My 31-year-old stock-type mare is feeling the effects of old age. She is in okay shape right now, a body condition score of 4, but obviously I’d like to try to get more weight on her. She’s not a tall horse and the weigh-tape indicates she’s about 850 lb (390 kg). Her current diet includes 16 lb (7.3 kg) of senior feed and 1 lb (0.45 kg) of stabilized rice bran. Generally, she is a great eater, though she is unable to chew hay properly, often rolling it in her mouth and then dropping it. How can I get her to gain weight?
Aged horses often present a particular set of nutritional challenges, and your mare has multiple issues occurring at the same time. Like humans, horses age differently. Some horses can maintain optimal weight easily as they transition into a third or fourth decade of life, while others drop weight inexplicably.
The behavior you describe in your query, that of her wetting, lolling, and then spitting out balls of forage, is called “quidding.” It is indicative of teeth than can no longer adequately grind and pulverize feeds. A dental checkup will likely reveal lost or diseased teeth, and this is not unusual in horses over 30 years old, as yours is, or even younger ones. Feeding this mare appropriately revolves around offering her feedstuffs that are easy for her to process, from the mouth to the large intestine.
Many senior feeds have fiber built into them expressly because so many aged horses have dental problems. The amount of senior feed that she is receiving is reasonable, given that her forage intake is next to nil. The total amount (16 lb; 7.3 kg) should be divided into at least three, but preferably four, meals a day, thereby decreasing meal size to 4-5 lb (1.8-2.3 kg).
Choosing to feed the mare stabilized rice bran is a wise move. Because she eats it readily, consider upping the amount to 2 lb (0.9 kg), dividing it equally between the meals. Further calories can be added to her diet through the use of vegetable oil. Adding 4 oz (120 ml; 0.5 cup) to each meal, for a total of 16 oz (480 ml) each day, will boost calorie consumption. As with all new feedstuffs, gradually add these to her feed. Even though you describe her as a keen eater, she might step away from the feed tub if too many changes happen at once. Plan on making these supplement changes over the course of a few weeks.
If you want to introduce any additional forage to the ration you can provide it in the cubed or pelleted form. Most tooth-challenged horses have no trouble consuming it once it’s been soaked. Alfalfa (lucerne) pellets or cubes will have the highest caloric content of forage, and will soften nicely when wet. Because of the high palatability of alfalfa, most aged horses will eat these soaked pellets or cubes readily.
Another way to ensure proper digestive health which, in turn, might lead to weight gain is through the use of EquiShure, a product that buffers the hindgut and maintains a balanced pH environment for optimal fiber digestion. Several horse owners have reported that this product has helped their senior horses thrive.
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