Is your horse fat?

Horses that are overweight add stress to their joints and are at risk of founder. They are also much more difficult to fit correctly for a saddle. The best way to decide if your horse is overweight is by using, and tracking their body condition score. Horses that are a 6 or higher, should be on a nutrition and exercise plan that will bring them back to a healthy weight. Forage should still be fed 24/7, but hay should be kept in a slow feeder net to reduce the total amount consumed by the horse. Feeder sources can be found in Nutrition Part 1.


Insulin resistance and metabolic disorders are another health concern facing many horses. The best way to identify if your horse is at risk for metabolic disorders is by tracking their crest score. Horses with a score of 3 or higher are at risk of metabolic disease and insulin resistance. Horses with a 3 or higher should be fed low NSC feeds. No grains or high sugar feeds, ever.  Good sources of low sugar feeds can be found in Nutrition Part 2.


Nutrition Part 2: Vitamins & Minerals

Concentrates have to be fed according to the recommended amount on the bag if your horse is to receive the recommended amount of nutrients. This means you may need to feed 5-10 pounds of additional feed, depending on the product you feed. These products are often high in sugar and simple carbohydrates, which increase the risk of colic, ulcers, and founder for your horse.

A better way to supply your horse with needed nutrition, without the extra sugar/grains, is by feeding a ration balancer or a vitamin/mineral supplement. You can also use a feed balancing program like Feed XL to ensure your horse is getting the right amount of nutrients.

Ration Balancers
Ration balancers are fed just like a traditional feed. You simply look at the back of the bag to identify the correct amount. Make sure you weigh your “scoop” before you feed so you know you are actually feeding the correct amount! Usually ration balancers have a 1-4 pound feeding rate depending on the product.                                                           

ADM StayStrong
Nutrena Empower Ration Balancer
Triple Crown 30% Ration Balancer
Triple Crown Gold Ration Balancer

Top Dress Products:
Top dress supplements are added to a small amount of feed. The benefit is you have more control over the amount and type of carrier/extra calories (beet pulp, hay pellets, stance equine coolstance, renew gold, etc.). This is a good option for forage only or calorie restricted feeding.

California Trace

Free-Choice Supplements:
Free-choice supplements are simply left out for the horse to eat when they choose. This is ideal for pastured horses or forage only feeding.


Nutrition Part 1: Forage-based feeding

A horse should consume around 2-2.5% body weight per day in feed. For a 1000lb horse that would be 20-25 pounds of feed per day. Of that amount, 67-100% should be from forage.

So what is forage?
Forage is the plant leaves and stems eaten by livestock. This can be in the form of fresh grasses (pasture), dried grasses (hay, hay cubes, chopped forage), or haylage (fermented forage).

Hay is the most popular method of providing forage to the horse. The horse is designed to graze 12-18 hours per day with the head on the ground. With this in mind, it is best to feed the horse as low as possible and provide forage all day. For horses that eat too quickly or who are obese, it is best to provide hay in a slow feeder. Slow feeders are available is sizes ranging from a single meal to a full bale.
Freedom Feeder Nets
Handy Hay Nets
Hay Chix Nets
Nag Bags
Orange Slow Feeder Nets
Porta Grazer

Hay Cubes, Hay Pellets, Chopped Forage
These forage products can provide the sole forage for horses that have difficulty chewing or when hay is not available. These products can also be soaked with water to provide extra hydration or as a carrier for top-dressed supplements.
Lucerne Farms Chopped Forage
Standlee Hay Company

Haylage & Beet Pulp
These products have less sugar than grain, but are higher energy than most forages. These can act as a grain replacement for horses that need calories beyond that provided by hay. Haylage can be fed as is, but beet pulp is fed soaked with water. These products can also be used as a carrier for top-dressed supplements.
Standlee Hay Company– beet pulp

Did you know that you can reduce the risk of colic by feeding a forage based diet?
Feeding to Prevent Colic

Did you know that an estimated 90% of racehorses and 60% of performance horses have ulcers? Did you know that forage can reduce the risk of ulcers?
Tips for Managing Gastric Ulcers in Performance Horses
Stomach Acid
Food for Thought
How to Feed Horses With Gastric Ulcers
Diet Can Help Manage Equine Gastric Ulcers

Yes, even your performance horse can do well on a forage based diet!
2010 Essen-Gustavsson
2012 Jansson
2013 Ringmark
2017 Ringmark

How to measure your horse

Horses are measured in hands, with a hand being 4 inches. When measuring your horse, you will measure from the ground to the top of the withers. Sometimes you will hear someone say their horse is 15.5 hands high. This is incorrect because a hand is only 4 inches. A horse that is 15.5 would really be 16.1hh.

Handy conversion chart.
Inches               hands
Small Pony (cannot exceed 12.2):
48                       12
49                      12.1
50                      12.2

Medium Pony (over 12.2-13.2):
51                      12.3
52                      13
53                      13.1
54                     13.2

Large Pony (over 13.2-under 14.2):
55                     13.3
56                     14
57                     14.1
Horses (14.2 and over):
58                    14.2
59                    14.3
60                    15
61                    15.1
62                    15.2
63                   15.3
64                    16
65                   16.1
66                   16.2
67                   16.3
68                   17