Should I Feed My Senior Horse Beet Pulp?

An equine nutritionist explains why beet pulp might be a useful addition to your senior horse’s diet, especially during colder months.

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Beet Pulp
Beet pulp might be a beneficial addition to your horse’s diet if they need to gain weight. | The Horse Staff

Q. My horse is 34 years old and has very few teeth left. I currently feed him senior feed, which I make into a very soft mash, in addition to his chopped hay, but he does not maintain his weight well during the winter. Can I replace some of his senior feed with wet beet pulp?

A. How wonderful that your horse has reached the age of 34 and that you are working to keep him happy and healthy! It is better to make dietary changes before the horse starts losing weight, because it can be difficult to reverse the process during winter, when horses use so many calories to thermoregulate and maintain core body temperature.

You do, however, have a few options to help your horse maintain body weight. The first would be to increase the amount of senior feed you’re giving him. Senior feeds are often designed as complete feeds, so they can make up the entire diet. If you don’t see this mentioned on the label, check with the manufacturer to see if your senior feed is a complete feed. Giving a few additional pounds of the feed he’s already on might be the easiest option.

You could also add beet pulp to his diet to help him maintain his weight during the winter. Beet pulp is a great addition because it contains a nice complement of different types of carbohydrates: nonstructural, which horses digest rapidly, and structural, which they digest slower. This gives your horse an immediate source of calories and provides heat during the digestion/fermentation of the nonstructural carbohydrates. Wet or soaked beet pulp can also help your horse stay hydrated in winter, when his water intake might decrease. You might just add some beet pulp to his current ration of senior feed, rather than replacing it. Make sure the diet is still balanced once you make this change—in other words, ensure it provides all the nutrients your horse needs. Protein to maintain muscle mass and a calcium-to-phosphorus ratio of 2:1 to maintain the skeletal system are especially important.

I would still offer the chopped hay because forages help keep the digestive tract healthy and functioning well. When horses consume hay, their bodies digest/ferment it primarily in the hindgut. Similar to beet pulp, this fermentation produces heat internally, which can help keep your horse warm in the winter, and he will have to use fewer calories/energy stores to maintain body temperature.

Monitor the weather throughout the winter and early spring so you can be prepared for changes. Increasing forage intake when you expect colder-than-normal temperatures or snow and cold rain can help your horse stay warm. Keeping your horse dry and out of excessive wind will also help. Maintaining body temperature is more difficult in winter and one reason so many horses lose weight.

Keep an eye on water intake and your horse’s hydration status, because some horses will drink less due to it either being too cold or unavailable (frozen). Low water intake can lead to improper digestion and impaction colic. Be sure water is always available and at a temperature your horse will drink. Frozen water buckets can make it difficult for your horse to get enough water, because not all horses are willing to break ice on the bucket or trough. Consider heated water buckets or a submersible water heater to help keep water at a comfortable drinking temperature, but make sure they are grounded properly and are not emitting a current into the water. 

Make it a habit to routinely monitor your horse’s weight and body condition throughout the fall, winter, and early spring, so when you notice changes, you can adjust the diet quickly.

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Written by:

Janice L. Holland, PhD, is an Associate Professor and Director of Equine Studies at Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. A graduate of both Penn State and Virginia Tech, her equine interests include nutrition and behavior, as well as amateur photography. When not involved in horse activities she enjoys spending time outdoors enjoying nature.

11 Responses

  1. For the last 4 years I have been dealing with chronic laminitis with my now 22 year old mare. She was also diagnosed with Cushing’s, but most people who see her coat doubt this, and so do I. I started giving her beet pulp because it was the only way to get her to take her medicines. I’ve taken her off her meds and replaced these meds with Chase Tree Berries, Horse Guard Vitamin and Minerals, and Sentinel Senior SR, a long with her hay. Last year she improved so much that I now can ride her. We don’t do anything difficult, just ride around the barn. This transformation has taken me from tears of sorrow to tears of happiness.

