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 F. Gray, DVM, MA SmartPak Staff Veterinarian and Medical Director Dr. Lydia Gray has earned a Bachelor of Science in agriculture, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), and a Master of Arts focusing on interpersonal and organizational communication. After “retiring” from private practice, she put her experience and education to work as the American Association of Equine Practitioner’s first-ever Director of Owner Education. Dr. Gray continues to provide health and nutrition information to horse owners through her position at SmartPak, through publication in more than a dozen general and trade publications, and through presentations around the country. She is the very proud owner of a Trakehner named Newman that she actively competes with in dressage and combined driving. In addition to memberships in the USDF and USEF, Dr. Gray is also a member of the Illinois Dressage and Combined Training Association (IDCTA). She is a USDF “L” Program Graduate and is currently working on her Bronze Medal. Find Dr. Gray on Google+

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