Q: I own a very fussy eight-year-old ID X TB middleweight mare who is in poor condition.

I bought her from a dealer a year ago and know nothing about her past. She will either refuse her feed altogether or pick out the bits she likes.

I fed her a weight gain mix but this seems to have made her hyperactive.

Equine nutritionist Christine Smy replies: In order to put weight onto a horse, you have to increase the calories in the diet. Horses will either lay the extra calories down as weight or burn them as energy. Unfortunately it’s often the horses who need to gain weight who burn the extra calories.

This is why conditioning feeds were developed. They usually contain good levels of oil and protein, both ideal for weight gain.

As your horse tends to be silly on a weight gain mix, I suggest you change to the cube version. The grinding of ingredients involved in the pelleting process helps lower digestive stress. Cubes are also higher in fibre and lower in starch than a cereal mix – starch is an instant energy source and can cause hyperactivity.

Fussy horses can be very difficult, especially during the winter. Many people add a tablespoon of honey per feed as an appetiser as this is a natural sweet product. You may find equine milk pellets will also help.

These are a soft, easily absorbed product, which will help condition and do not need to be fed in great quantities. Try grating carrots and apples into the feed to prevent your mare picking them out and eating them first.

Feeding little and often can help the appetite. Feed as little as 1 lb (0.5 kg) six times a day if necessary to mimic the horse’s natural feeding instinct.

If she’s happy to eat chaff, aim for the high calorie chaffs, either those rich in oil or dried grass or alfalfa as these will add more nutrients to the diet than a standard molassed chaff.