weight on him. He sure doesn’t look like the pony hunters in the barn, all of which are round and chubby. What can I do to address his excitability and his thinness?

  • A:

    Your concerns are legitimate, but they are uncommon because mature ponies, even those in work, are usually able to maintain their weight on forage, and perhaps a trifle of sweet feed and a vitamin and mineral supplement. Your pony’s nervous, go-go-go disposition likely causes him to burn calories at a quicker rate than his more sedate peers.

    A single change in feeding management might simultaneously solve both of your problems. That change involves transitioning from the traditional sweet feed you’re currently feeding, which contains plenty of carbohydrates and could play a role in his nervousness, to a high-fat feed. While fat has a somewhat soiled reputation in human nutrition circles, it is useful in many equine diets. Fat supplies more calories than carbohydrates, so a high-fat feed will deliver more energy than the same quantity of traditional sweet feed.

    I know what you’re thinking: he doesn’t need more energy! Hang with me.

    Calories from fat will not contribute to his excitability as calories from carbohydrates might. Yes, a high-fat feed will boost his calorie intake, but your pony needs to ingest additional calories so he has plenty of energy to work and gain weight. Right now, it seems he’s consuming only sufficient calories to work and maintain a less-than-desirable weight. By keeping his nervousness at bay and boosting calorie intake with a high-fat feed, your pony will be more likely to gain weight.

    While switching to a high-fat feed is one method of ensuring greater calorie intake, there are other ways to incorporate fat into the diet. For instance, many high-fat supplements are available. The most common, especially in show barns, are vegetable oils, which are 100% fat. Corn oil is the most popular, but it is best to choose an oil that has a more balanced omega-3 and omega-6 ratio, such as canola or soy oil. Feeding a vegetable oil has disadvantages, however, and the foremost is messiness. Feed tubs have to be scrubbed frequently to avoid buildup of oily residue and to keep flies away in the summertime. Stabilized rice bran, which contains 20% fat, is a palatable alternative.

    A note about ideal body weight: You should aim to keep your pony in moderate body condition. One telltale sign of moderate body condition is a thin layer of fat covering the ribs. You should be able to feel his ribs but not see them. Because no two ponies are built identically and because your pony has a job altogether different than his stablemates, you should accept the fact that he may never look like a pony hunter. Find a diet that helps him gain weight and re-evaluate his diet when he’s reached moderate body condition.

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