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  • Q:

    My daughter gives our 13-hand pony about 3 lb (1.4 kg) of feed each morning, even though we both know the pony doesn’t need it, as he is obese. Her defense: he requires the vitamins and minerals in the feed for overall well-being. Is there an alternative feed or supplement we can feed him to make him believe he’s getting his usual meal but limiting caloric intake? Other than the feed, he lives on unlimited orchardgrass hay and scarce, low-quality pasture.

  • A:

    As both you and your daughter already know, your pony does not need the feed he’s being given for breakfast, though your daughter makes a good point. Horses on all-forage diets benefit from a source of vitamins and minerals. Two low-calorie sources of vitamins and minerals include ration balancers and vitamin and mineral supplements, both of which are ideal for easy keepers, like your pony.

    Many feed stores sell ration balancers. These pelleted feeds usually contain a high-quality protein source in addition to vitamins and minerals. Because your pony is likely meeting his protein requirements through the orchardgrass hay, he would do just as well on a vitamin and mineral supplement, such as Micro-Max, developed by the nutritionists at Kentucky Equine Research (KER). For a pony this size, 2 oz will be sufficient.

    Because obesity is not healthy for any pony, you might consider limiting the amount of hay your gelding receives. Without an accurate body weight, it is hard to recommend a precise amount of hay to offer him. You can estimate body weight using a weigh-tape or a large scale, sometimes available at a feed store, stockyards, or veterinary clinic.

    To begin, feeding 1.5-2% of body weight per day of hay with the Micro-Max will supply sufficient calories and nutrients for optimal health. For example, if your gelding weighs 600 lb (270 kg), feeding 9-12 lb (4-5.4 kg) of orchardgrass hay would be appropriate. Divide this amount into multiple feedings.

    You may choose to place the hay in a small-hole haynet (sometimes called a “nibble net”), so it takes longer for the pony to eat each portion. It is always advantageous to slow feeding as much as possible, so meals last for extended stretches, especially when dealing with horses and ponies on restricted diets. If the pasture grass is indeed scarce, you can continue to allow him to graze, as this will encourage him to move and will keep his stomach from becoming entirely empty should he clean up his hay meals.

    In addition to dietary changes, consider engaging your pony in some physical pursuit, such as work under saddle or in harness. Many horses enjoy the work asked of them and begin to look forward to the daily interaction. Consistent work of increasing intensity will also help the pony lose weight.

    Once your pony has been on this reduced-calorie diet and exercise program for a while, you will likely notice a change in body weight. Trimming down your pony will be best for his health, especially since it is well known that long-term obesity coupled with a sedentary lifestyle fuels the development of metabolic diseases.

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