Kevlar is my seven-year-old, 17-hand (172 cm) Thoroughbred gelding. He’s in just-right weight—no ribs visible but they are palpable. He’s a low-level hunter that I ride on the flat five or six days a week and over fences one or two of those days as well. Each day he is fed a total of 4 quarts of Canadian oats, 4 quarts of high-fat sweet feed, 1.5 quarts of an extruded 25% fat supplement, 2 quarts of alfalfa pellets, and alfalfa and timothy hay throughout the day (no pasture). Kevlar is quite “up” and is predictably spooky. I would like to bring the energy level into check. How can I modify his diet to achieve this?
To evaluate Kevlar’s diet, I converted the volume of each feedstuff to an approximate weight. When working with a nutritionist, it is always best to provide the daily intake of each dietary component as a weight, as this information makes the evaluation more accurate. My estimate for his current feed intake level is at least 1.5% of body weight of forage (about 20 lb or 9.1 kg), 4 lb (1.8 kg) of oats, 5 lb (2.3 kg) of high-fat sweet feed, and 1.5 lb (0.7 kg) of extruded fat supplement.
Kevlar’s current diet is providing appropriate levels of forage, vitamins, and minerals, though depending on his workload and weight maintenance, it may be providing too many calories. Kevlar’s flightiness may be the result of an excess amount of energy, even for a horse of his size.
Is Kevlar maintaining his ideal weight or is he slowly gaining weight on this diet? Certain nutritional factors have been linked to increased activity and reactivity in horses, such as an excess of calories and diets high in nonstructural carbohydrates (NSC) such as starch and sugar. The addition of dietary fat, like vegetable oil, has been documented to reduce excitability in some horses and is often recommended in conjunction with a decrease in starch and sugar.
If Kevlar has been gaining weight on this diet, lowering NSC by reducing the amount of oats to 1-2 lb (0.45-0.9 kg), may help improve tractability. If, however, Kevlar needs the calories, then replacing the oats with more high-fat sweet feed will provide an increase in dietary fat and reduce the NSC while maintaining the appropriate level of vitamins and minerals.
Offering Kevlar’s daily feed amount in three feedings may be beneficial, as it will reduce the meal size from 5 lb (2.3 kg) to about 3 lb (1.4 kg), and when spread over the course of the day (morning, afternoon, and evening) can help minimize spikes in blood glucose and insulin post-feeding. High-grain diets and large glycemic responses are thought to have an influence on excitable behavior in certain horses.
Diet and feeding management can affect behavior, though other factors such as genetics, daily exercise, fitness level, and environment can have just as much influence on behavior as dietary components.
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