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Pleun Broeren
27 maart 2023 Reading time 5 minutes

10 tips to make a skinny horse fatter

Is your horse too skinny? If your horse is drawn up (sunken) behind the ribs, near the flanks, this indicates a forage deficiency. If you can see your horse's ribs and the hindquarters are sunken (hipbone protrusions are clearly visible), then your horse is indeed too skinny. It could also be that your horse may not be too skinny but needs to build more muscle.

Causes of a skinny horse

If your horse is underweight, it can have several causes:

  • The diet is not rich enough in energy and protein
  • Your horse may have a worm infection
  • The teeth may not be in a healthy condition so the food is not digested properly
  • In an older horse the digestive system can become less efficient, making the animal skinny
  • Your horse may have lost weight due to a disease

How to make a skinny horse fatter

If your horse is too skinny, it is wise to look firstly at the cause. If he is simply does not have enough energy, then it is a matter of feeding more fibres, fats and proteins. But he may also have something in the membranes that makes him too thin. We give you 10 tips that can help you get your skinny horse back on weight.

1. Have a blood and manure test

If your horse is simply getting too little feed you can have a blood test done. With a blood test, you look for pathological causes of being underweight. For example, it will check whether your horse's liver, kidneys and intestines are working properly, or whether inflammation or a virus might play a role. During the manure examination, any worms and sand in the manure are examined . Both tests can be performed by a veterinarian.

2. Check the teeth

If a horse has a problem with its teeth, it may just be that he is eating less and losing weight. Therefore, always have your horse’s teeth checked by the dentist. If the teeth, blood and droppings are good, you can set up a special feeding schedule to encourage weight gain. Your vet could help you with this or ask the nutritionists at Pavo for advice.

3. Provide good quality roughage

Horses cannot put on weight by eating poor hay and straw. Give a horse that needs to gain weight good nutritious hay, or haylage, and avoid coarse and difficult-to-digest roughage. The quality and nutritional value of roughage can vary per batch. If you want to be sure that the quality of your hay is good you should have it tested. This can be done by having a roughage sample tested with the Pavo Roughage Quickscan : a quick and simple way to find out how much sugar, protein and energy there is in your roughage. 

•    Dry matter content

On average we see a dry matter content of 650 – 700 in haylage for horses. This means that the roughage consists of 65 - 70% dry matter and 30-35% of water. Relatively speaking, you have to feed a lot of kilos of pre-dried silage because a large part is only moisture.

•    Energy value 

You can also look at the energy value and the VREp content (Digestible Raw Protein). These should both be fairly high for a lean horse to gain weight. The average energy value in the dry matter is 0.65 EWpa (Energy Value). The average VREp value is 78 grams per kg of dry matter.

•    Vitamins, minerals and trace elements

If the roughage comes from fertilized soil, the levels of minerals and trace elements are usually balanced. This is different for unfertilized soil. Then a supplement via concentrate, or a supplement, is often necessary.

4. Give unlimited roughage

Give a lean horse unlimited roughage. Horses naturally look for food all day long. If unlimited roughage is available, your horse will also be able to eat all day and, therefore, gain weight more quickly. If there is not enough roughage available, Pavo FibreNuggets can offer a solution. These grass chunks are rich in fibre and have a consistent quality. Suitable for every horse and ration and also easy for older horses to eat.

5. Give your horse (more) grazing

Horses often gain weight more quickly from grazing. Fresh grass contains more energy and protein than hay and silage. Therefore, make sure that your horse, if possible, can eat a lot of grass. Many horses spend less time in the meadow in the winter than in the summer. In winter the grass does not grow and the levels are lower. That is why you often see horses lose some weight in the autumn and winter. Keep in mind the fructan content in the grass during the grazing season, especially if your horse is sensitive to sugars. 

6. Opt for expanded chunks and/or puffed muesli

Try to feed a horse or pony that needs to gain weight with energy-rich and easily digestible food. Therefore, opt for concentrates in which the grains have been digested by heating (into pelleted chunks and puffed muesli), such as Pavo EnergyControl and Pavo SportsFit . The raw materials are heated under pressure making the starch almost completely digestible in the small intestine. Much less lactic acid is then formed in the appendix and large intestine. The acidity does not decrease as a result and no toxins are created due to the death of micro-organisms.

7. Feed an oil or fat-rich ration

Oil is a source of renewable energy. Your horse gets more energy from oil and does not get hot. Add vegetable oil to the ration or choose a concentrate with a slightly higher fat or oil content. For example, feed your sport horse Pavo SportsFit (muesli),  Pavo Performance  (kibble) or the topping  Pavo TopSport. Pavo 18Plus is tailored to the needs of older horses. Also consider a slobber like Pavo SlobberMash as a bonus!

8. Adjust the ration to the amount of labour

Always adjust your ration to the work that your horse does. When you train hard and your horse becomes a bit lean, this means that you are feeding too little energy and protein in relation to the work your horse is doing. It is recommended to switch to a more energy-rich chunk or muesli, or an extra topping such as Pavo TopSport.

9. Give your horse enough protein

Feed, especially for pregnant and lactating mares and young horses, always contains an increased protein content because these horses have to grow. A mare pellet, such as Pavo PodoLac, is therefore definitely an idea for a lean horse because you also support muscle development. An old horse has a less efficient digestive system and is less able to digest proteins than a younger horse. An old horse, therefore, needs relatively more protein in the ration to maintain weight and muscle. Pavo has developed 18plus for this purpose: the feed specially designed for older horses and with an increased protein content . Pavo WeightLift is also a good option for thin horses. This food is grain free but very high in fibre and protein. 

10. Help Gut Health With Desugared Beet Pulp

Beet pulp is a very good supplement for horses that are lean. An example of desugared beet pulp is Pavo SpeediBeet . This product contains pectin, a soluble fibre that is even more digestible than the fibre in other roughage. This makes this beet pulp a fantastic source of plentiful slow-release energy and perfect for all types of horses and ponies. Pectin has a prebiotic effect. This means that the fibre supports the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. If your horse is really skinny or, for example, has difficulty with the intake of 'normal' roughage, Pavo FibreBeet  is a better choice. This is a mix of Pavo SpeediBeet enriched with alfalfa for extra protein. This combination makes it a safe and healthy 'fat maker' and ideal for lean (old) horses and (sport) horses with poor muscles. As you have to soak both products with water before feeding, it is very suitable for (old) horses with dental problems. 

Making a horse fatter: you should NOT do this

If you want to make a horse fatter there are a few 'tips' that you hear about on the grapevine but should NEVER do. Do not give large amounts of crushed corn, corn silage, or cornmeal in order to increase weight. Corn can cause the horse to gain weight quickly but corn is very difficult for a horse to digest. When undigested corn ends up in the large intestine and appendix, gas colic or diarrhea can occur. So be careful with this!



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