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Do's and Don'ts: How to let your horse gain weight in a healthy way

Is your horse too skinny and would you like to let it gain weight? Then you have a huge choice in foods that all indicate that they are incredibly healthy and that your horse can gain weight well. But are these foods really healthy for your horse? And which one can you choose best for your horse? Read in this article which foods you can best choose. Can't quite figure it out? Ask our specialists for free advice.

Horses naturally shed in winter

In nature, a horse is normally an animal that loses weight in winter. He thereby breaks down the fat tissue where waste products are stored. This is a natural process of the metabolism in horses. In nature, periods of a lot of food are always followed by periods of little food (winter). What you see is that only they are left with fiber. Hence, horses have a greater need for fiber in winter. However, we as horse lovers give horses extra food in the winter when we suddenly see our horses lose weight. This is absolutely not necessary for healthy horses. Horse owners who want to imitate nature as much as possible do not feed extra concentrate in wintertime. They do, however, ensure that there is sufficient quality roughage. But the pitfall is that we horse owners are actually going to feed extra concentrate in the winter, so that horses go too fat into the spring. In the spring there are much more sugars in the grass which can be disastrous for the intestinal bacteria composition and the immune system. Slimming in the winter prepares them for this and ensures that they go well into the spring. So only feed if your horse is way too skinny. And take into account the following do's and don'ts:


  • Haylage/Silage
Packing dried grass creates a fermentation process in the grass. This fermentation also happens when the grass is packed as dry as hay. This fermentation process makes the grass slightly more acidic. Haylage/silage will always disturb the acidity of the stomach and intestines. As a result, minerals are less well absorbed and the mineral requirement increases. It also disrupts the intestinal flora so that the horse's resistance is reduced and nutrients are less well absorbed.
  • Cereal products
Grains unfortunately cause the same problem with the stomach and intestines as haylage/silage. It disrupts the acidity so that nutrients are less well absorbed and there is an increased need for minerals. In addition, the large amounts of starch in grains disrupt the intestinal flora. This increases the risk of inflammation and the horse's resistance will decrease. Look carefully at the ingredients list of the food to make sure it is grain free, don't fall for all the beautiful, colorful packaging! Names include: wheat, corn, oats, barley, wheat semolina, oat hulls, grain grain, corn feed meal, corn gluten, oatmeal flour, oat husks, biscuit flour, malt germ and much more!
  • Beet pulp
The well-known product for gaining weight. And that's right, horses gain weight. But unfortunately it is not a healthy fattener. Beet pulp is rich in pectin, which is broken down in the intestines by protozoa and lactic acid bacteria, resulting in lactic acid. By giving beet pulp you acidify the intestines, causing the good bacteria to die and the bad (lactic acid) bacteria to get the upper hand. As a result, more and more lactic acid enters the horse and the horse slowly becomes acidic. And yes, spring grass also contains pectin. But the older the grass, the less pectin it contains. A horse naturally only has a short period of time that there is pectin, so that the intestinal flora is not disturbed too much and no acidification occurs.
  • Large amounts of concentrate
A horse's stomach has an average volume of 8-15 liters. Very small compared to the rest of the digestive tract. This stomach can be so small because the horse naturally eats small amounts of fiber-rich food throughout the day. And because of that fiber-rich food, the horse produces a lot of saliva, which makes the food pulp softer and the stomach does not become too acidic. Large amounts of concentrate cause the stomach to be stretched and little saliva is produced. This has the disadvantage that the stomach acid is not neutralized sufficiently and there is a risk of stomach ulcers. However, large amounts of concentrates are not mixed well with the stomach acid, so that the pre-digestion takes place less well and the food mash actually leaves the stomach unprocessed. This mash is then digested less well in the intestines.
  • Prickly grass mixes (e.g. alfalfa)
Alfalfa is very popular for gaining weight due to its protein content, but other grass mixes are also popular. Grass mixes and especially alfalfa are often very hard and spiky in structure. Because it is chopped, a horse also has to chew less here, so there is less saliva production and the ends remain hard when it goes through the esophagus. A horse's esophagus is very thin, these sharp ends cause damage to the esophagus and stomach. Also, these types of chopped grasses often contain molasses against dust, which is not something a horse needs.  


  • Have the horse's teeth checked before the winter
Step one of the digestion process and the absorption of nutrients begins in the mouth. Chewing produces saliva. Saliva kills bacteria and fungi, contributes to the preparation of minerals and the correct acidity in the stomach. If the horse cannot chew properly, it will also be able to absorb less nutrients. So don't forget to have your horse's teeth checked by a specialist before the winter.
  • Unpacked hay
If your horse is skimpy, give him unpackaged hay and preferably unlimited. The roughage is the basis for making your horse gain weight! You can do this in slow feeders against waste and gobble, but do not choose meshes that are too small so that the horse can really eat enough. Preferably have a roughage analysis done, then you know which shortages there may be and you also know the sugar percentage. For a horse that needs to gain weight, it is best to get roughage that is high in vitamins and minerals, but low in sugars.
  • Sufficient vitamins and minerals by means of balancer
In order to gain weight, the horse needs building materials, which are largely extracted from the hay, but not enough. So give your horse enough vitamins and minerals through a vitamin pellet / balancer. Then choose a balancer that is grain-free! The advantage of a balancer is that you give a small amount so that you do not disturb the acidity and the horse can use it fully.
  • Grain-free feed materials and low in sugar
A horse functions best on foods without grain and that are low in sugar. The horse does not need the starch from grains, which disturbs the acidity. Sugar-free is impossible with a horse, because it is in hay and grass. But all those extra (processed) sugars in concentrates and other foods are not necessary and are harmful. It disrupts the intestinal flora and thus the resistance of the horse, so choose products that are low in sugar.
  • Small portions
The horse's stomach is small and can therefore only process small portions of feed at a time. If your horse can eat unlimited roughage, then his stomach cannot handle large portions of supplementary feed. Do not give more than 500 grams of supplementary food. Opt for small portions, spread over the day.
  • Fat as a food source
Fat is a healthy additive for horses and is a good source of energy to help the horse gain weight. You can think of linseed oil, salmon oil or olive oil. Do not use sunflower oil, the omega 3-6-9 ratio is disturbed and it causes inflammation! Also start with a low dose and build this up slowly, but do not give more than 150ml per day.
  • Healthy mashes and not too long soaking
Sometimes it is not enough to put the horse on unlimited hay and a vitamin chunk and the horse really needs a little extra. Then choose a healthy (grain-free and low in sugar) mash or soaked grass chunk. But keep the portions small! Do not soak the products too long. You soak so that it does not expand further in the esophagus and therefore you do not get an esophageal blockage. But long soaking also changes the fiber in the feed and causes a change in nutritional value. So soak as short as possible and don't leave it all night! Examples are: Agrobs Alpen Gruen Mash, Equifyt Zupa and Pavo FibreNuggets.

Conclusion: additional feeding is fine, but be critical!

Good quality unpackaged hay is always the basis of the horse's ration, including for a horse that has to gain weight. Of course you can easily supplement with other foods, but be critical! Choose grain-free, low in sugar and feed in small portions. Getting a horse to gain weight takes time, be patient and ask your vet for advice if you feel your horse is not gaining weight despite all the measures you take. Would you like to know more or do you want personal advice? Please do not hesitate to contact us. Our specialists are happy to look with you.

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