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Feeding Senior Horses For Healthy Horse Weight Gain

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horse weight gain

Maintaining your senior horse's ideal body weight can sometimes be a challenge, but it does not have to be complicated.

The approach to getting a thin senior horse to gain weight is pretty straight forward if you follow these simple steps:

  1. Get an objective assessment of your horse's body weight and body condition: The most accurate way to estimate body weight (without a scale) is to use a weight tape. Put the weight tape around the horse's chest, just behind the horse's withers and under the girth, and record the weight. Then, using the Body Condition Scoring system, where 1 is emaciated and 9 is obese, compare your horse to the examples, paying special attention to the ribs, tailhead, and neck. A good rule of thumb is that you want to be able to feel the ribs but not see them. Some horses will not distribute their weight evenly, so you will need to take all areas into consideration. Measuring and recording your horse's weight and body condition will allow you to keep track of your horse's progress.
  2. Address the underlying cause of weight loss: Once you've determined that your horse is too thin (at or below a 4), you need to address the underlying cause of her weight loss. Is your horse just a hard keeper (has a high natural metabolism) and you've always had a hard time keeping weight on her? Has her energy requirements increased due to increased workload or has she been nursing a foal? Is she being dewormed regularly? Have her teeth been checked recently? Or is she a rescue horse that has not had proper care and adequate food? Has she abruptly lost weight despite no change in diet or workload? If a yes to the last question it may be of particular concern because it may be a warning sign that something more serious is occurring. Any such medical or dental conditions contributing to her weight loss will need to be addressed by a veterinarian prior to addressing her diet.
  3. Evaluate his diet: Once you have addressed the underlying cause of the weight loss, you can evaluate the diet. The most important aspect of a horse's diet (other than water) is roughage. A horse should consume 2% of its body weight in high quality forage a day. For a 1000 pound horse, this would be 20 pounds. Free choice access to pasture is the best way to provide for this requirement. If pasture is limited, then good quality hay will need to be provided. If you are unsure of the quality of your hay, get it tested to see where it is lacking. If a horse cannot chew the hay properly due to worn or missing teeth, then chopped hay, soaked hay cubes, or a complete diet that provides roughage may be given.
Once a horse is consuming the proper amount of roughage, then additional concentrates, grains, or supplements can be considered. A horse who can maintain his weight on only hay or pasture may only need a vitamin or mineral supplement such as Manna Pro Sho-Glo to balance out the diet. However, a horse who requires extra calories should be given a senior horse feed supplement such as Manna Pro Senior Weight Accelerator. All feeds and supplements should be formulated for the horse's individual needs based on age, sex, workload, and body condition.
Read the label carefully, weigh the feed, and feed within the recommended amounts. Generally, commercial horse feeds are nutritionally balanced so that the individual vitamin and mineral requirements are met by feeding a certain weight of feed. Feeding below those amounts will mean that your horse will not get the essential vitamins and minerals he needs. If a horse is still too thin after feeding the maximum recommended amount, then I would recommend switching to a more calorie dense diet (typically growing or performance horse diets) or adding a senior horse feed weight supplement such as Manna Pro Senior Weight Accelerator based on good fats.
Fats are a calorie dense feed source that will help put weight on a horse in a safe way. Grains and sweet feeds, while providing calories, are high in simple carbohydrates (sugars) that may disrupt the normal bacterial flora and function of the GI tract and may cause a horse to be jittery, or "hot". Weight supplements that supply calories from good fats do not have these negative side effects and will have the added bonus of improving skin and coat condition. 
Fun Fact: Fat contains more than twice the calorie contents of starch and is safe to feed because horses can easily digest and utilize fat.

Always remember to make any feed changes gradually, and don't expect results overnight. After making a feed change, you should start seeing results in 2-4 weeks. If you aren't getting results, then re-evaluate and make additional changes. And once a horse has reached his ideal weight, you will need to decrease his food to prevent him from continuing to gain weight and becoming obese. Remove calories in the reverse order you added them. First, reduce or eliminate the weight supplement. Then, reduce the concentrate or balanced horse feed. As always, if you have any concerns or are not seeing improvement, you should get the advice of your veterinarian.

Take the very best care of your Senior horse with Manna Pro!


Senior Weight Accelerator

  • High in fat for weight and body condition
  • Omega-3's for healthy skin and coat
  • Probiotics for proper digestion

 Senior Snax

  • An easy-to-chew, baked treat
  • Contains a natural source of Glucosamine
  • Omega-3 fatty acids from Flaxseed for a vibrant coat



Dr. Shannon Baker DVM

Dr. Shannon Baker DVM

Dr. Shannon Baker graduated from the University of Missouri, College of Veterinary Medicine in 2002 with her DVM degree. After vet school, she completed an Equine Internship at MU. She currently owns Heartland Veterinary Services, a full service equine ambulatory practice with an emphasis in equine dentistry.


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