SmartPak Presents Talk on Managing Hard Keepers

Horse owners gathered Feb. 20 at the SmartPak Retail Store in Natick, Mass., to hear a lecture on keeping weight on a hard keeper, presented by Lydia Gray, DVM, MA, medical director/staff veterinarian for SmartPak.

The following is a summary of her presentation.

Assuming you and your veterinarian have already ruled out medical conditions as a reason for weight loss in your horse, what can you do to help your thin horse gain weight?

Take a look at what he's eating now. Ideally, your horse will have good-quality forage (hay or pasture) in front of him at all times. If that's not possible, make sure he's getting at least 1% but preferably 2% of his body weight each day in forage (that's 10-20 pounds for a 1,000 pound horse). Next, meet his daily requirements for vitamins and minerals with a comprehensive supplement, ration balancer, or fortified grain. Finally, it's time for calories. If you're feeding grain, you're already providing some calories. Small, frequent grain meals (no more than five pounds at a time) might be all that some horses need to gain weight. Try feeding four meals per day.

If your horse is still on the ribby side, consider these suggestions:

1) Tempt your horse with tasty alternative feedstuffs such as fortified rice bran, beet pulp, and alfalfa hay cubes.

2) Add fat to the diet via oil, powder, or pelleted supplements, or specialty high-fat commercial feeds

3) Transition the senior horse from long-stem hay to chopped hay, hay cubes, or a complete feed, which is basically hay and grain in a bag

4) Turnout on pasture for the benefits of grass, fresh air, and exercise

5) Consider supplementing based on your horse's specific needs:

  • Essential amino acids for muscle development
  • Pre- and probiotics for proper digestion and bowel health
  • Bee pollen and fenugreek to stimulate appetite

The next GetSmart lecture "How to Keep Weight off Your Horse: Managing the Easy Keeper" will be held March 19. For more information and a complete presentation schedule visit  

About the Author

Lydia Gray, DVM, MA

Lydia Gray, DVM, is Medical Director and Staff Veterinarian for SmartPak Equine. She was previously the executive director of the Hooved Animal Humane Society in Woodstock, IL, and an Owner Education Director for the American Association of Equine Practitioners.

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