Putting Weight on a Skinny Horse

Last Updated on February 19, 2022 by Allison Price

It makes it easy to feed the horses. They look amazing in warmbloods. Their weight is great and their coats look amazing. The one Thoroughbred who arrived in the barn a little skinny six months ago hasn’t gained any weight. He has actually lost his body condition. He’s getting grain like other horses so there is nothing wrong. The horse has been thoroughly examined by a veterinarian and there is nothing wrong. Is it possible that the horse is not getting enough calories? How can he make changes to his diet to promote weight gain?

Sometimes it is as simple as increasing the caloric content of the horse’s diet to make them gain weight. Sometimes, a horse may require a higher caloric intake to overcome a psychological, medical or environmental problem.

What makes horses difficult to keep?

The metabolic speed is a measure of a horse’s ability to keep his horses healthy. Horses can have extreme differences in their abilities.

Metabolism refers to the rate at which your body burns fuels to produce energy. It is necessary for normal body functions. A slow metabolism is able to function with little fuel energy. A fast metabolism requires a greater caloric intake to function properly. Members of certain breeds generally have a faster metabolism and require more food to maintain their bodies condition than those of other breeds. Thoroughbreds, for example, eat more per pound than draft horses. There are many breeds. Some Thoroughbreds can be easy to keep, while others need intensive management to maintain their body weight . The metabolic rate and temperament often go hand in hand. To maintain the same body condition, a nervous horse might need more calories than a calm one. The calm horse will conserve energy while the tense horse might spend more time weaving or stall walking.

To ensure the proper functioning of the body and build fat stores, a thin horse needs energy. Although energy is a broad term, many horsemen think of it as mental energy. energy is the potential for a feed to fuel body functions, exercise and other activities. The cause of horse weight gain is protein and fat deposition. Horses that don’t get enough calories and protein will lose muscle tissue, as well as a lot of fat.

This causes emaciation and protruding bone. The body will gain muscle mass and adipose tissue if the diet is too high in calories. Poor weight can be solved by increasing the caloric intake and ensuring sufficient protein. Fiber, starch, and fat are the three nutrients that can provide energy to increase the horse’s caloric intake. Each nutrient can be used for energy in a different way depending on which horse is using it.

Putting Weight on a Skinny Horse


fiber, the main energy source for horses, is the most important, the least understood, and the most secure. Fiber is the main component of grass and Hay. Fiber alone can help horses maintain their weight. Fiber alone is not enough to maintain weight for the hard-keeper. However, there are fiber feeding strategies which can increase horse’s ability to get energy from fiber.

Fiber is primarily composed of cellulose, and hemicellulose. Millions of microbes live in the horse’s intestinal tract (cecum, colon), and break down fiber into volatile fat acids. These volatile fatty acid pass into horse bloodstream where they can be transported to energy-consuming sites or stored as energy in the form of muscle glycogen or adipose tissue. The majority of the cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin can be easily digested by intestinal microbes (digestible fibre); however, the indigestible fiber is not. Digestibility drops as the feed’s lignin content increases.

Horses are less able to digestible as a result. Lignin, the carbohydrate that gives the plant the most structural support, is more abundant in rigid-stalked vegetation than in limp-stalked ones. The alfalfa plant (lucerne) has very few lignin-rich leaves, but the stiff stem contains a higher amount of lignin. The digestible fiber content of hay will rise if there are more leaves and less stems, or if they haven’t matured to become rigid and inflexible. The lignin content of young plants harvested before maturity will be lower than those that were allowed to mature before being cut.

Fresh green spring grass has a higher digestible fiber content than summer grass. Horses can get more energy from high-quality, early harvested hay (legumes or grass) than they can from mature hay. Pasture can also be a source for fiber. Because of the fiber loss during haymaking, pasture is more digestible than hay.

Alfalfa (lucerne), when compared to grass hays in energy, can give horses more energy than grass. Low quality alfalfa is low in energy and has more stem than leaves. A grass hay with a lot of green grass blades and little stem could provide more energy. When trying to gain weight, the first thing you should do is maximize forage.

