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Managing Body Condition of Horses in HerdsBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · January 13, 2017

Do you have easy keepers, hard keepers, ponies, and one or two heavy horses in the same herd? Although one might think that they all live in harmony, grazing enough—and only enough—to maintain their body weight, some horses maintained in a herd setting, regardless of how natural it seems, need human help for optimal nutritional management.

“Grazing acreage, type of forage, life stage, existing medical conditions, metabolic rate (easy or hard keepers), and position in the pecking order are all factors that require consideration. Even though it seems like we should be able to turn out our horses to reap the rewards associated with being managed on pasture, many horses do need help for maximal health,” says Clarissa Brown-Douglas, Ph.D., equine nutritionist for Kentucky Equine Research (Australia).

To ensure all the horses in a herd are cared for optimally, “crowd control” may be more necessary than you think. Consider that:

  • Most horses can easily consume 1.5-2% of their body weight on good-quality pasture in a 24-hour period.
  • When feeding flakes of hay in a stall, it’s easier to gauge how much they are eating.
  • While on pasture, consider each horse individually in the herd and contemplate pecking order of the herd when routinely assessing each horses’ body condition score.
  • Thoughtful rotation and maintenance of pastures can actually increase forage yield for pasture-managed horses.

“Herd intervention is imperative to ensure each horse has access to the necessary resources, including food, water, and supplements such as salt blocks,” advises Brown-Douglas.

She adds, “It may be necessary to separate the horses at feeding time to ensure each is able to consume their feed without the stress of a dominant horse taking more than their share. It is important to ensure that there are more hay piles than the number of horses and helpful to have easily accessible water troughs located away from corners.”

If there is a large disparity in the requirements and body condition of horses housed together, owners need to consider permanent separation so diets can be managed. Splitting paddocks in two or housing easy keepers in day yards are both effective methods in herd management.