THE SEVEN MOST COMMON REASONS YOUR HORSE ISN'T GAINING WEIGHT
1. You haven’t waited long enough
Weight gain can happen quickly, but more often than not it takes time. Typically I find that it takes somewhere between 8 weeks and 8 months on a really good diet to see some solid results.
2. You have an OTTB that’s just OTT
Racing is stressful. Racehorses are typically fed high grain, low forage diets and have limited time outside grazing with paddock buddies. They also travel a lot, train a lot, and some race a lot too. All of these factors are highly likely to negatively affect gut health.
When you get an off the track thoroughbred that has only recently finished racing (i.e. within a year) then you often need to work to repair its gut before the weight gain can happen.
You also need to make sure that the diet is right for a horse with possible gut issues - this means maximum roughage, minimum stress and limited sugar and starch.
3. The place your horse lives isn’t conducive to weight gain
Horses are individuals. What’s just fine for one is a disaster for the next. Not all horses are created equally so you can’t treat them all the same. Sometimes getting a horse to put on weight when its circumstances aren’t right is like pushing you-know-what uphill.
Here are some examples of what may not be working for your horse. Of course there are a million more, but this gives you an idea:
You own a poor-doer and it lives in an overgrazed paddock
You own a horse that is fussy with hay and you have zero pasture
You own a horse that pretty much refuses to eat unless it's paddocked WITH other horses (I know this is a thing as I own this horse!)
You own a horse that is at the bottom of the pecking order and isn’t allowed near the round bale by its paddock mates
You own a horse with really bad teeth that has no access to grass
4. Your horse is in pain (saddle fit, lameness, internal issues)
You can get the diet as close to perfection as possible, but if there is ‘something else going on’ (those dreaded four words!) then you’re going to struggle. I am not a saddle fitter, a farrier or a bodyworker, but sometimes even I can tell that something is seriously amiss. If there are ‘atrophic holes’ or huge white patches that are clearly from a saddle then this tells me your horse is in pain. Pain and weight gain don’t go together. You need to fix one before the one can be fixed.
If you own an older grey horse then it may have internal melanomas and it’s impossible to know how these might be affecting your horse. If your horse has ulcers, Cushing’s, IBD this may affect its ability to gain weight
Of course we all know that there are lots of things that can go wrong with horses and we can’t know/diagnose all of them, but if you feel that the diet is right, but that something else isn’t I urge you to investigate some common possibilities.
5. You're not feeding for its age
As horses age, their feeding requirements change. I feel that this is a whole other article unto itself, but there are considerations that must be made, such as:
Can my horse actually digest what I’m feeding?
Does it need to have oil/s added to its diet?
Are its teeth okay for eating hay still?
Do I need to incorporate soaked feeds into its diet and so on?
If what always used to work is no longer working then it's time to think about different options for your older horse.
6. You’re not implementing the 3 ‘Fs’
The 3 F’s to a happy healthy horse are; Friends. Forage. Freedom.
Without these your horse may struggle mentally and physically and this may stop them from gaining weight.
Does your horse have constant access to Friends? - keeping in mind ‘access’ is different for every horse. Some horses need to live in a herd, others seem to be okay with a neighbour they can be close to or touch. Some horses are happy to have a goat as company, but they are herd animals and do need some sort of company.
Does your horse have constant access to Forage? Constant access doesn’t necessarily mean, ‘can eat as much as they like’ for all horses (some may need grazing muzzles or a track system). However if you have a poor-doer then they are more likely to need decent grass and hay available to them constantly without restriction.
Freedom has several meanings. Freedom can be taken literally in that they need to have space to move around in for at least some of the day (i.e. not being stabled 24 hours a day, injury aside), but it also means freedom from pain, illness, unbalanced hooves, sharp teeth and so on.
Of course horses are very adaptable and will get used to a lot! Some horses may get used to being stabled for long periods or living alone, but others will struggle and it may manifest as weight loss.
7. Their diet isn’t right
How do you really know your horse’s diet is right?
Is it because your friend feeds her horse the same and her horse looks amazing?
Is it because the bag says ‘weight gain’ (or something to that effect)?
Is it because you’ve run it through FeedXL and it comes out looking okay?
Or is it because you’re feeding exactly what your farrier told you to?
If the diet isn’t working and you’ve done your best to look into all of the above issues then maybe you need to try a new diet? It might be time to get some professional help from an independent equine nutritionist and see if what you’re doing could be completely overhauled or tweaked a little to work better for your horse. I have seen some unbelievable changes in horses happen from really simple diet changes (so much so I was even surprised by how quickly and profound the change was!) so it may be worth looking into.