Alternative fiber sources are available if quality fiber is not available in pasture or hay. These can be used to add fiber energy to horse’s diet. Beet pulp, wheat bran, soy hulls and alfalfa cubes are the most popular. About 80% of beet pulp can be digestible (compared to 50% in hay).

Soyhulls are an by-product from soybean production. Soy hulls refer to the outer skin of the bean, not the pod or husk. They are removed from soybeans before they can be extracted for oil. Soy hulls are commonly used in horse feeds. They have a lower digestibility than beet pulp. Soy hulls are a great source of high-digestible fiber in commercial horse feeds that have them listed as the primary ingredient.

Although wheat bran is often thought to be a fiber source but actually contains about the same amount as oats, it can also be used as a food source. Because it is rich in starch and digestible fiber, wheat bran is an energy-rich source. Wheat bran can cause problems with the calcium-phosphorus ratio. Wheat bran is a good complement to a high-quality diet rich in alfalfahay due to the calcium content.

Alfalfa cubes or pellets can be added to horses’ diets when good quality forage is not available. These products are made from alfalfa harvested at peak digestibility. Alfalfa cubes and pellets are energy-rich for horses. To make alfalfa cubes with lower protein and calcium than pure alfalfa, hay often is mixed with whole corn plants or timothy. Because of the important laxative effects of long fiber, pellets should be fed with caution.

If the horse is having difficulty digesting fiber, supplements may be available. Research has shown that yeast can improve fiber digestion. Commercial feeds may have yeast added, or yeast products can be purchased that can be added to the ration.

Probiotics may also be thought to improve fiber digestion. Researchers believe that probiotics can help restore balance to the hindgut’s microbial population, which in turn improves the digestion of forage. Commercial products that contain yeast and a probiotic are also available for maximum regeneration and efficiency of microbial populations.


The addition of starch in the form grains to horse’s diet has been the best way to increase the horse’s energy density. Because starch is an easy enzymatic process, it’s more efficient than obtaining energy from hay or grass. To provide the same amount of energy as hay, the horse must be fed less grain than hay. Grains provide starch to horses, but can cause problems in the stomach. Complex polysaccharides found in starch are broken down into simple sugars by enzyme amylase. These simple sugars are then easily absorbed into bloodstream.

The sugars in blood are then distributed to the areas where they can be used by the body for energy. They may also be stored as muscle glycogen and adipose tissues for future use. Amylase production in the intestinal tract is the limiting factor in starch digestion in horses. Horses have a variable level of amylase production.

Without enough amylase in the intestine , a lot of the starch in the diet is passed through to the large intestinal tract where it ferments. This is bad for two reasons. First, starch fermentation produces less energy than enzymatic methods. The second is that starch fermentation can cause a drop in the pH of the hindgut. This will affect the efficiency of bacteria that produce energy and digest fiber.

The fact that not all starch molecules work the same is a further problem. Studies have shown that the amylase can easily digest the small molecule of oat starch. The starch molecules in corn and barley, on the other hand are larger and more difficult to digest . The starch molecules in corn and barley can be altered by heat to make them easier to digest by amylase.

It is therefore better to feed steam-rolled or cooked barley, steam flaked, or super flaked corn than untreated counterparts. Pelleting involves heating, which improves the enzymatic digestion and extrusion makes it even better. Look for commercial mixes that contain grains that have been processed in order to ensure optimal digestion for your horse’s small intestine.

Although grain provides a concentrated source for energy, excessive feeding can pose dangers to horses. It is tempting to increase the grain intake in an effort to help a horse gain weight. There is no point in trying to get a difficult horse to gain weight. If a horse has too much grain in their digestive tract, the delicate balance of its microbial population is disrupted. Many horses lose appetite for forage at this point and the situation becomes worse. Horses will lose more weight no matter how much grain they are fed. Horses need 1% of their body weight to get the minimum amount of forage. A 1000-pound horse (450 kg) requires a minimum of 10 lbs (4.5 kg) of hay daily to maintain a healthy microbial population. The minimum forage requirement should be considered when designing the rest of the diet.

