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  • Q:

    My 12-year-old mare tends to run on the thin side; I can just barely see the outline of some ribs. I like seeing her with a little more weight. Right now, she’s about 1,020 lb (460 kg). Our weather shifts from wet to dry, and because of this, her hooves crack. Her soundness is off-and-on due to some problems stemming from contracted tendons. She eats 5 lb (2.3 kg) of sweet feed and has access to pasture or coastal hay at all times. How can I get her to gain some weight without affecting her soundness or the health of her feet and legs?

  • A:

    Your mare is getting an adequate amount of feed for a mature, idle horse, but she doesn’t appear to be utilizing it effectively. Here are a few recommendations.

    Consider switching to a feed with multiple energy sources. The sweet feed you’re currently feeding provides energy from primarily starch. Some horses, and your mare might be one of them, respond to feeds that contain a medley of energy sources, such as starch, fat, and fermentable fiber. Check the feed tag or bag for high-fat ingredients like stabilized rice bran and vegetable oil, as well as high-fiber add-ins, including beet pulp or soybean hulls.

    Adding vegetable oil to her current feed will make each meal more energy-dense. While corn oil has been popular in the past, the current trend is to feed soybean or canola oil, as they have a more favorable balance of fatty acids.

    Though free-choice hay is a great way to make sure the mare’s forage needs are appropriately met, you might consider a more energy-rich source of forage such as a legume (typically alfalfa or lucerne) or a legume-grass mix. You could also supplement with a few pounds of alfalfa-based hay cubes or pellets.

    Optimal fermentation of forage depends on a healthy hindgut environment. Hard keepers sometimes have more variation in pH levels in the hindgut than other horses, which can negatively affect fiber digestion and weight gain. To help control the pH level and optimize fermentation, use a hindgut buffer such as EquiShure. This product has helped many hard keepers achieve improvement in body condition.

    Including information about the mare’s lameness is helpful. Because you do not wish for her to gain a lot of weight, just a one-point upgrade in body condition, I do not think weight gain will impact her soundness. Because you brought it up, however, you should pay careful attention to her soundness as weight gain occurs. It is possible that your mare feels most comfortable in a moderately thin state (a condition score of 4, for example). If this is the case, the best choice might be for her to remain lighter than you wish. Remember, the best weight for an individual horse depends on multiple factors, including its overall health.

    For poor hoof quality, choose a hoof supplement that not only supplies biotin at 20 mg a day, the recommended amount, but also other important hoof-building nutrients, such as the amino acid methionine, essential fatty acids, and minerals like zinc and iodine. Bio•Bloom PS (Bio•Bloom in Australia) contains all of these important ingredients. Of course, working with a competent farrier to help resolve hoof issues is important as well.

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