Q&A: feeding veterans

  • Q. My 18-year-old gelding is still healthy for his age but since he has got older, he has become a very fussy eater and picks at his feed, often leaving his hay and has lost quite a bit of weight. Can you suggest a new feeding regime to help build up his weight and encourage him to enjoy his food again?

    Nutritionist Christine Smy replies On the assumption that you havehad your horse’s teeth checked by an equine dentist or vet, I would suggest that if good spring and summer grass is available, you should have no problem in redressing the weight problem. Your horse should start to put weight back on again very soon.

    Once winter approaches, however, you will need to have a good feeding plan in place to avoid your horse losing weight, as you may find that he becomes even fussier about his food as he gets older.

    Check your feeding regime

  • Hay: Examine the quality of the hay you are feeding – avoid hay which is musty or mouldy. If your horse is having trouble chewing, buy soft, sweet-smelling meadow hay rather than the hard, stemmy kind. If he really will not eat hay, try haylage- either a proprietary brand or a farmer’s own. If you go for the latter, ask to see the product before you buy to determine its quality.

  • Chaff: Choose a palatable chaff with a good feed value. Look for an oil-based one with molasses as many horses like the oily texture and sweetness of the molasses. Some chaffs have added garlic and mint which also aid palatability.

  • Concentrates: You don’t say what your horse is currently eating. I’d suggest that you feed a product for older horses as these are palatable and easily digested. There are also feeds made with the fussy eater in mind. These often contain a cocktail of herbs and smell and taste wonderful.

    You could add some molasses or honey to his feed. These are high in sugars and are more readily eaten. Alternatively, mix in some apples and carrots. If your horse picks these out and still leaves his feed, grate them and mix in well.

    If you are not already doing so, add some soaked sugar beet pulp to the diet. It may be possible that your horse doesn’t like one of the constituents of his feed. Find out which one by a process of elimination.

    Some fussy eaters dislike certain textures. You could try dampening cubes or soaking theminto a mash as your horse may be having trouble chewing solid food.

    Throw away any leftovers and decrease the next feed if necessary so he clears up and looks for more. Build feed levels up again slowly. If you feed twice a day, split feedsinto three or even four smaller feeds.

    Remember to decrease your horse’s energy levels if he is doing less work.

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