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Saturday, November 7, 2009

Putting on the RITZ!.....errrr weight

This is the last of the posts that I wrote during the picture challenge.... So impersonal...sorry. This is a post that has been in draft form in various stages since I first started my blog almost a year ago! So great to get it published.

So how to put weight on a horse, or keep the weight on a horse hard at work?

I like to see Farley at a BC of 5.5. This, according to the reports I've read, is ideal for a 100 mile horse to have some reserves at the end of the race.

Getting to that magical number can be a @#@#%#@(&*

My vet was not much help. The following 2 suggestions were made: "throw her a scoop of senior", and then when I responded that I was feeding beet pulp and oil; "rice bran is good for added fat" was suggested. That is when I brought up inverted phosphorus/calcium ratios, along with the worry that I was feeding a 50% alfalfa diet etc etc. The conversation ended with me telling them what I was feeding and them nodding saying "yes, yes, that sounds reasonable".

So, it was up to me to research and design a good feeding program. Fortunately there are MANY resources available to endurance riders. Here is the story of what worked for me.

In December I noticed that Farley had gotten a bit thin (BC ~4). She was always an air-fern, so I hadn't paid too much attention. However, her work load had increased substantially and she needed extra calories. My focus had been on Minx, who had a LOT of trouble maintaining weight (yes, teeth, blood work etc. had been hindsight, something was going on physiologically in her gut....) and Farley had slipped my notice.

By the time you can look at a horse and tell that weight has been lost, a minimum of 50 pounds has come off.

In January I started to actively try and put weight on Farley.

Putting weight on a horse requires CONSISTENCY. Sticking to a schedule and making sure they receive their ration EVERY SINGLE DAY.

Farley got her extra rations on a regular basis, but didn't get the dedicated care and "eagle eye" every day until after Minx died. From January to March Farley had almost achieved a 5...but just wasn't there yet. In the month of April, with just one horse, I was able to carefully manage her ration, adjusting it as she gained or lost weight because of work or weather. In May she was a solid 5, even though she was doing 50 milers, and in June, she achieved a solid 5.5.

What I feed:

The ration starts out with as much hay as the horse will consume.

Then I add beet pulp and vegetable oil.

  • Even if a horse doesn't need to gain weight, I like to feed a small amount of oil and beet pulp. Beet pulp is wonderful during a ride and since I don't want to introduce anything new at a ride, I feed a low level on a regular basis.
  • The oil may help condition the cells in a particular manner useful to an endurance horse. Just make sure to discontinue the oil at least 1 week prior to a ride. Introduce oil slowly, increasing by ~1/4 c. per week, monitoring the horses manure for signs of diarrhea. There is a max amount for a single feeding, beyond that you will want to split the oil into 2 feedings a day.
If I need to feed a concentrate, I feed LMF gold, their high fat concentrate.

  • I was using this primarily for Minx because she kept weight nicely on it. Farley likes it, but once this bag is gone, I'm not sure I'll continue to feed it, since Farley responds well to beet pulp and oil. On the other hand, it provides vitamins etc, but only if you are feeding at the recommended level. I will probably talk to endurance vet I trust before making a decision either way for Farley.
Horses can only consume so much roughage per day. If you "up" the beet pulp/concentrate portion, they will consume less hay. I try to find a balance where they maintain weight, while eating the maximum amount of hay and minimum amount of "other stuff".

I will feed beet pulp and oil on non-working days, but never concentrate or grain. I believe you risk a horse tying up if you give grains on a non-working day.

How much?
For Farley, she will maintain weight at 2 pounds of beet pulp + 1/2c. of oil a day. To gain weight, I feed 2 pounds of beet pulp (+1 c. oil) on non work days, and 2 pounds of beet pulp (+1 c. oil) + 2-4 pounds of LMF gold (depending on work load) on working days.

I adjust up or down depending on weight gain or loss, weather, etc. You definitely have to try something, and then monitor to see what happens.

Going Forward
Nutrition is probably always going to be an ongoing project for me. I'm too OCD to just leave it alone! :) I board so there is some give and take on how much control I have over feed, but I can always try and maximize my opportunities I do have. So what are my next steps?

  • Review with a vet knowledgeable about the endurance horse nutrition requirements on the merits of continuing to feed LMF gold.
  • Have Farley tested for Selenium levels this fall and supplement if necessary.

