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  • Q:

    I just purchased a 16-year-old gelding that weighs about 1,100 lb (500 kg) that I’d like to use for some light trail-riding. His weight seems OK but he could use some muscle and overall fitness. The gelding’s previous owner gave him some senior feed (about one-half of a coffee can), a handful of alfalfa pellets, and some hay each day. I have five acres of pasture for him and another horse, and I can provide him with whatever feed and supplements he requires. Because I don’t know much about his previous diet, where do I begin?

  • A:

    When you don’t have detailed information on a horse’s past nutritional management, it is best to take a conservative approach, as you appear to be doing. You have evaluated his body condition and have indicated that his weight is healthy, though muscle development is needed.

    Forage will form the basis of his diet. Depending upon the type of hay you have for your other horse, you may find he will do well on good-quality grass hay. Ensuring that he is getting between 1.5-2% of his body weight in forage daily is ideal. For a horse his size, approximately 16-22 lb (7-10 kg) of hay and grass combined will successfully meet his forage requirement. Providing limited access to fresh grass is wise because he did not have access to high-quality grass before you bought him. An abrupt transition to lush grass can cause negative changes to the hindgut environment and potentially lead to further complications.

    After meeting forage requirements, it is necessary to address the other nutrients in the diet that are not being met with forage alone. Feeds and concentrated supplements can provide the missing vitamins and minerals. Because his feeding history only included a small amount of feed, you may want to continue this trend by offering a more concentrated source of nutrients such as a ration balancer pellet. Although he was getting senior feed, it was not being fed according to the manufacturer’s directions. Feeding at least the minimum recommended by the manufacturer ensures the horse consumes the daily recommended requirement of many important nutrients, including several vitamins and minerals. Since he doesn’t appear to require the full serving of feed to maintain body condition, I think it would be best to start him on a balancer pellet. Usually, these products are fed at 1-2 lb (0.5-0.9 kg) daily.

    Horses living in hot, humid climates should be offered a daily electrolyte to replenish the nutrients lost in sweat. Kentucky Equine Research (KER) offers a slow-release electrolyte, Restore SR, that provides a time-released source of sodium, which allows sustained absorption for maximum replenishment. Australians should look for these scientifically formulated products.

    Another beneficial supplement for overall health is the omega-3 fish oil EO•3. EO•3 provides the preferential omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA. Just 1-3 oz a day promotes a healthy coat, boosts immune function, and reduces inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis.

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