Feeding ponies isn’t sometimes as simple as we’d all like it to be. Factor in a mild winter, an abundance of grass coming through and impending summer of Pony Club rallies, events and camps there’s actually quite a lot to consider.

Whether your pony is lacking ‘go’ or has far too much exuberance the starting point is ensuring they are a healthy weight. If you don’t have access to a weighbridge then a weightape can be effectively used to monitor trends in weight gain or loss. An even better method is to body condition score. We recommend using the 1-9 scale with a 5 being the perfect weight. Use our body conditioning scoring tool on our website for help with this. Once you have established whether your horse is a healthy weight or not you can start to formulate a diet plan.

The easiest way to assess whether any horse or pony is consuming the right amount of energy for their workload is to look at their body condition. Ponies maintaining a healthy weight/ body condition are consuming the right amount of energy, underweight ponies are not consuming enough and overweight ponies are consuming too much; regardless of their 'ridden energy' levels or performance!

 

Good weight/Fat & Lazy

Many ponies especially native types are meeting if not exceeding their energy requirements even if they may appear to be lacking ‘ridden energy’.  The main considerations for these type of ponies is to aim to maintain a Body Condition Score (BCS) of 5 – being overweight can have a significant effect on energy levels. This can be achieved by restricting forage/pasture, soaking hay, maintaining a regular exercise programme (see our weight management tips blog). It is important though that ponies receive a balanced diet making balancers such as Spillers Lite + Lean Balancer the ideal choice as they supply vitamins and minerals without unnecessary calories.  An often under-focused piece in the puzzle is to keep your pony as fit as possible – improving his fitness may also help to improve his natural energy levels. Try to maintain a varied workload to prevent your pony getting bored.

  • Example diet: 13yrs – 13.2hh pony – Connemara cross - ideal weight 300kg
  • Spillers Happy Hoof – handful
  • Spillers Lite + Lean Balancer – 300g per day
  • Soaked hay
  • Restricted grass

 

 

 

 

Good weight/Fat & fizzy

For ponies that are a good weight or indeed overweight and seemingly have an abundance of energy the feeding solution can be slightly simpler. That said, diet is just one of many factors that can affect behaviour although for some ponies, it can certainly help to manage and in some cases hinder excitable or nervous temperaments. In general diet can negatively affect behaviour in one two ways; firstly by suppling excess energy/ over-feeding and secondly, by providing high levels of starch (and sometimes sugar) which is in fact the most likely cause of diet related excitability. Therefore, if your pony is exuberant the simplest way to feed is to focus on high fibre, low starch diets. For overweight ponies this is achievable through feeding a balancer since they contain negligible levels of energy (calories), starch and sugar when fed at the recommended ration, making them the ideal option for ponies that maintain weight easily on forage alone. Ponies that need slightly more than a balancer to maintain weight should look to feed a low-energy feed such as Spillers High Fibre Cubes which are also low in starch.

  • Example diet: 8yrs – 11.2hh pony – Welsh Sec A - ideal weight 200kg
  • Spillers Happy Hoof – handful
  • Spillers Lite + Lean Balancer – 200g per day
  • Soaked hay
  • Restricted grass

 

 

 

Underweight & lazy

If your pony is lacking condition it is understandable that he/she would also be lacking some ridden energy. The main sources of energy in the horse's diet are fibre, oil, sugar and starch (found largely in cereals). Contrary to popular belief, protein is not a primary energy source and is generally only utilised by ponies in a negative energy balance as muscle is broken down to try and meet demand. As a first resort, aim to choose feeds high in fibre and oil such as Spillers Conditioning Fibre as these energy sources are absorbed relatively slowly and consequently, are often referred to as 'slow release' energy sources. You may find that once your pony has reached an optimum body condition that his energy levels improve. We would generally not advise feeds high starch conditioning feeds for ponies and native breeds or those prone to clinical conditions such as laminitis, colic, tying up and gastric ulcers.

 

 

Underweight and fizzy

If your pony is underweight but also prone to excitability a focus on high fibre and oil feeds is the solution. Base as much of the diet on forage as possible, feeding ad lib where you can. Oil is approximately 2.5 times higher in energy compared to cereals and starch free. Pure oil can be added at a rate of up to 100mls per 100kg of bodyweight per day if additional energy (calories) is required. However simply adding oil on top of the current ration can unbalance the diet so you may prefer to choose a feed that already contains a higher level of oil and is suitably balanced with vitamin E such as Spillers Conditioning Fibre. It may also take up to 12 weeks for horses to adapt to utilising a high oil diet so allow suitable time before assessing improvements in condition and/ or performance. Add any additional oil gradually (approximately 100mls per week for horses) and ensure the diet provides an additional 100iu of vitamin E per 100mls of oil fed - speak to a nutritionist for more advice on this.

 

Senior pony

Many ponies continue to work well into their late teens and twenties, often the reliable hand-me-down passing from one Pony Club family to another. However, being a bit older doesn’t necessary mean a total diet change is necessary. The most suitable feed may not always say 'senior' on the bag! The most suitable dietary management will depend on the individual's clinical and/ or metabolic status and ability to maintain condition so always feed according to body condition.

 

The take home message is to feed according to the pony you have in front of you. One size does not fit all. Feeding a cup of pony nuts will not meet your pony’s vitamin and mineral requirements and could be detrimental to their weight. If in doubt, contact the Care-Line to discuss your pony’s individual needs on 01908 226626.