Looking at the pictures from the schooling dressage show I must say I've never been more pleased with Farley's condition. She looks fabulous. One thing I learned from a Tom Ivers book (review coming up!) is that you HAVE to feed the muscle in work. I think one reason she's getting all that pretty muscle from dressage is because I'm making sure that her calories are up. Tom says that you don't want a horse to lose weight while in work - you want the horse to redistribute that weight where you want it - like muscles in the hiney. However, now I'm spilling all the beans on my fabulous "what I learned from Tom Ivers post" so I MUST. SHUT. MOUTH (or at least, stop typing).


Start with Susan Garlinghouse's DVM website

Then head over to and read every article about nutrition you can get your hands on.

Karen Chaton has good information and links as well. She recently made the very important point in her blog that feed has a LOT to do with the horse's hoof, and along with body condition, we can use hoof health as a nutritional gauge.

I would love to hear what everyone else feeds! Be sure to describe what your horse does/work level since that has a tremendous impact. Do you change what you feed depending on whether your horse had the day off?


  1. S feeds everybody LMF Super Supplement, and I'm convinced it'd amazing. Her horses are the shiniest creatures I've ever seen, and Dixie has noticeably gone from drab off white to SHINING SNOW WHITE since she got here. And that's just from growing in her winter coat - I can't wait to see her next summer! It's a 1 lb per day supplement, so the rest of her diet is 50/50 alfalfa and grass.

    Nutrition is such a hot topic. Can't wait to see what everybody else says.

  2. Oh, and Dixie is in light work. 10-20 miles a week.

  3. My mares are hardly working at all--10 miles a week MAYBE, so they aren't getting much in the way of supplementation.

    They have access to pasture 22/7; we bring them in to feed hay twice per day--Hana gets significantly less hay than Fiddle, so we bring them in and separate them so that each horse gets the proper amount. They also get about 1.5 pounds of a complete feed (alfalfa-based pellets w/vitamins and selenium) each day.

    We also feed beetpulp, small amounts since they aren't working. I will probably add corn oil to Fiddle's feed this winter, as she is harder to keep--Hana is an air fern and we need to fight to keep her girlish figure!

    The other thing I do to maintain weight is to blanket in winter. Fiddle get cold easily, and never grows much coat, and it's cheaper to put a blanket on her than to feed her even more extra calories to keep her warm.

    We don't change feed except right before an endurance event, when I will take them off the oil. Because the "grain" is such a small amount, I don't take that away.

    Susan G is the goddess, and has (clearly) had a lot of influence on my feeding program. I used to feed a ton of alfalfa and supplements; now (because I have it available) the base of my feed program is pasture. Thanks, Susan G!

  4. My horse that I couldn't get to gain weight went to a trainer for 2 months. He was in a paddock by himself and she discovered he was a very slow eater and not so enthusiastic about hay. She worried he might have an ulcer, but the test was negative. I'd already had blood work and parasite tests on him as well as having his teeth done. Well, kept by himself, all the alfalfa he could eat, and fed 1x per day with: 2lbs beet pulp, 2lbs rice bran, 5 lbs LFM Gold, soaked, and with daily light training, he gained weight in all the right places and now looks fab! She suggested I drop the rice bran now that he looks good, and maintain the rest of the ration. She said sometimes it takes him until the next morning to finish off his evening bucket of feed. Now that I have him home, I'm going to add 1/4 of oil to the rest of the ration. He's in a pasture with only my mare and her baby. The mare also is on supplements and LFM Senior and oil, and we put the 24x7 alfalfa in a packing bin so the baby can't gorge on it. He'll always have to be kept either by himself or with another horse that needs weight. So, that's what worked for Merlin. Consistency is the key. I bought a digital scale and insist that my daughter use it. (Took her 2 weeks to let me know it didn't work--she just didn't remember how to use it.) I'm lucky with the rest of the herd, their range is such that I can keep them together. Half of the year I feed no hay, there is sufficient pasture. The half of year I feed alfalfa, they still have grass to eat but it doesn't have the nutrition they need. I tried oat hay several different years, but it was too frustrating. Tulare County has more dairy cows than anywhere in the U.S., I believe, and alfalfa--GOOD alfalfa, is what we grow.

  5. I second the LMF Super-Supplement suggestion. I try to feed this during "light work" and then use the LMF Gold when they're working heavily.

    Your point about consistency is well-taken (this is my biggest weakness).

    Also, if you get sick of dealing with sticky oil and worrying about it going rancid, Cool Calories is a much more user-friendly product (and it has the added bonus of smelling like strawberries and cream... doesn't taste of it, though)(ask me how I know this).

