Controlling Horse Behavior Through Starvation
By Eleanor Blazer
"Dear Eleanor, My horse is thin. The vet says he should weigh 900 pounds and needs to gain 150 pounds. He has ruled out any health related issues. He wants me to increase his feed. "Smokey" is getting one pound of sweet feed a day. If I increase it I will not be able to handle him. Please help. Sincerely yours, Smokey's Mother."
Dear Smokey's Mother,
Controlling behavior through starvation is not acceptable.
Let's look at some options.
First determine the quantity and quality of the forage Smokey is eating.
A "rule of thumb" is to feed two percent or higher in the desired body weight a day in forage. Smokey's target weight is 900 pounds so the minimum amount of forage he should get is 18 pounds/day.
If Smokey is on poorly maintained pasture you need to supplement his forage intake with good quality hay.
Good quality hay is soft, having a pleasant sweet smell and contains no dust, stems or weeds. If the hay is poor, your horse will not be able to consume enough to maintain body weight and good health. His digestive tract will be full, but nutrients will be lacking.
I prefer grass hay. Legume hay (alfalfa, trefoil or clover) can provide too much energy, excessive amounts of protein and mineral imbalances. The chance of it being dusty or moldy is higher than grass hay. Grass hay is better suited for horses.
Horses are designed to meet nutrient requirements with the intake of forage. If that forage is not adequate, then the horse owner must provide what is lacking.
A hay test can help determine what nutrients are lacking. Contact your local Cooperative Extension Service or local farm co-operative for assistance.
Commercial products can help supply the needed nutrients.
When shopping for a product to compliment the forage you must take into consideration Smokey's requirements. He is a healthy, mature horse and is at maintenance activity level (he's not a high performance horse). He needs to gain weight and have his protein, vitamin and mineral requirements met. And you are concerned with his mental energy level.
When fed according to the feeding directions commercial products will meet the basic nutrient requirements of horses. There are different products for different circumstances. Read the product description and feeding directions.
Regarding Smokey's mental energy level - look for a feed that is low in starch and provides energy using fat.
Excessive amounts of starch can spike the blood glucose level, creating a sugar "high". Low starch feeds can also help horses that are insulin resistant, have Cushing's syndrome, are prone to laminitis or have polysaccharide storage myopathy.
Using fat as the energy source is safer for the horse. Fat is 2.25 more energy dense than protein or carbohydrates, so you can feed less.
Fat does not spike the blood glucose level. In a study conducted in 1996 by J. L. Holland, D. S. Kronfeld and T. N. Meacham researchers noted decreased reaction response time to a brightly colored umbrella opened abruptly in the visual test when comparing horses fed a high fat diet to horses on a high grain diet.
We are lucky to live in a time when low starch, high fat feeds are available. When you find a product you like, introduce the feed slowly - over a period of 7-10 days, so Smokey's digestive system can become accustomed to the new feed.
The last option and the most difficult - Smokey may be too much horse for you. When he feels good, he's going to act healthy. Starving him is not the answer to lack of training. Please find a trainer or riding instructor who can help you.
If Smokey is bred to be a race horse and you want a backyard pet, starving is not the answer. You need to get different horse.
Good luck. Please let me know how things progress.
Best wishes, Eleanor
Proper nutrition and management practices can prevent many problems associated with caring for horses. You can learn how to provide your horse with a better life-style by taking the online course "How to Feed for Maximum Performance" taught by Eleanor Richards Blazer.