Within the general population of our domesticated horses, there are two distinct populations – those that seem to get fat on nothing much more than fresh air and those who, no matter how much food you pile in to them, still have a tendency to be whippet like.

If you are lucky enough to have one of those that are at neither extreme, be grateful. Both these groups of horses can cause the caring owner sleepless nights, twangs of guilt and a constant search for the answer to their woes.

The good doer

The essential problem with the ‘fatty’ is that they are, usually, naturally laid back and the calories expended in exercise (self exercising or rider related) are normally far below their calorific intake.

Normally, grass is the main culprit and this, in conjunction with continuing to feed too well over the winter, allows an accumulative weight gain which can sneak up on an owner largely unnoticed.

Dealing with the good doer

These horses need to lose weight, but you have to ensure that you are providing the vitamins and minerals that they require, on a handful of the lowest calorie chopped product that you can find.

They do not require any more ‘bucket feed’. Restrict your horse’s grazing with the best means that you can for your given situation – use muzzles, strip grazing or race tracks during the summer (these don’t normally work in Britain in the winter or when the ground is very boggy).

In trial work, carried out in the UK, it was shown that muzzles are a highly effective means of restricting grass intake. It was found that the amount of dry matter consumed was reduced by 85% when a muzzle was worn.

But, if you opt to use a muzzle make sure that you introduce it gradually and that your horse knows that it can eat and drink with it on, also make sure that you use a muzzle with a break-away strap on it.

However, they are a useful tool to help weight loss as they can allow the horse to graze with his friends whilst reducing intake, resulting in fewer calories taken in and more effort being used to get at these calories.

Help to drop calorie intake further by feeding soaked hay to your horse when he is in the stable and if possible outside.

Best time to lose weight

As anyone that has read my columns before knows, winter is the best time to lose weight in your good doer.

Do not increase feed given if your horse needs to lose weight, even if all its friends get more feed. So, hopefully, you managed to get some weight off your good doers this winter, as it was a harder winter than we have had for a while.

If not, then look seriously at your winter management strategy and be ready for next winter. If possible, these horses should be maintained at a good level of fitness in an effort to help slim them down. Exercise is crucial for keeping metabolic disease risks low, too.

The poor doer

Ironically, a much drier spring/summer than we are used to has resulted in less grass growth than usual.

This, after a harsh winter, has seen more queries than usual from owners needing help with their poor doers feeding during the summer months!

The majority of these horses are lacking in both muscle and fat cover (that elusive ‘topline’).

Tips for poor doers

To aid weight gain, feed nutritionally dense feeding stuffs – that is, feed that contains a high amount of calories in a small amount of feed, eg oil or oil-based products.

Horse that are lacking in top-line are, generally speaking, short of quality protein in their diet. In these instances, full fat soya or linseed meal are good feeding stuffs to consider, being high in quality protein, oil and ‘non-heating’.

However, consult with a nutritionist on how best to feed them. If you select the correct balancer, it will also help but must have Hipro soya and/or linseed meal high up the list of ingredients (at the very least) balancers also ensure optimum delivery of all the vitamins, minerals and trace elements that your horse requires.

The majority of balancers also have the added benefit of yeast (eg Yea-sacc) and/or pre- and pro-biotics to help improve digestion.

Conditioning feeds with minimal cereals can also be used effectively but, again, check for the presence of quality protein in the form of soya and/or linseed.

Feed high quality hay/haylage even whilst your horse is at grass as this can help to keep the digestive system on an even keel.

Also, if your horse is in a decent amount of work, you may have to increase the number of feeds you give per day. As stated in previous columns, they should be fed no more than 2kg of concentrate in any one feed (preferably less).

Also it is crucial to avoid ‘jumping about’ with feeds too much, as upsetting the gut bugs will only make it even harder for your horse to make the best use of his feed. If you have to change feeds, then please do so as slowly as possible, dropping the existing feed and increasing the new one over a period of at least one week.

As with any feeding issue, please contact a qualified equine nutritionist and remember all horses are individuals and what works for one won’t necessarily work for another. With time, patience and knowledgeable help, it is possible to find a feeding regime to suit any horse.