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Does a Bale of Hay a Day Keep the Vet Away?

How much hay should one feed a Morgan/Friesian horse? He is 15.2 hands in height and weighs about 1250 pounds. I have been giving him some Remission as a preventative due to his weight being close to 1400 lbs when purchased last August. We have not seen any issues though with foundering. I currently give a joint supplement (again, preventative as no issues have been noted), Vitamin E with Selenium (for good skin and hair), Probiotics (1/2 ounce, again just preventive) and 2 ounces of grain. Am I giving too much supplement? I was also giving him a bale of hay per day (bales weigh between 30 to 35 pounds, alternating between grass and alfalfa hay). Thank you.
– Brenda

Dear Brenda,

Congratulations to you for getting some unhealthy weight off your horse! I’m going to make a number of assumptions here, based on the information provided, to help me answer your question:

Assumption #1: Your horse is an “easy keeper” but not diagnosed with Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) or insulin resistance (IR).

Assumption #2: He was overweight when you purchased him but at an ideal weight and body condition score now.

Assumption #3: Your horse does not graze a significant amount of fresh pasture.

If these assumptions are all true, then you could follow the rule of thumb that says feed horses 2% of their body weight each day in good quality forage. Since 1250lbs X 0.02 = 25lbs of hay, a bale of hay per day that weighs between 30 to 35 pounds might be too much. If a bale has 12 flakes in it, and let’s say you’re feeding four flakes three times a day, gradually reduce his diet by one flake each meal until you’re feeding closer to the correct amount. So feed 3/4/4 for a few days, then 3/3/4 for a few days and finally 3/3/3. Also, because changing hay can lead to more serious digestive disturbances (such as colic, diarrhea or laminitis) than changing grain, I don’t recommend alternating between grass and alfalfa hay, but instead mixing them and feeding a bit of both at every meal.

You don’t say what you do with your horse or how old he is, but I think a joint supplement is a good idea for any horse in work, and most senior horses. I looked up the Remission product and the label says “for horses prone to the risk of founder.” It contains several ingredients that you’re additionally supplementing for, such as Vitamin E/Selenium and Probiotics, so I think there is some overlap there. I would recommend speaking with your veterinarian to find out if the amount of Selenium your horse is getting from his hay, grain and supplements is appropriate.

Speaking of grain, you say you give two ounces. I’m going to make another assumption here, that you give him this grain just to mix his supplements in, since this is way less than any bag of fortified grain would recommend for a horse this size. My suggestion here is to find something else to mix his supplements in that has less sugar and starch than grain. You may even want to add a ration balancer or multi-vitamin/mineral supplement to complete and balance his diet. Not only are most of these available in several varieties—depending on the type of forage you give and the age and workload of your horse—but several come in alfalfa or beet pulp-based pellets which would give you something to mix your supplements in. You’re on the right track, you just need to fine-tune things a bit to help your horse stay healthy and sound. Keep up the good work!

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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5 comments on “Does a Bale of Hay a Day Keep the Vet Away?
  1. Mary Howard says:

    Would you clarify? I have a 2.5 year old half Freisen, half appendix. He is almost 17 hands and still growing. I know he is over 1300 #s
    but i have been told he doesn’t look overweight for his breed.
    He is fed good Timothy hay, and is with another horse, so i don’t know if he is getting all the hay although she is not loosing weight.
    They pretty much have free choice hay. I am concerned he should have supplements for his growing bones, as i am sure he hasn’t stopped growing. I really get confused with them all.
    I would say he gets 1/2 pound timothy pellets three times a day with a scoop vitamins in the morning, and 1/4 pound Well Solve low starch, I have also tried a complete vitamin called Equibalance..mixed in with the timothy pellets. I want to make sure they get their vitamins and minerals. We live in the Pacific NW North of Seattle. What do you suggest?

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Hi Mary – Thank you for your question! The advice in this particular entry was for an adult horse. In your case, we suggest you work with your local veterinarian and/or nutritionist to make sure your young horse is getting the correct amount and balance of nutrients he needs for his large size and growth. You not only want to work with an expert in the proper feeding of horses but also someone locally who is familiar with what vitamins and minerals are of a concern in your area of the US. Then they can recommend the appropriate amount of hay and concentrate (whether it be fortified grain, ration balancer or multi-vitamin/mineral supplement). Please let us know if you have any additional questions!

  2. Carol says:

    I have a Fresian quarter Andalusia. She 9 years old 15.2 hands 1025 pounds. She is fed alfalfa. I would need to remove from pasture life put into stall for her to get different hay and supplements. She’s ridden five days a week for one hour. Walk trot cantor. More walk trot. Is she ok to stay on alfalfa

    • Carol says:

      Please reply

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Thank you for your question, Carol. I commend you for working to ensure your horse’s diet is properly balanced and I definitely understand the difficulty of having to choose between different options for hay and grain, and your mare being able to enjoy her pasture. Alfalfa hay on its own may not provide a balanced diet. Of course, this will depend on a number of different factors such as how much hay your mare’s receiving, the nutrient content of that alfalfa specifically, whether or not your mare has access to fresh pasture, etc. The best advice I can give is to consult your veterinarian or a certified equine nutritionist. They’d be ideal resources to analyze your horse’s entire diet and they may help you to creatively fill in any gaps without limiting your horse’s pasture time.

      – Dr. Lydia Gray

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