Keeping your horse in good condition can be a lifelong battle for some horse owners.

And that's especially so if your horse falls in to one of two extremes within the horse population – those that seem to get fat on nothing much more than fresh air and those which, 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 groups 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 he is usually naturally laid back and his calories expended in exercise (self-exercising, or rider related) are normally far below his 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

For the good doer that needs to lose weight, ensure that you are providing the vitamins and minerals that they require and feed this 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.

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.

They are useful tools 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. 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'

After a harsh winter, there have been more queries than usual from owners needing help with their poor doers feeding coming in to spring. The majority of these horses are lacking in both muscle and fat cover (that elusive topline).

Feeding tips

To go for weight gain, feed nutritionally dense feeding stuffs – that is, feeds 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'.

These should be fed alongside a good vitamin and mineral supplement plus an appropriate chop and a good gut health supplement. Consult with a nutritionist on how best to feed.

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 probiotics to help improve digestion.

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

Forage first

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.

If your horse is in a decent amount of work you may have to increase the number of feeds you give a day; as stated in previous columns they should be fed no more than 2kg of concentrate in 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 do 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.