Adding Weight, Not Attitude

I have a sensible 7 yr old thoroughbred that I use for dressage & trail. My trainer told me I should try to put some weight on him. On her and another trainer’s advice, I started giving him beet pulp and barley. I was told that would not increase his energy. After a couple of weeks he became another horse….VERY hot and wanted to run at the slightest chance. I have put him back on just oat hay and a bran mash with a handful of mature horse for flavor once a week. Can you suggest a program to keep weight on without making the horse hot? What about Gleam and Gain by Smart Pack? KE, California

Dear KE,

I’m not surprised that the barley increased his energy level, but I am raising my eyebrows at beet pulp having that effect. Because it contains fiber that is fermented by the good bugs in the large intestine, it usually doesn’t create the “sugar-high” that grains do as it adds weight in hard-keepers.

Another ingredient that typically provides calm calories is fat. Fat can be provided from vegetable oil, from powdered supplements, or from common feedstuffs such as rice bran and flax seed. Some supplements in the Weight Gain category primarily contain fat as their key active ingredient while others contain fat plus other nutrients such as amino acids, taste enhancers, and digestive support (prebiotics, probiotics, enzymes). There has been good research to show that thoroughbred racehorses prone to the muscle disorder “tying up” do quite well when the sugary grain in their diet that makes them nervous and anxious is replaced by fat as a source of calories. Supplements with medium chain triglycerides might be a good choice.

Scientific study also validates feeding amino acids (especially lysine, methionine and threonine) to both young and aged horses to increase muscle mass, which may be exactly what your horse needs. I also like supplements with the branched chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, valine) and the conditionally essential amino acid glutamine to prevent muscle tissue breakdown. Whey protein is my new favorite supplement ingredient because it is more bioavailable than eggs—which are considered the perfect protein—and because it also contains components that support immune health.

Of course, no advice about putting weight on horses would be complete without a suggestion to contact your veterinarian and a suggestion to review your current feeding practices. Remember, make sure you are meeting your horse’s forage and nutrient requirements first THEN begin looking at outside supplements to resolve any issues. I’ve had good luck feeding grass hay free-choice to thoroughbreds with a flake of alfalfa hay (or cubes, or pellets) at meals. Because most hay does not meet the recommended daily allowances for many vitamins and minerals, it is important to bridge this gap with a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement or ration balancer, in your case (fortified grain might not be a good option given his response to the barley).

For more information on feeding the hard-keeper, please read my other blog entry on this topic as well as my article on the topic.

Lydia Gray, DVM MA, is the Staff Veterinarian for SmartPak. Prior to joining SmartPak, Dr. Gray served as the first-ever Director of Owner Education for the American Association of Equine Practitioners. She has authored numerous articles in publications such as The Horse, Horse Illustrated, Western Horseman and a variety of veterinary journals and magazines. Dr. Gray is also a frequent speaker at horse expos, veterinary conventions and other events. After graduating with honors from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine and receiving her Master's Degree in Interpersonal and Organizational Communication, she practiced at the Tremont Veterinary Clinic for several years. Dr. Gray is active in the American Veterinary Medical Association and Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association. She enjoys training and showing her Trakehner, Newman, in both combined driving and dressage, and is a USDF “L” Program Graduate (with distinction). Find Dr. Gray on Google+

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