I have a nine year old Thoroughbred. He’s a super hard keeper. Prone to be a bit anxious, although not a ‘hot’ horse at all. I’m looking for a good weight gainer supplement that will help him build muscle for moving up to jumping 1.30. Any ideas? I’ve had him on and off of Succeed. Tried the peanut oil route. Currently he is just on 5 to 7 extra cups of feed and extra hay.
– AC, Texas
When trying to put weight on horses, adding extra hay like you’re doing is always the first and best option. In addition to the calories, or energy, gained from the fermentation of fiber in the hindgut, the stomach is healthier and the horse is happier (because he has more to chew). Interestingly enough, studies have shown that hard keepers gain weight and easy keepers lose weight when fed hay from a small hole hay net or other system that slows the rate of consumption down. Experts theorize a constant, controlled pace of feed intake is more natural and healthy for both categories of horses, preventing periods of feed deprivation and hunger as well as wild swings in blood sugar (glucose) and insulin.
On the other hand, extra fortified grain or concentrate can lead to problems. The rule of thumb for grain feeding is to give no more than 0.5% of a horse’s body weight at a time. So a 1,000 pound horse should not be fed more than 5 pounds of grain at one meal. That’s because the stomach and small intestine cannot handle a larger amount of simple sugars and starches at one time. The feed will simply bypass the foregut, making its way undigested and unabsorbed to the hindgut. Now not only is the horse missing out on important nutrients like protein, vitamins and minerals that should have been broken down and taken in by the front part of the digestive system, microbes in the hindgut are exposed to unfamiliar carbohydrates that they will unfortunately ferment to harmful end products like lactic acid. The overfeeding of grain can lead to serious consequences like colic, ulcers, hindgut acidosis and even laminitis (founder).
However, there are other, safer ways to provide extra calories to horses. One of the most researched is the addition of fat. Pound for pound, fat supplies more than twice as much energy as either protein or carbohydrates and is considered a “cool” source of calories because it doesn’t cause a spike in blood sugar like simple sugars and starches can. There’s even a product named “Cool Calories 100” for this very reason. There are a couple of things to keep in mind when adding fat to the diet. First, add it slowly so that the horse’s digestive system has time to adjust. Begin with just a couple ounces and gradually work up to a full pound, if necessary. Second, supplement with the antioxidant Vitamin E so that the free radicals generated by the aerobic metabolism of the fat can be effectively neutralized.
Sometimes hard keepers need more than just additional calories though. Sometimes they need additional protein, or amino acids, to maintain their weight. Research has shown that all ages of horses increase their muscle mass (such as their topline) when supplemented with amino acids, especially the limiting ones lysine, threonine and methionine. Since your horse is not just a hard keeper but a hard worker, protein supplementation may be something for you to consider.
A third category of support for the hard keeper is in the digestive arena. Sometimes these horses need probiotics, prebiotics, enzymes, yeast or other intestinal ingredients to help them maximize the nutrition from their feedstuffs and keep their GI tract in good working order. The SUCCEED you mention is a digestive conditioner that many horses do quite well on. However, in my experience, horses can have very individual responses to specific digestive supplements so you may want to experiment with other products and see how his body reacts.
Finally, there’s my all-time favorite weight-builder, beet pulp. With a nutritional profile between that of hay and grain, it is a safe source of calories from fermentable fiber that most horses love!