Too much starch can lead to problems because some horses are sensitive to starch overload. This could be caused by low amylase or large amounts of unprocessed grain. Too much starch can cause a cascade of problems, from the small intestine down to the colon and cecum. Bacteria ferment starch from the grain. Starch fermentation produces lactic acid. This substance alters the pH to make the hindgut more acidic. The bacteria dies when the environment becomes acidic. Endotoxins and laminitis trigger elements are produced by bacteria as they die. This can lead to colic. Laminitis can also be caused by laminitis trigger elements that are passed into the blood. Horses with starch sensitivity shouldn’t be fed high-grain diets. Kentucky Equine Research developed EquiShure, which is a hindgut buffer that prevents acid buildup in the large intestinale and maintains normal digestive function for horses eating high-grain diets.

Supplements that aid in starch digest or usage have been created, just like forage digestion. While there is not much research on whether enzymes can be beneficial in a diet, it is well-supported. Amylase may be the limiter in small intestinal grain digestion. Adding amylase to the feed could reduce the amount of grains channeled into the cecum or colon. There are some enzyme-containing supplements and feeds available, but their effectiveness is questionable. Enzymes are proteins that are sensitive to acidic environments.

These environments can cause enzymes to become inactive by denatured. The acidic stomach passes all feed before it reaches the small intestine. So how much enzyme will reach the small intestine intact? Supplemental enzymes are more effective than denatured food. More research is needed. Supplemental chromium might improve starch metabolism. Chromium’s action does not only aid digestion, but also affects how the body deals with starch digestion and insulin. Some ponies have experienced chronic founder, while horses who are sensitive to high-grain diets may experience chronic tying up.


Most performance horses consume fat in their diet. This could be a spoonful of corn oil, a scoopful of rice Bran or a commercial high-fat feed. To give the coat a healthy shine , fat has been used in the past. Recent research has shown that fat is an excellent source of energy. The ability to pack weight with dietary fat is a powerful tool. Fat is a concentrated energy source that has many other benefits. Horses that consume energy from fat are not as flighty as horses that consume grain-based energy. However, horses who eat a high fat diet have more endurance. Different fat sources can be more effective in different situations.

There are many differences between vegetable oils and animal fats. Palatability is the main disadvantage to animal fats. Oils are more appealing to horses, even though many animal fats are flavorings. Although corn oil has been the star of palatability studies, most oils can be palatable if it is not available as an option. Digestibility is the second problem. The second obstacle is digestibility. Oil is more than 95% digestible, while animal fat is only 75%. Although the difference in digestibility is not significant for small amounts of animal fat, it can cause problems with the balance in the hindgut. Poor fat digestion can be indicated by loose, runny stools. The long-term maintenance of horses on animal fat is another obstacle. Horses can become bored with the taste and stop eating animal fat products.

Rice bran, sunflower seeds and full-fat soybeans are all good sources of fat. Coconut meal (copra meal) is another common source. Rice bran, which is a mixture of rice oil and highly digestible fibre, is excellent for improving the body condition and topline in thin horses. Rice bran can quickly go rancid if it is not extruded. Unstabilised products should be avoided. You can find researched proven stable rice bran, which is a popular supplement for horse feed in many countries. Although linseed, sunflower and other seeds can provide fat, there is a problem when you feed too many seeds. Consumption will decrease as more seeds are fed, sometimes even to the point that it is impossible to eat them all. Although roasted soybeans can be enjoyed in small amounts, they will not increase the protein content of the diet if consumed in large quantities.

An high-fat diet can be a valuable tool to help a horse gain weight. As long as the horse’s gastrointestinal tract is able to tolerate fat, it will work. Horses are able to digest fat normally, provided that it is slowly introduced into their diet. Fat as an energy source has the greatest benefit of not consuming too much grain. When fed with high-quality hay and pasture, dietary fat is most effective when it is combined with grains and/or highly digestible fibre sources like beet pulp. New feeds that combine high levels of fat (> 6%), with high-fiber ingredients such as soy hulls or beet pulp are on the market.


Some horses are naturally more prone to being hard-keepers than others. Others may have health, psychological, or environmental reasons for difficulty maintaining their weight. It is possible to increase the horse’s calorie intake if you pay attention to the feedstuffs provided to them. The hard keeper can often manipulate the energy sources to achieve the perfect body condition.

Allison Price
Allison Price

I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!