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Feeding Ponies: Don't Shortchange NutrientsBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · March 7, 2017

Most ponies are metabolic marvels, capable of transforming mere handfuls of forage and feed into well-fleshed physiques. The problem with ponies: ensuring optimal nutrient delivery without risking obesity or laminitis.

Nutritionists generally recommend that horses and ponies consume 1-2% of their body weight in forage and feed each day. On an all-forage diet, a mature horse with an ideal weight of 1,200 lb (550 kg), might consume 18 lb (8.2 kg) of good-quality hay a day to maintain condition, whereas a medium pony (13 hands, 132 cm) might weigh only 600 lb (275 kg) and require 9 lb (4 kg) of the same hay.

In a pony’s eyes, that isn’t much hay! To keep ponies at a healthy weight, portion control is imperative.

“As with horses, ponies don’t receive all of the vitamins and minerals necessary for optimal well-being on a hay-only diet, especially for those ponies engaged in regular exercise,” said Catherine Whitehouse, M.S., a nutrition advisor at Kentucky Equine Research (KER). Typically, these nutrients are delivered through a well-fortified concentrate. The downside of feeding concentrates can be found in their name: they are concentrated sources of energy. And energy can be a pony’s archnemesis, especially for those with no employment except to occasionally ferry the neighborhood kids from place to place.

If feeding concentrates supplies too much energy for ponies, providing vitamins and minerals lies in one of two management strategies.

  • Provide a ration balancer. “For most ponies, about 0.5 lb (0.2 kg) would supply all of the protein, vitamins, and minerals needed to balance a diet. The added protein in a ration balancer might be especially appropriate for breeding ponies as well as those in consistent work,” said Whitehouse. Recommendations vary based on the manufacturer, so be sure to follow feeding instructions closely. If the packaging does not include specific suggestions for ponies, contact the company and ask to speak to a nutritionist or formulation expert.
  • Feed a vitamin and mineral supplement. These products do not have the elevated protein content that a ration balancer has, which is acceptable for mature ponies in light work or those asked to do no work, according to Whitehouse. Like the ration balancer, be sure to feed according to the manufacturer’s instructions, and if no recommendation is given, contact the manufacturer for guidance.

Many of these products are often pelleted, which will make them easy to feed alone or mixed into a small amount of concentrate. Ration balancers are available through many feed stores. For optimal vitamin and mineral supplement, choose Micro-Max or I.R. Pellet from KER. In Australia, look for Nutrequin, Gold Pellet, or Perform.

Certain ponies might be downright indignant about the size of their meals, so employing strategies for stretching out meals is a wise move. Three tips:

  • Use a grazing muzzle. Sure, it might take a week or two to figure out a way to securely fasten the muzzle to prevent escape, but the effort is worth it. Grazing muzzles allow ponies to stay on pasture, but they limit energy intake, keeping ponies trimmer and less prone to metabolic disease. The exercise associated with grazing helps keep joints in tip-top shape, too, particularly important in aged ponies.
  • Drylot success.  Many ponies are successfully managed on drylots. The key to drylot success is the provision of adequate, appropriate forage. Likely, this would not mean full-out access to premium, energy-dense hay but rather more measured helpings of mid-quality hay. All hay should be free of dust, mold, and foreign material. Delivery of essential vitamins and minerals through a ration balancer or supplement is necessary for overall health.
  • Slow-feed haynets. Invest in a haynet that has especially small holes from which ponies can pull hay. This slows consumption considerably by keeping bites manageable; instead of a wad of hay in each mouthful, ponies will instead pull only a few pieces at a time. Want to slow intake further? Double-bag the hay with two slow-feed haynets. Make sure the haynet is placed at the appropriate level for the pony, which might be significantly lower than for a horse.

Ponies can be challenging to feed properly. Keeping a watchful eye on body condition and controlling energy intake will ensure that ponies stay in moderate body condition, which in turn will foster a long, useful life and will stave off metabolic issues such as laminitis.

Do you have a question about how to feed your hefty Hackney, your well-padded Welsh, or your portly POA? Look no further! The nutrition advisors at Kentucky Equine Research (KER) can help. Contact an advisor today.