Skinny Horse Help

Learn how to determine if your horse is underweight and what feeding options are available for hard keepers.

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Skinny Horse Help
Some horses still have difficulty maintaining weight even when consuming good-quality forage and a concentrate. | Photo: Alexandra Beckstett/The Horse

Learn how to determine whether your horse is underweight and what feeding options are available for your hard keeper.

I have been approached many times in the past 15 years by owners of thin horses concerned about their charges. In some cases the owners were worried that well-meaning neighbors or even strangers would report their underweight horses to animal control officers. Many times these were simply owners of older or athletic horses with problems maintaining body weight. In this article we will explore some of the most commonly asked questions about how to manage “skinny” horses.

Is My Horse Too Thin?

Owners and managers should first learn to estimate their horses’ weight and also how to score these animals’ body condition on a scale of 1 to 9 (with 1 being emaciated and 9 obese, as detailed at or this video). Because it can be difficult to notice a horse’s weight changes if you are around him daily, Kristen Janicki, MS, PAS, of Mars Horsecare US, in Dalton, Ohio, recommends monitoring both body condition and weight on a weekly basis. Maintaining records can help you determine if a horse’s weight fluctuates regularly, possibly with seasonal changes, or if his weight loss should be a cause for concern. For example, horses in the wild lose weight routinely through the winter months when feed is scarce and then gain weight in spring and summer when forage is more readily available. Some stallions also lose weight during breeding season, especially those that have a large book of mares.

Desired weight and body condition vary with a horse’s “job.” Thus, what is thin for one discipline might be ideal for another. For example, horses competing in racing, eventing, and endurance tend to be thinner than horses competing in dressage, pleasure, or hunter competition

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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.

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