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Very thin horse standing on dirt. Pronounced ribs and hip bonesWhen your horse is thin there is more to think about than just increasing the feed. First of all it is so important to try and analyse why condition of the horse is too light and therefore if any one or more of the following aspects are an influence then fix those first before increasing its feed intake to put on weight as this may result in an over- energised or fizzy horse who is still underweight.

Teeth

A horse’s teeth will need regular inspection and poor processing of feed may just be simply from sharp edges or a more complex dental issue. Either way get a vet or qualified equine dentist to examine and adjust as necessary.

Parasites

Check the records of the horse particularly if you have just purchased it, and see if a good worming programme has been maintained. Get a worm count done by your veterinarian and discuss the best options for the parasites found. Once you have de- wormed, keep records so that a proper programme is carried out, changing wormer types as appropriate.

Sickness

Know the signs of health, any illness will debilitate a horse. If he just seems off colour then get a blood test and discuss any findings with your veterinarian.

Stress

Signs of stress are obvious but sadly often put down to the horse “being difficult” or being naughty. Horses are reactive not proactive by nature. They respond to stimuli and environment and handling etc, and don’t deliberately set out to give an owner a hard time. (Unless they have been abused and have become defensive as a result). So look for a reason that may create stress, it may be environment, even being bullied in the paddock, fear – maybe of traveling, it may be lack of knowledge so a professional trainer can help, it may be a low level of some significant minerals and or vitamins, such as thiamine, tryptophan, magnesium so supplement with a balanced mix that provides the normal daily amount. Don’t overdo the supplements – they are not sedatives. In fact any form of sedation is not the answer – look to the cause.

Pain

A horse in pain will lose condition. A prolonged painful episode will reflect in the weight of the horse, even low grade pain that is not being diagnosed and as such may be a hidden cause. Again use a professional to assist with looking at possible causes, it may not be as simple as a lameness.

Digestive Problems

This can be a physical issue with the function of the transit of food like swallowing difficulties, or gastric ulcers, or imbalances in the digestive enzymes, intake of toxins like mould on hay and grains, loss of the microflora (good bacteria) that assist digestion within the gut.

Gastric ulcers are not easy to diagnose and require a medication with omeprazole as its active ingredient. They can be avoided by making sure the horse has sufficient fibre (grass, hay, chaff) with access to that type of feedstuff through 24 hours. It is important that a horse’s stomach has some foodstuff passing through it almost continuously, fibre is the horse’s natural food and because passes slowly through the gut – it provides protection from the continual acid flow in the stomach. Long periods without food will contribute to the onset of a gastric ulcer.

Diarrhoea is a symptom of the loss of the natural microflora, that results in poor processing of all feed in the gut. Providing a probiotic and prebiotic has been scientifically shown to assist re-establishment of the microbiome (gut flora) and so the feed intake is not wasted but processed to improve the physiology of the horse and therefore weight gain. For more help with this read about Vetpro Gut-Biotic.

It is possible to assist the digestive process of the gut by giving a product that offers digestive enzymes to process feed more efficiently early in the gut. Partially digested feed going to the hind gut causes many problems in the horse, also useful is an ingredient to slow down the speed of the feed passing though, a silicated oxide toxin binder helps in case any moulds have been ingested, a probiotic to remove any negative emissions from hindgut fermentation. Vetpro Digest Rite can provide all these ingredients in one daily scoop.

Age

Cartoon of old grey horse with glasses, yellow teeth and wrinklesThe older horse will find it harder to keep weight on primarily due to the ageing process itself that creates difficulty in processing all the protein that they are eating, their teeth make it difficult to masticate the long fibre, and overall their internal digestive process is less efficient. To assist the uptake of all digestible protein it is necessary to supplement with Lysine and Threonine – two “limiting amino acid” these are the most important in the protein structure and the horse’s natural levels drop with age – so supplementing creates an improvement in the uptake of protein and hence body structure (often seen as top-line). Read our article ‘The Older Horse’ . Increasing protein percentage in the feed is very unhealthy for the horse and economically wasteful. Also feeding a digestive enhancing supplement like Digest Rite in conjunction with short fibre, fat meal such as copra or soybean meal plus boiled grain will be best for the older horse. There are extra care requirements for the older horse. For more on