  2. great conversation! I have a 34-year-old quarter-horse gelding who essentially has no useful teeth left. He has a beautiful top line, and gained muscle and I can take him on easy flat trails again. I consulted with several local veterinarians and spoke with a DVM with a PhD in equine nutrition, and this is what we found to work best for my horse.

    *approximately 3lbs beet pulp pellets (without molasses) thoroughly soaked morning and evening, he prefers super slushy 🙂
    *approximately 4lbs complete senior feed morning and evening, soaked to a very wet mush.
    *1 scoop morning and evening of a broad-spectrum multivitamin (my veterinarian suggested Core Balance Compete)
    *HA supplement once daily
    *1 flake grass hay

  3. I looked up the Speedibeet FAQ and they don’t mention glyphosate. It seems that all sugar beets are sprayed with glyphosate for weed control and ease of harvest, so I think the beets in Speedibeet probably were treated with Roundup (glyphosate). I wish I could get organic beet pulp, but I don’t think it exists. Maybe if more people ask for chemical-free sugar beet it will happen sometime in the future, but it will be more expensive because it will take more farm labor.

  4. Bubba looks great at 29! He gets 1/2 cup ground flax, Triple Crown Senior GOLD (less molasses and primarily beet pulp), 2500iu vitamin E and small amount of SE (to compliment E). All soaked. 5 body score and he loves it. I add shredded carrots often too so he doesn’t get jealous of the other guys. No winter fecal water syndrome return post Flagyl (out of desperation after trying MANY things). Tried Timothy pellets soaked which he didn’t like. (Alfalfa gives him diarrhea). Still can handle some grass in warmer weather and we up feed during winter.

  5. Speedibeet is supposedly glyphosate free and while it is more expensive that is what I feed to my 9 horses.

  6. better to feed soaked organic chia seeds an my Mare gets 3tbl of organic ACV. i did 2 yrs give sweet-beets but she does well on apple everyother day. a few carrots(not huge carrots). she’s a loose kosher salt an has a Himalayan salt in her nite stall. she’s 17 an sound

  7. l have discontinued beet pulp feeding and senior feed because it includes beet pulp for this reason: I cannot get any confirmation that the beet pulp does not contain glyphosate (roundup) because they spray this on sugar beets before harvest to dry it and make it easier to harvest. As a result the beet pulp is likely soaked with roundup and is not able to be cleaned off so your horse is getting a huge dose of it every time he eats it. If you don’t use organic sugar you are also eating it personally.

  8. Horses eat often. I feed my 30 yr old pastured QH stallion 4x a day. In addition to soaked alfalfa pellets (water about an inch above pellets in bucket right after adding pellets), he gets Purina Senior on top of soaked pellets, (flax and Probios added Twice a day). Free choice salt and pasture and he quids on regular hay fed to other horses. Very happy and excellent condition. Amounts would depend on your horse’s individual needs but I think the key 4 times a day.

  9. I have had great success with feeding beet pulp to older horses who were challenged with poor dentition. Most horses will adjust to having it added to their diet quite easily, and they usually enjoy the taste. It is important that it be well hydrated and allowed to soak for a minimum of 15 minutes in warm weather up to overnight when it is colder (inside if freezing). Soaking will prevent what the previous commenter posted about horses choking on beet pulp. I used it in addition to senior feed and chopped hay (also soaked).

  10. Before adding beet pulp, talk to your vet. My vet recommended for my 28 year old arabian horse all molars to jawbone or below, increasing the senior (soaked/mash) feed, slowly from 3 pounds over 2 feedings to 4 pounds over 3 feedings (if possible–which I could manage) and adding 1 scoop of chopped alfalfa or wheat bran (I prefer alfalfa) to the soaked/mash each meal. Each climate and horse is different, vet knows you and your horse best.

  11. I have to say that my vet is insistent that beet pulp NOT be fed to any horse! He knows of far too many horses who have choked and died!

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