What is a poor doer?
The term ‘poor doer’ is often used to describe horses and ponies that lose weight easily. Although certain breeds such as Thoroughbreds are renowned for being poor doers, every horse or pony is an individual – some ponies and natives can struggle to maintain weight too.
- Energy = Calories
Energy and calories are exactly the same thing! Calories is simply a measurement of energy although in equine diets, energy is measured in 'megajoules of digestible energy' which is often written on feed bags or labels as 'MJ DE/ kg'. Feeds containing 7-10 MJ DE/ kg can be described as 'low calorie', whilst those containing 12-13MJ DE/ kg are 'high calorie (and those in between can be considered as 'medium'). Body condition is the best indicator of whether or not the horse's energy requirements are being met and therefore underweight horses need to consume more energy (although for some horses the source of energy may increase the amount of 'nervous energy' burned and contribute to weight loss).
- General Feed & Management Tips
- Monitor your horse or pony's body condition regularly - this will help you to keep track of gradual changes and assess whether any dietary adjustment may be necessary
- Feed good quality, ad-lib forage
- All balancers (except stud balancers) contain a negligible level of calories when fed at the recommended amount - if your horse/ pony is unable to maintain weight on forage alone, the addition of a balancer alone will not promote weight gain
- Check whether you are feeding the recommended ration of your current feed - if not a simple increase may be all that is required initially
- Be prepared that the most suitable feed may not always say 'conditioning' on the bag - speak to a nutritionist for more advice
- Whilst traditional high starch/ cereal based feeds might produce quick results, they should be avoided for ponies, natives and those prone to excitability. High starch feeds are also unsuitable for horses and ponies prone to or suffering from clinical conditions such as laminitis, Cushing's, colic, tying up and gastric ulcers
- Oil is approximately 2.5 times higher in energy compared to cereals and starch free thus providing a sympathetic alternative to mixes and other cereal based feeds. However simply adding oil on top of the horse's current ration may unbalance the diet so you may wish to consider choosing a feed that already contains a higher level of oil
- Don't be tempted to keep increasing the size of your horse's meal in an attempt to provide more calories. Large meals are difficult to digest and increase the risk of colic. Feed a maximum of 2kg per meal for horses, less for ponies
- Make your horse/ pony is well rugged - keeping him toasty in cold weather will help to ensure he is not wasting valuable energy keeping warm!
- Remove rugs and body condition your horse/ pony regularly - rugs and thick winter coats can hide a multitude of sins!
- Ensure your horse/ pony's teeth are checked regularly by a vet or equine dental technician - difficulty chewing can lead to weight loss
- Seek veterinary advice if your horse's weight loss is sudden, severe or unexpected, particularly if there have been no noticeable changes in his diet
- Try to provide ad-lib hay/ haylage in the field as well as the stable if grazing is limited or of poor quality
- Haylage is not automatically higher in energy (calories), protein or sugar as commonly thought. The only way to assess the nutritional value of any forage is to have it analysed
- Forage provides the largest source of calories in the horse's diet - look for hay/ forage replacers for those no longer able to graze or chew long fibre (see Senior Horse nutritional topic for more information)
- Tips for Feeding Oil
- Soya, vegetable, rapeseed and corn oil all contain similar levels of digestible energy (calories) and can fed at up to 100mls per 100kg of bodyweight per day
- Always ensure oil is fresh - it can easily go rancid
- Add any additional oil gradually at a rate of approximately 100mls per week (less for ponies)
- Ensure the diet provides an additional 100iu of vitamin E for every 100mls of oil fed - ask a nutritionist for more advice
- It may take up to 12 weeks for horses to adapt to utilising a high oil diet, so allow suitable time before assessing improvements to your horse's condition
- The Facts about Feeding Sugar Beet
Sugar beet is high in calories, low in starch and provides an excellent source of highly digestible fibre. Having said this, the increase in volume after soaking makes it easy to underestimate how much you are actually feeding. In fact, sugar beet contains approximately 80% water once soaked which means a scoop of 'horse and pony cubes' could be 5 times higher in calories than a scoop of soaked sugar beet! Always weigh sugar beet before soaking; a 500kg horse would need to consume a minimum of 1kg of sugar beet per day in order to contribute a significant level of calories to the diet.
- Tips for Feeding Fussy Horses
- Ad-lib forage is only beneficial if it is consumed in sufficient quantities - where possible consider monitoring how much hay/ haylage your horse is 'choosing' to eat. You may need to consider offering a hay replacer too
- Although potentially more appealing to the human eye, feeding mixes can encourage some horses to more selective and pick out the bits they find most appetising!
- Try feeding smaller meals to avoid 'over-facing' your horse/ pony
- Cubes are denser than mixes thus helping to reduce the volume of feed in the bowl
- Adding grated apple or carrot, sugar beet, mint, fruit juice or fenugreek (which smells of curry!) can help to tempt fussy feeders. In fact, in one study, fenugreek was ranked as the number one flavour preferred by horses closely followed by banana and cherry (though be aware that fresh cherries are poisonous to horses)!
- Only use flavourings/ supplements approved by BETA NOPS if competing under FEI rules
- Preparing for Winter
Being proactive is undoubtedly the best strategy and for the poor doer, the aim should be to prevent weight loss before it starts. Introduce a higher energy feed in the autumn before your horse begins to lose weight and increase as necessary as the weather and grazing deteriorates. Always add a balancer if feeding less than the recommended ration of feed.