Help, my horse is lacking energy, and I think I need a different feed. I have a seven-year-old, 16-hand Thoroughbred/Percheron gelding that is an easy keeper. He is in light to moderate work, usually ridden three times a week for one to two hours. He lacks energy when he works, but he’s healthy, dewormed regularly, has his teeth done twice a year, and has no veterinary issues that I can detect. He just seems lazy and lethargic at times. Current diet is pasture, hay, chaff, 1.5 kg (3.3 lb) of a commercial feed, which is formulated to be fed at a rate of at least 3 kg (6.6 lb) per day, 500 g (1 lb) oats, 500 g (1 lb) barley, black sunflower seeds, and salt. Can you suggest another feed to add that will make him have more energy, but won’t make him fat?
Your gelding’s current diet contains a good amount of forage and calories for his size and condition, but there are some nutrients lacking, particularly trace minerals. This is probably not the cause of his lethargy, but it would be a good idea to correct the diet. Feeding the pasture, hay, and chaff is a great base to your horse’s diet, and adding calories (energy) from oats, barley, and sunflower seeds is practical. This base diet will provide the calories, protein, and some minerals that he needs, but there appears to be insufficient trace minerals in the total diet.
I would recommend selecting a different feed, as it appears the commercial feed at the rate you are feeding does not completely balance out the diet. I would recommend one of two things: first, if you are keen to continue to mix your own feeds (oats, barley, sunflower seeds, and chaff), then adding a specially formulated balancer is important to top up the vitamins and minerals. I have attached a recommended diet that is very similar to your current diet: pasture, chaff, hay, oats, barley, black sunflower seeds, salt, and 1 kg (2.2 lb) of balancer (KER All Phase). This is a concentrated source of vitamins and minerals that is low in calories, so it won’t contribute to weight gain but will nicely balance out the nutrients.
The second option is to use a complete feed in conjunction with the current forage intake. Use the same forage base he is currently on (pasture, hay, and chaff) and add 2.5 kg (5.5 lb) of a well-formulated commercial feed that incorpoates various energy sources and salt. The feed contains all the energy, protein, vitamins, and minerals your horse needs for a balanced diet, without the need to add oats, barley, and sunflower seeds. The mixture of energy sources, including cereal grains, beet pulp, and oils, is especially appropriate for performance horses.
Now that we have the diet balanced, this brings me to the energy query. Lack of energy/spark is quite a common issue with good-doing horses. In most cases, lethargy is not related to nutrition, but is more linked to being on the lazy side (as good-doers notoriously are). Sadly, there is no magic feed or ingredient that will give an overweight or lazy horse more spark or stamina, as this usually comes down to energy balance. Horses that are good doers have slow metabolisms. They are efficient in the conversion of food to energy, and they burn energy slowly. This is actually evolutionary; think of horses in the wild living off poor-quality, stalky grasses often having to travel miles just for a pick of feed. Certain horses have adapted to get the most out of every bite!
Being of Percheron blood, your horse will likely fit into this category, as the draft breeds tend to have very slow metabolisms and characteristically carry a lot of body condition, especially on the rump, shoulders, and neck. After ruling out any health reasons for your horse’s lack of spark, my advice is to get him fitter. This lethargy will not be fixed by a higher energy feed but by working him so that he burns more calories. We would not recommend adding more oats or high-energy feeds (other than to balance out his diet) as he does not need the additional calories. Check out this article to help you optimize energy levels at a show.