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  • Q:

    My five-year-old Quarter Horse mare is too thin (BCS: 4). She stands only 15 hands (152 cm) and weighs about 900 lb (410 kg). I use her for barrel racing, exercising her 5-10 hours per week and then competing on the weekends. I feed her three quarts of feed each morning and evening—two quarts of that is typical concentrate and one quart is low-starch concentrate. She gets 6-8 hours of turnout each day. I’ve tried rice bran and that didn’t work. What else can I do to support weight gain?

  • A:

    Nutritionists use a great deal of information when conducting an evaluation, so providing as much as possible—even erring on the side of too much information—is always best.

    To better understand your mare’s situation, it would help to have the following information: (1) the type of forage the mare consumes while she’s stalled, the quality of that forage, and how much, in pounds or kilograms, of that forage; (2) the amount of feed she’s given as a weight, not a volume; (3) whether you’ve tried other high-calorie products aside from stabilised rice bran; and (4) whether you’ve offered digestive supplements such as yeast, probiotics, or buffers.

    Further, is this mare’s weight stable, though less than her ideal weight and condition, or is she in a state of chronic weight loss? Would you describe her as thin and undermuscled, or would she be considered fit, as a racehorse might be? High-performance horses, like racehorses and other hard workers, often have a lower body condition score than pleasure-type horses but are maintained at their ideal weight with ample internal energy reserves.

    Given the information you provided, the following suggestions might be of some use.

    Make sure your mare is up-to-date on dental, deworming, and vaccination schedules to ensure there are no underlying health concerns causing her to struggle with body condition.

    To achieve weight gain, the mare’s intake of digestible energy (DE) needs to be greater than her energy expenditure. An increase in feed intake will help to facilitate weight gain. It is not unusual for hard-working horses to require 10-15 lb (4.5-6.8 kg) of feed per day. Feeding her based on her target weight is recommended, as it takes significantly more calories to achieve weight gain than it does weight maintenance. I would estimate her target weight to be the range of 1050-1150 lb (475-525 kg).

    When horses are consuming large amounts of feed, it is important to balance the forage to concentrate ratio, making sure at least 50% of the diet comes from forage. Providing your mare with the highest quality forage, as pasture, hay or forage alternatives such as beet pulp and hay cubes, is my first recommendation. This should be given on a free-choice basis.

    Early- to mid-maturity hay will provide more calories than late-maturity hay. Legume forages, like alfalfa or clover, are another way to maximize the amount of calories provided as forage due to their higher energy and often lower fiber content compared to grass hays of the same maturity. Most horses perform well on a grass-legume mix consisting of 20-50% legume.

    Supporting gut health is key in these instances when large amounts of concentrate feed is needed for weight gain. Kentucky Equine Research (KER) has found that horses at risk of developing digestive discomfort benefit from the daily digestive buffer RiteTrac.

    RiteTrac is an equine-specific digestive supplement that also contains a time-released hindgut buffer, EquiShure, to offer superior protection to the entire digestive tract.

    Barrel racing requires significant energy output predominately from muscle glycogen stores that require a steady supply of nonstructural carbohydrates (NSC). Cereal grains (corn, barley, oats) offer concentrated sources of nonstructural carbohydrate (NSC), providing a direct fuel source for speed work. Traditionally, cereal grains have been considered the go-to feed for adding condition to a horse. When fed in moderation cereal grains offer significant nutritional value to the performance horse. You may consider adding 1-2 lb (0.45-0.9 kg) of oats or processed corn or barley to your current concentrate feed or offering her a performance feed higher in calories and NSC.

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