Feeding ponies isn’t always as simple as we’d all like it to be, especially considering the 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/ body condition.


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 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!


Before making any changes to your pony’s diet, asses his body condition using the body condition scoring tool on our website (a score of 5/9 is generally ideal).

Ponies in good or overweight condition  

If you are feeding the recommended amount of a suitable compound feed (or other feed containing added vitamins and minerals) your pony should be receiving a balanced diet. However many ponies, especially natives, maintain weight easily (if not too easily!) on forage alone. In these situations, a balancer is the ideal way provide vitamins, minerals and protein without excess calories. Balancers are also a great option for horses and ponies that maintain weight easily on less their recommended amount of compound feed – as a guide, feed half the recommended amount of balancer if feeding half the recommended amount of compound feed.


You may also need to restrict your pony’s forage intake to help keep his waistline in check. Possible options include using a grazing muzzle, strip grazing, track systems, turning out on sparse paddocks and using ‘non-grass’ turnout. Ideally choose a low WSC hay (as opposed to a low WSC haylage) for good doers and/or consider soaking it to help reduce the sugar content – less sugar means less calories!


The underweight pony

If your pony is in good health and has no issues with his teeth, start by making sure he has ad-lib forage. Although grass can exceed energy (calorie) requirements for many ponies living out, some may need additional forage, especially if turned out on over-grazed or scorched paddocks. The next step is to check whether you are feeding the recommended ration of appropriate feed as this will provide additional energy (calories) for condition, as well as vitamins, minerals and protein to balance the diet. Ideally look for fibre-based feeds that are low in starch and sugar, especially for natives and those in light work.


The laminitic pony

All horses and ponies prone to laminitis need to be managed carefully on a diet low in starch and sugar.

- Balancers are ideal for good doers – if additional calories are needed look for fibre-based feeds that are low in starch and sugar

- Restrict or remove grazing – grass may contain high levels of water-soluble carbohydrate (WSC: simple sugars + fructan, the ‘storage’ form of sugar in most UK grasses)

- Ideally feed a low WSC hay or a hay replacer low in starch and sugar


The fizzy pony

Cereal starch is the most common culprit when it comes to feed related excitability although in some cases, simply feeding more energy (calories) than your pony needs can have an effect too.

- Feed according to your pony’s body condition

- Base as much of the diet on forage as possible – balancers are ideal for ponies that maintain weight easily on forage alone and contribute negligible amounts of starch and sugar to the total diet

- Choose fibre-based feeds that are low in starch and sugar

- Avoid mixes and cereal based feeds

- Look for feeds high in oil if higher levels of energy (calories) are required


The laidback/ lazy pony

Remember, energy and calories are the same thing which means you can’t feed more of one without the other! A lack of energy under-saddle is often mistaken for a lack of energy in the diet when in reality, diet is just one of many factors than can affect your pony’s energy levels including temperament, body condition, type of work, and weather.  Another important but often under-estimated piece of the puzzle is fitness – improving your pony’s fitness may also help to improve his natural energy levels.

- Aim to maintain a BCS of 5/9 – being overweight can have a significant effect on your pony’s energy levels!

- Don’t be tempted to increase your pony’s feed if he is already in good or overweight condition – remember balancers are the ideal option for good doers

- Cereal based feeds may help to achieve a more energetic response in some horses and ponies but should be avoided for those in light work or that need a low starch diet

- Try to maintain a varied workload to prevent your pony getting bored and ask your instructor/trainer for advice on how to improve his fitness.

- If your pony’s lack of energy is severe or out of character seek advice from your vet


The senior pony

Many ponies continue to work well into their twenties (or even thirties), often the reliable hand-me-down passing from one Pony Club family to another. However, being a bit older doesn’t necessarily mean a total diet change is needed. Every senior pony is an individual and there is no ‘right time’ at which a senior feed should be introduced. The most suitable dietary management will depend on a number of factors including the individual's body condition, workload, history of clinical conditions such as laminitis, PPID, colic and gastric ulcers, and whether or not they have started to show signs of aging. It’s also important to remember that the most suitable feed may not say senior on the bag - speak to a nutritionist for more advice.


Take home message

The take home message is to feed according to the pony you have in front of you; one size does not fit all.


For more advice on your pony’s individual needs contact the SPILLERS Care-Line