From AAEP’s Ask the Vet: Adjusting My Draft Horse’s Diet

I am in Pennsylvania and have a 6 year old, 16.2 h., athletic, Percheron x Paint/TB mare (Kit) who is an extremely easy keeper. I have had Kit for a little over a year but due to my current time constraints and the fact that she is boarded 25 miles away, I have trouble getting there consistently and thus, she is receiving very little organized exercise. She is turned out 23 hrs/day in rotated lush grassy (seasonal) pastures w/ access to the barn and plenty of water at all times. The boarding stable feeds a sweet feed of which she gets about 1 cup and a few (light) flakes of homegrown grass hay 2x/day. She has lost a little bit of weight this winter since grazing is nonexistent, but she still maintains a body score of 6.5 or 7. I was thinking of replacing her minimal sweet feed ration with a fortified ration balancer to ensure she gets her proper nutrients but I understand mares can be hormonally sensitive to soy products, and most RBs derive their protein from soy. She also gets a moderately severe case of midline dermatitis during fly season and becomes extremely itchy on her belly, mane and tail. I used SmartBug-Off last year and it improved her condition until July/August when it just didn’t seem to work any more even though her environment is kept consistently clean. I’m concerned for both Kit’s nutrition and immune function. Can you shed some light and/or make a recommendation on what I should feed her and how I can better control her fly hypersensitivity? Kit and I both thank you! Chris

Dear Chris,

It sounds like you’ve put a lot of thought into your mare’s health and nutrition and I commend you for that! I also commend you for finding a place that keeps her turned out 23 hours per day. That’s so healthy and natural for horses! Unfortunately, at a body condition score of 6.5 to 7 after losing weight this winter she may need to wear a new piece of “jewelry” before getting turned out on pasture this spring: a grazing muzzle. Trust me, this does not make you a horrible owner and she will not hate you—my own horse wears a grazing muzzle from April to November. It allows him to be turned out with his herd all day long while not gaining weight or risking laminitis.

Since she is a little above the ideal of “5” on the BCS chart, I agree with your decision to replace the unnecessary, token amount of sweet feed in her diet with a ration balancer. I am not familiar with mares being sensitive to soy but if this is a concern of yours, either try and find a ration balancer that does not contain soy as an ingredient or go with a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement instead. It is fairly easy to find a “multi-vitamin” that completes and balances a predominantly grass or alfalfa diet and that is in a tasty pellet form so she’ll still eat it readily.

As to your final question, midline dermatitis, some studies have shown that horses supplemented with Omega 3 fatty acids have a reduced response to allergic skin disorders. Significant amounts of Omega 3s are found in flax seed, chia seed and fish oil, and there are several quality products on the market that provide stabilized sources of these ingredients. The level of Omega 3 fatty acids required to support cells and tissues is much smaller than the level required to provide additional calories (i.e. what a hard keeper or senior horse needs) so adding these healthy fats should have no impact on her overall weight. I hope you find one that works!

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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Posted in Ask the Vet, Nutrition, Seasonal Horse Care

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3 comments on “From AAEP’s Ask the Vet: Adjusting My Draft Horse’s Diet
  1. Hello,
    I have a similar problem with the easy keeper Morgan horses that we have. However, although I love the idea of a grazing muzzle, the manufacturer states to have them off half day to rest their faces. In my experience they are correct, they cannot stay on 24/7. This means horses I would normally leave out all the time have to be stalled half day. Is there a better solution to this problem?

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Hi Amber, we checked in with the manufacturer of the Deluxe Grazing Muzzle to better answer your question and here is the scoop:

      We generally don’t recommend leaving the grazing muzzle on 24/7, but if a horse is pastured only, leaving it on may be the best choice. Ideally a dry lot should be available where the horse could still be turned out but not have access to grass. If this is not available then leaving the muzzle on or stalling for part of the day are two other alternatives. We also recommend that the horse be checked regularly for rubbing and given access to a salt lick. Additionally, it’s very important to check the horse regularly to make sure she/he hasn’t gotten the muzzle off and has been freely grazing. The muzzle should also be cleaned regularly as a clean muzzle will rub less and last longer.

  2. Johnny Curtis says:

    Adjusting horse’s diet should be carefully chosen such as depicted in this article.

    nuisance animal removal

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