  6. When Sassy and Bo were in training/conditioning, we feed triple Crown Complete, rice bran with beet pulp +1/2 cup canola oil (for the fat and healthy coat) to sassy and Bran, beet pulp, 1/2 cup oil to Bo, as he was not doing as much work as Sassy..

    We fed it 4 times a week (once a day), mostly near my 2-3 rides and then the night before/morning of/ night of (after the ride)/ and the morning after an endurance ride

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  8. What a distance horse is eating is always one of my favorite topics. Phebes is extremely difficult to maintain weight if she is seriously putting in 25+ a week in mileage. Especially when we are doing training rides of 15 miles at a decent pace. The weight just melts off....I start with a horse that looks pretty good, and come back with one that looks lean. I'm thinking this is due to water losses? Surely a horse doesn't dump that much weight in one ride?

    Her ration is pretty much the same every day, with a little extra on a heavy work day. She gets 3 pounds of beet pulp, and 3 pounds of Cool Command, with fats added, vitamins, magnesium, and extra Vitamin E. She has free choice hay or forage through the day depending on the season. I have found I can't use the higher NSC feeds as she just starts acting too hot. I keep alfalfa to a minimum since the tie up. She only gets a few handfuls as a treat, or to stimulate interest in her hay bag at a ride. We stick with Timothy / Orchard Grass / Fescue hay.

    I would be thrilled if I could get her interested in food at a ride. She will eat hay, but that is it. Just when we need to be fueling the engine, she refuses to tank up.


  9. I can contribute to feeding the distance horse, having never had one of my horses actually doing long distance. BUT I do have a hard keeper, espeshally in the winter. In fact I don't feed anything extra in the Summer, so this is just my winter feeding:

    My horses all eat red oat, we tried grass and grass/alfalfa, but no one liked it and I didn't want to push it. The big plus to coastal grown red oat is that is has a lot of salt in it, but then that makes feeding salt more difficult (I will probably have my hay tested as soon as I get the next load).
    Lucy and Huck (my hard keepers) get a 1 lb to 2 lb of Enrich 32 mixed with a variety of different grain/roughages: all in one, rope and ride, wet cob. I don't feed a certain amount of anything really, I eyeball it. I used to weigh my feed and found that I could tell better on my own better how much they should be eating. I don't feed a lot of anything either, other then hay of course! Depending on how they look they will get a small amount of corn oil on top (again eyeballed) for a couple weeks.

    When Lucy was sick and had lost a huge amount of weight, she got fed EVERYTHING! Senior, all in one, wet cob, rice bran, corn oil, she had everything. But then she was very sick.

    I have fed beet pulp in the past, and do like it, but my very first riding instructor fed all in one and I have just always liked it for my horses.

    My personal opinion is that "a vet does not an equine nutritionist make". I have NEVER gotten good advice for feeding from a vet! One vet told me to feed my 5 year old mare more grain when she didn't have enough energy, turned out she had lead poisoning and almost died. Another vet has the theory that Oat is like sugar, alfalfa is like meat and grass is like vegatibles and should be fed accordingly. She said to feed grass in the morning and let them pick at it all day even though they don't like it. I tied that, no one ate that day.

    I could go on all day about feeding and all but I won't!

    Hope LOVE went well!

  10. Opps! I meant I CAN'T contribute to feeding the distance horse.

  11. When Gen was in work he got 8lbs of grain a day (just writing that is so scary to look at now...that was too much food!) in 3 meals. Breakfast and dinner were 2 lbs of a grain called fibergized which is a special low starch grain with beet pulp in is and 1 lb of a high protein pellet. Lunch was 50/50. Gen doesn't like oil and wont eat powdered supplements. Even with all that grain and free access to hay (he would get 4-5 flakes at least of a grass alfalfa mix) he was still a skinny. Now in retirement he gets 2.5 lbs a day of a low protein pellet and 4-6 flakes of grass only hay a day. And he looks like a house. I can't wait to read your book review! I don't know a lot about equine nutrition so I am sure I will learn a lot.

  12. I think I'm going to reeavluate my feeding and switch her to LMF super supplement. I'm going to see if my feed store will order cool calories for me. No one carries it, so that's my limiting factor. I'm really serious about keeping sugar to a minimum in farley's diet (Karen Chaton has some great posts on sugars and hoof health). Because 50% of her diet is Alfalfa, I worry about the calcium/phosperus ratios.

    Anyone have any advice whether I should feed the A or G formulation of LMF super supplement if she has a 50/50 diet of alfalfa/grass?

  13. I'll look at our bag tomorrow - I know S only feeds from one bag of LMF, and she does 50/50 as well.


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