Q. My question regards my 2011 American Quarter Horse Association race filly. She is a recent stakes winner and is running well. She has always been a “nervous Nellie” when stalled and greets anyone who approaches with ears laid back, although never bites and comfortably accepts treats. She is not a cribber or weaver, but is a stall walker. My concern is her weight. Her ribs show. I believe she should carry at least another 100 to 150 pounds. Her bloom is good, however. She eats well and receives pelleted grain and good alfalfa hay. My trainer gives her ulcer medication (not sure of the exact kind), Adequan, Bone Builder and Gastroease.

Do you have any suggestions for tests or other potential treatments for her? Some of this problem could be hereditary because I’m told her sire had some of these same issues.

Jim Lynn, via e-mail

A. The first thing I would recommend you do is have your veterinarian perform a physical exam to make sure an underlying condition is not causing some of your filly's problems. Things the veterinarian might check include blood work, including a complete blood count (CBC), chemistry panel, and fibrinogen level. Your veterinarian might also want to complete a fecal float to ensure your horse is not carrying a parasite load that might contribute to her low body weight, although from your description it doesn’t sound like this is an issue.

The ulcer medications are a good preventive plan, especially for an athletic horse that is receiving a higher amount of grain and must be stalled, but I would check with your vet that the ones you are giving are the most effective ones to use. There are some on the market that do not change the stomach's pH level sufficiently to help ulcers.

Fillies are notorious for being more “nervous” than their male counterparts. You might find that adding a fat source to her diet will help both with weight gain (because it is a very concentrated source of calories) and her demeanor. Several studies have shown that replacing a diet that gets its calories mostly from grains with one that gets its calories from fats can have a “calming” effect on behavior.

You did not mention what brand of feed you are using, but most companies produce a feed with a higher fat content (8-10%). I would consult with your feed company's nutritionist to see what diet will best suit your needs.

Congratulations on the success you’re had with your filly and good luck in the future.

About the Author

Janice L. Holland, PhD, PAS

Janice L. Holland, PhD, PAS is an associate professor of Equine Studies at Midway College in Midway, KY. Her main academic interests are equine nutrition, pasture management, and behavior.

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